Tricks or Treats
How did Halloween get so naked?
by Blake Hayes
I waddled up to the front as soon as I heard my name, my beaming face hidden behind a felt hat.
I was squished by pillows to help fill out the orange felt sack that formed my “body,” and my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth were all Velcroed into position.
I had just won Best Halloween Costume at my grade school: “The award goes to…Blake as Mr. Potato Head!”
Since my mom is an artist, most of my Halloween costumes growing up were pretty creative, and mostly homemade. We didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t get in the way of a good costume!
There was the “Short Man” (small jeans and a shirt around my legs, and a face painted on my stomach, upper body hidden in a large “hat”). The mandatory Mime (which I acted the hell out of, if I may say so myself). Pinocchio, with a prosthetic nose.
Hmm. Was my passion for Halloween an early sign of my emerging sexuality? Us gays love Halloween!
It makes sense: we like dressing up (or down), parties, tricks and treats (sugar-free, please?), and it’s an excuse to yank almost anything out of the closet!
Back some two thousand years ago when Halloween supposedly began in Celtic culture, the dead were thought to emerge on October 31 and join the living. (Now we call that “Sunday brunch.”) That’s where the ghosts came from—but what about the costumes?
Well, the celebration was to mark the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter, a daunting and threatening season way up north. The Celts believed their priests could better predict the future—telling them how harshly nature would bear down—in the presence of these otherworldly spirits. So they’d create bonfires, sacrifice crops and animals, and dance and cavort in costumes mostly made of animal skins and heads, hoping that the gods would bless them with a safe winter. (I’m sure this didn’t look creepy at all.) It’s a far cry from what we mean today when we “dress up” for Halloween, but this was the beginning.
Half a millennium later, the Catholic Church would officially establish All Saints Day (November 1) to honor not only saints, but martyrs and other passed souls (All Souls Day). In ancient English the term is “All-Hallows,” so the night before it became “All Hallows Eve.”
These traditions eventually evolved in colonial America, and by the 1920s, Halloween had become a common community-oriented secular celebration with parties, costumes, and trick-or-treating.
Today, it’s a billion-dollar industry. And to think it all started with a bunch of Irish people dancing around in animal skins.
The primary difference between these ancient costumes (including the ones from my own early years) and what I see people dressed in at most gay Halloween parties today can be boiled down to one word: skin. (This time our own, instead of the hide of an animal!)
When did Halloween become “clothing optional”?? Not that I’m complaining; I’ve seen a lot of sexy costumes at these parties. But it almost seems like nudity is valued over creativity. “What can I wear to show off these abs I’ve worked on?” we ask ourselves, and end up going as “Sexy Fill-in-the-Blank.” Sexy Cop. Sexy Sailor. Sexy Firefighter. Sexy Power Ranger. Sexy Eighties Guy. What’s next? Sexy Priest? (“Forgive me, for I have sinned!”)
(Well, I guess this doesn’t appeal to the people who are into cosplay. Gosh, Halloween must be thrilling for them.)
Anyway, I’m not trying to be prude and act like the old man barking at scantily clad Halloweeners to “get off my lawn!” I’m just asking: is the goal just to wear almost no clothing in public and get away with it? (And don’t we get enough of this once a year at Pride?)
How about we ask ourselves, “What can I wear this year?” instead of “What can’t I wear?”
I don’t mean to sound bitter. Do I sound bitter? I’m really not. I mean, if I went to the gym a little more, maybe I’d be into more revealing costumes. But honestly, I think I’d save the skin for the pool and the beach.
Or who knows, maybe I’d go for a “Sexy ____” outfit. Hmm. Sexy what?
Sexy Pinocchio? Too obvious.
Maybe I’ll really throw it back this year and get some animal skins and go as one of the Celtic creators of Halloween. Think anyone will get it?
Or, I’ll completely cover up and dig out the old, hot, bulky Mr. Potato Head outfit. Yep, a giant talking carb—just to scare you toned queens in your underwear.
Happy Halloween, y’all!
Blake Hayes is the morning host at Mix 96.5 KHMX.