So how did Halloween become a gay holiday? Halloween is often referenced as the Gay Christmas. As a queer man, I admit I do like the holiday, but more than Christmas? Honey, not a chance. Halloween is in and out like a Grindr hookup, where Christmas lasts longer, like a crush you inevitably ghost for the next best thing.
But I do understand why Christmas may not be a favorite among gays. It’s ruled by religion, for starters, and you’re often surrounded by family, both close and extended, who may or may not support your sexuality. Halloween, on the other hand, is made for queers. There’s pageantry. There’s camp. There’s an opportunity to dress up in a jockstrap, harness, and animal ears. Halloween has it all.
There’s more to it, of course, and this article will explore our collective fascination with the pagan holiday in two very gay ways: Its sensibility and its history.
Halloween’s Queer Sensibility
Halloween is inherently gay. It is the one day in the calendar year that queer people can freely express themselves and subvert hetero-norms. It’s familiar, in a way, since gay people grow up wearing masks. We wear them in the closet and shed them the moment we step out. Growing up accustomed to hiding our true identities, costumes can be comforting.
“I love Halloween because it’s the one night of the year that I can be something I’m not,” Anthony shares with me on Twitter. “We get to be someone other than who society wants us to be and that resonates to the core of LGBTQ+ folks,” adds Antony, following up with a funny anecdote about the time a local news program filmed him dressed as Stevie Nicks when he told his parents he was going as a pirate.
“If actual queer people are not portrayed in stories, then the outcome of queers relating with monsters (that terrorize suburban towns that oppress people) shouldn’t be a surprise,” Alex says on Twitter.
To this point, Adam adds, “I think many young queers identified with monsters, villains and witches. Often these characters in media are misunderstood, loners, weirdos, but also very powerful and heavily coded as queer or drag queens (think most witches, Jafar, Scar, Dracula, etc.). There is also Halloween’s relation to paganism, not the authoritative and oppressive Christian church. There is a deep identification for a multitude of really good reasons.”
To think religion doesn’t play a part in our taste for the holiday would be narrow-minded, as Erik points out. “I love Halloween because, growing up in a highly Christian/conservative family, it gave me the opportunity to behave outside of the norm,” he says. “It gave me the chance to express myself and my creativity in ways I could not do otherwise without judgement.”
For a lot of drag queens, Halloween is their first gig. They get to wear makeup, dresses, wigs, and explore the artform for the very first time. It’s a free pass to play with identity without fear of being teased or assaulted.
Sometimes not even Halloween can protect us from bigotry. For example, when I was much younger, I decided to dress up as a goth for Halloween because I secretly wanted to wear a wig and makeup. Around 9PM Halloween night, I was dragged across the street covered in blood and my candy got stolen by a group of high school seniors. I’m still not sure if this was a coincidence.
But onto brighter things…
Halloween’s Queer History
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most notable queer celebration of Halloween occured in San Francisco at the Castro. Before the neighbourhood was infamously known as a gay district, the area was populated primarily by blue-collar families with young children and played host to a popular costume contest that began in 1948.
As years passed, real estate prices in Castro plummeted. The reason being that a gay bar opened in the neighborhood. Families couldn’t sell their homes fast enough. Eventually, the families who populated the village were usurped by gay men and, by the end of the ‘70s, queer pride prevailed and drag queens began entering the costume contest, sweeping the competition with show-stopping costumes and flair. Due to these shifting demographics (and our subsequent reign), the contest was called off in 1979.
But the gays weren’t having it. The contest and spooky celebrations lived on courtesy of a drag performance group known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and San Francisco’s queer community partied every halloween, until the event was shut down following a tragic shooting in 2006.
Throughout the ‘80s, the queer influence caught on among the masses and similar street celebrations on Halloween were occurring throughout the nation, most notably in Dallas, Florida, New York, West Hollywood, and so on.
Today, we continue to celebrate this very gay holiday the best way we know how: by being loud, proud, and unclockable.