Direct your attention to that little gay kid. See her over there jumping off the swing set and breaking her leg? See her combing her hair straight back after she gets out of the shower in hopes of looking like a businessman? See her collecting Kens (because that’s who gets to date Barbie)?
I was that little gay kid. Maybe you were too. As this Halloween approaches, I ask that you take a moment and reflect upon the contributions of the little gay kid, to your life and to the world. After all, Halloween is our special day.
Perhaps you grew up unable to detect the little gay kids around you and find this statement puzzling. Or worse, perhaps you grew up calling us names and smashing us into our lockers like a Norman Bates-level psychopath. Whatever your childhood reality, little gay kids were there with you, a fact that pops a big old hole in one of the most used arguments against equal marriage. “We gotta protect the kids from the gays!” some Internet pastor will shout, as if myself and other big gay adults sprang fully formed from the forehead of gay Zeus.
Of course this is untrue. I was a little gay kid, never different than how I am today, and there’s some power in that. From Punky Brewster to Fried Green Tomatoes’ Idgie Threadgoode, the entertainment industry has been copping little gay kid steeze and bestowing it upon the coolest of the preteen set for quite a while. Punky may not have been an explicitly gay character, but she gave off the plucky, can-do-in-a-vest vibe you’d find in a womyn-only communal living space in Portland, Oregon. If Fried Green Tomatoes teaches us anything, it’s that little gay kids are pretty much the reason women can wear pants and—side note—that Cicely Tyson can do whatever she damn well pleases.
Okay, so we were there, subtly influencing your fashion choices, but why is Halloween our special day? Well, little gay kids push boundaries out of necessity—they’re creative and innovative as a means of survival. Little gay kids are kids first and foremost, and kids don’t have the words or means to identify sexuality. But just because little gay kids might not be able to point to exactly what feels off about heteronormative culture, doesn’t mean a difference isn’t felt.
In my case it certainly was. I felt like an outsider and a bystander. While other kids planned their imagined futures, I couldn’t see mine. I could play along with other girls by mirroring my wishes into a straight world; that I could understand. Meaning, if we played house, I’d always be the dad. Not because I felt like a man, but because it made sense that I would be partnered to a woman.
If you are a little girl who only collects Ken, always wants to be the dad when playing house, and shows up to audition for the role of Christopher Columbus in the school play (a part that I got, and totally nailed) like I was, after a while other kids and their parents and your parents will take notice. You’ll have to make a decision to either tone it down and fall back in line with gender norms, or to be unabashedly different, which is a massive decision for any 5-year-old or 8-year-old or 16-year-old to make. It’s actually a daily decision gay folks will make for the rest of our lives. Whether it’s public handholding or type of haircut, we spend a lifetime deciding to fly under the radar or be publicly out. Except on Halloween. Halloween is our day.
To my straight pals to celebrate with us—cramming yourselves into Sexy Mario and Sexy Luigi tube dresses or wearing a visual pun—I salute your participation and I hope you monster mash and graveyard smash. And I ask you to mull over the following idea: You are visiting the everyday reality that exists for gay folks. What you dare to wear or expose about yourself on this day, we live with constantly.
After all, gay folks are either expected to wear the daily costume of straight folks or get yelled at/beaten/not hired for jobs while wearing whatever makes us feel most comfy. Halloween is special for the same reason gay pride parades are special: There is no requirement to tone it down.
Halloween is especially important to little gay kids, who don’t get a parade. I haven’t dressed up for years, but I remember the joy/freedom of Little Gay Kid-o-ween and I would like to commemorate three of my greatest hits with you.
Bloody pirate (age 8)
My birthday falls close to Halloween and I had a dozen girls over for a dress-up birthday party. The other girls came dressed as things like “Jem” or “a kitten” or “a nurse.” I went as a pirate.
I kept leaving my own party to add cool effects to my costume—once to marker on a beard that went all the way up to my eye sockets and once to dip the tip of my best plastic Bowie knife in a gallon of red paint I found in my parents’ basement—you know, to simulate the blood of my enemies?
I think the rest of the girls were pretty intimidated and unnerved by my upgrades but I didn’t give ONE FUCK because the added toughness put me in the exact right frame of mind to KILL the shit out of my piñata. Candy from heaven, muthafuckahs! Plus, statistically, there had to be at least one Jem or kitten or nurse who was totally into it.
Robin Hood (age 10)
I was really into whittling my own bows and arrows at this point in my childhood. Mostly, I’d use them to shoot into the yard of my parents’ backdoor neighbors, the long-suffering Mr. Berba.
Oh, Mr. Berba. Sorry I snapped all the heads off your flowers because I thought they were “haunted.” Sorry I dug up a power line in your garden because I thought you had buried a body there. What can I say? I was a spooked-out kid. And you looked like the old guy from the Tom Hanks film The ’Burbs and that dude MURDERED PEOPLE.
Anyway, this costume was great. Green tights, and one of my mom’s chunky belts over a green tunic that maybe I constructed from a pillowcase or something? I tied it all together with a homemade felt quiver that kept spinning upside down and dumping my arrows out on the ground behind me–that was the WORST!
Charlie Chaplin (age 11)
I spent my early childhood donning culturally acceptable gal garb like colorful Multiples brand clothing separates—cotton cylinders of neon fabric that could be worn as a top or a bottom. Nothing could be more confusing to a young lesbian than a skirt that could also be a shirt. I’d ask myself, if this fabric tube could be both, then wasn’t it also neither?
By the time I was 11, I was hankering to spend some time in menswear. A Halloween spent as Charlie Chaplin was the perfect excuse to wear a full suit while also paying homage to some rad Hollywood shit.
Wait, did I say a full suit? I did! I was just an 11-year-old girl walking around my neighborhood in my dad’s suit. What about a mustache? You bet! Unfortunately they didn’t make child-sized novelty canes at the time (I haven’t checked to see that this has been since remedied), so I borrowed my grandpa’s cane from when he fell that time, a cane that just happened to be twice my height but who cares? I ended up looked like a sort of suited wizard or shepherd Hitler.
Well, loves, those are the three. Feel free to look back on your own greatest hits. And this Halloween, when you encounter a tiny trick-or-treater dressed as Katniss–be that tiny treater dude or chick—remember us, the little gay kids, who paved the way for girls who live in Spider-Man Lycra and boys who love Elsa from Frozen. We were there on the front lines, fighting the good fight, wielding bows and arrows we’d whittled ourselves during a Robin Hood phase.