Disclaimer: The word “queer” has historically been used to derogate members of the LGBTQ+ community. This article uses the word in a reclaimed sense.
If you were to ask me what my favorite holiday is, I would say Christmas. However, there is another holiday that holds a special place in my — as well as many other queer people’s — heart. Of course, I’m talking about Halloween.
The roots of Halloween being an iconic queer holiday are more than a century old. In the early 1900s, the city of Pittsburgh noticed an issue concerning Halloween — this “issue” being queer people expressing themselves.
An article appeared in the Nov. 1, 1907 paper for The Pittsburgh Press about the women of Pittsburgh who were cross-dressing as men for Halloween, which was illegal at the time.
Though cross-dressing does not immediately make one a part of the LGBTQ+ community, many transgender individuals were often mislabeled as cross-dressers. Halloween was seen as a safe time for people who did not align with their assigned gender at birth to express their true selves since they always had plausible deniability.
Though I use the word “queer” in a reclaimed way, the word was originally derogatory toward the LGBTQ+ community, meaning anything strange, odd or “not normal.” According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the use of “queer” within the community began around 1914 in the U.S.
Through the mid-1900s, Halloween continued to be regarded as a queer holiday. It was a holiday that featured alternative, deviant ideas, and society at the time considered queer culture to fall under those same labels.
The LGBTQ+ community accepted this idea of being outside the norm, especially through the use of the reclaimed “queer,” and in turn made Halloween into their holiday.
In 1974, Ralph Lee, a puppeteer and theatrical artist, organized the first New York Village Halloween Parade. This parade was extremely popular with the artistic types of New York City — and with many queer residents.
The New York Village Halloween Parade was even recognized as one of the first officially organized pride parades, according to the America in Transition website, a program dedicated to documenting important transitions in American culture.
In the present day, Halloween can be seen as a queer holiday not only because of its history, but because individuals who do not fit into society’s cisgender/heterosexual norms can find comfort in this unique holiday.
Halloween gives the opportunity for people to unapologetically be themselves, and for some, it is a thankful relief from reality. Unfortunately, there are many people out there who still have to hide behind plausible deniability.
According to an article from the Yale School of Medicine, “an estimated 83% of those who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual keep their orientation hidden from all or most people in their lives.” Halloween is an important holiday for everyone in the community, but especially for those who are unable or do not wish to to present themselves out of the closet all year round.
I wish a happy Halloween to everyone who is celebrating this year, whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or are an ally. To those of you who use Halloween as an escape from reality, just know that I relate, as someone who is not going to be able to share this article with everyone that I wish I could. I hope that you find comfort in this wonderful LGBTQ+ history lesson and know that you are never alone.
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Follow Olivia Davis on Twitter, @0liviadiane
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