A Queer and Gender Variant History of Halloween!


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Initially beginning as a holiday for souls and saints, ‘All Hallows Eve’ gently transformed into a time for independence by the turn of 20th century. At a time when LGBTQ people were arrested for being caught in public wearing three or more items of clothing of the “opposite gender,” Holloween became an outlet for people to play with, experiment with, and embody their gender variant desires.

Today, nonconformist celebrations such as Halloween teach kids to express themselves without societal constraints and help adults of all orientations revel in the power of gender creativity. So here’s our take on the complete timeline of Halloween since its birth through the first Pride Parade to the freedom struggles fought and won!

 

Timeline of Halloween as a Holiday for Expressing Gender Variance

All Hallows Eve or Halloween has long been held special in the eyes of the LGBTQ community as a holiday promoting acceptance, flamboyance and freedom of expression.

Did you know that Americans spend up to $1 Billion on adult costumes and $800 Million on kids costumes for Halloween every year? Halloween which was once a holiday contrived to mask or hide individuals from evil spirits has transformed to many as a day to celebrate the diversity of gender identity free from judgment or traditional constraints.

So, how did a Celtic holiday transform into the Gay High Holiday?

1.     How All Hallows Eve Became Halloween

Halloween stretches back 2000 years ago to the Celtic tribe that celebrated October 31st as the day of Samhain. The festival denoted the ending of summer and the beginning of the dark winters. It was celebrated with campfires, games and music to commemorate harvest.

Centuries ago, when Rome conquered the Celtic empire, it blended two of its vernacular festivals into the Hallow Eve. One of the significant festivals which denotes Goddess Pomono, is still to this day commemorated with the bobbing apples at Halloween parties.

When Pope Boniface IV declared October 31 as All Saints Day, it blended further with the Celtic Festivals and led way for the European festival to spread far and wide through faith.

The earliest Halloween eves comprised of spooky story-telling sessions and entertainment such as dancing or singing. With the advent of Irish post the Potato Famine, Hallows Eve blended with the Native American culture to give birth to popular games like trick-or-treating and costume parties.

Recent records say that European regions witnessed poor people who ‘guised’ during All Hallows Eve for food and money. The Celts also believed in dressing up to fear the ghosts and souls that roamed on the night of the Hallow. Slowly, the eve of Hallow transformed into a Hallow Evening. By Celtic roots, Hallow Evening became Hallowe’en.

2.     Halloween as the Original Gay Rights Day in the early 1900s

When protestant uproars against Halloween as a Catholic agenda was born, Northern American Colonies skipped the eve. In the Southern areas however, Halloween became a time to protest the general norms and celebrate the harvest.

It was at the turn of 19th century in 1907 that a Pittsburgh paper reported the masquerading of girls as tomboys on Halloween. In 1912, Halloween, women and men were arrested in Pittsburgh for cross-dressing.

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While Halloween slowly began to grow into a time for the unacceptable, gender variance was vivid through the costumes donned by the youth at the time.

Within 2 years, cross-dressing had become so prevalent that the Pittsburgh Police declared they would no longer stop any cross-dressers during the holiday from therein.

According to the Author of Another Mother Tongue, Judy Grahn, the LGBT community has long been a vital part of the early Celtic cultures too and often times were the priests, shamans, witches and healers who performed as a spirit medium during the Soul’s Day!

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3.     1930’s Drag Balls

In the early 1900’s, the Great Migration, brought thousands of black people to the city of Chicago from all around the South. Unlike their white counterparts, queer black folks integrated into the Bronzeville neighborhood, holding political office, owning their own businesses, and gaining prestige as artists and performers. These newcomers brought many cultural contributions like Jazz and Blues along with the art of drag balls to the South Side of Chicago where they settled.

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Cabarets were a year-round phenomenon which brought together people from across the LGBTQ spectrum to create a temporary space where the rules of normal society were suspended. Not only were these spaces to cross the lines of gender and sexual orientation, but they were some of the first integrated public spaces in all of Chicago. In 1935, Alfred Finnie, an African American queer street hustler and gambler founded what became known as Chicago’s best Drag Ball. Described as a “gay at heart” man, Alfred started Finnies Balls in the basement of a nightclub on Michigan Avenue. Finnies Balls went on to even be advertised in EBONY magazine, and drew thousands at their height.

 

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4.     Pansy crazes and Fantasy Fests

From 1920 until 1933 LGBTQ groups performed via shows across the United States during the Pansy Craze. While the general society discouraged switching of gender roles, prominent celebrities both political and cultural attended drag balls actively during the time. The Pansy craze harbingered the beginning of extravagant drag balls and performances from gender variant people in Times Square, Greenwich Village, Harlem and Castro all through the 1920s and 1930s and wider waves of acceptance continued to flow forth.

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Halloween Parade of 1974 began when Ralph Lee, a puppeteer set forth his expertise that soon blossomed into the first official gay pride parade of the nation. It welcomed gays, straights, drag queens, lesbians, men, women, kids, teenagers and people from all walks of life to support the emotion.

In five years, the parade crowd from 160 participants to 250,000!

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Witnesses from the night recall it as a magical eve when the colorful parade blended with kaleidoscopic attires and architecture of the Washington Square Arch on October 31, 1974. Currently, it is the biggest LGBTQ pride parade in New York City.

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Rockland Palace, Harlem

Packing up to 6000 people, Harlem was a hit for the masquerade parties. Moreover, the tabloids celebrated the same with headlines such as “Fag Balls Exposed. 6,000 Crowd Huge Hall As Queer Men And Women Dance”. In short, another popular Halloween drag ball was born!

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Castro

Anyone interviewed before 1969 who wore masks did so to protect their identity. Being open and free with queer identity came with the Mardi-Gras type of events in Hollywood and Castro way later.

During the 1980s, a whopping 30,000 visitors came to the Castro to celebrate Halloween and the parties continued every Hallows Eve until the 21st century through the 90s.The Sisters of the Perpetual Indulgence, one of the infamous group of transvestite nuns also began their career in Castro during the same time.

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5.     How Halloween Became the Gay Christmas by 21st Century

Halloween became the unofficial holiday to let oneself out without defamation or fear. With straight men donning drag costumes and straight women flaunting tomboy attires, gender variance had a significant role to play during the Gay Christmas of the 21st Century.

LGBTQ activists from the bygone decades recollect with a numbing voice how Halloween was the only day to be free as the same attire would be met with police repression, arrest, and public humiliation on regular days. Halloween has come a long way since its pagan cultures and ghost stories, now symbolizing a day of liberation and play for queer people of all varieties.

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Today it is widely considered by many as the Gay High Holiday and much more than just a masked festival as it was a century before. It is celebrated with pride and exhilaration, all around the United States as a day for freedom of expression of all forms by all people of all backgrounds without judgment.

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Conclusion

From costume parties to pride parades and impersonations, Halloween proudly incorporates the colorfulness of the LGBTQ community. Moreover, it has become a festival of the true spirit of freedom. So get out there celebrate and enjoy! HAPPY HALLOWEEN from America in Transition.

 


Sources

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