Pop Theory: Halloween is gay, but is it lesbian?

Halloween is my favorite holiday; it’s also “America’s gay holiday,” according to a HuffPo piece about homos’ “fellow-feeling” about all Hallow’s Eve:

Gay cultural influence on Halloween has become such an unstoppable phenomenon here and abroad that anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass of University of Florida published a book in 1994 on the new trend, titled Masked Culture, describing Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday.”

“The ‘masked culture’ first developed by the gays of San Francisco has reached across the lines of orientation—and now jumped across the boundaries between nations and languages. It’s not just a party. It’s an ideal of personal emancipation, self-expression and self-fulfillment—an ideal that loses none of its power when it takes the form of a sexy nurse’s outfit,” CNN contributor David Frum wrote last year in “Halloween craze started in gay culture.”

Halloween allows many LGBTQ Americans at least one night annually, Oct. 31, of safely being out and “unmasked” while remaining closeted. The community revels the entire night like there is no tomorrow, and for many there isn’t. Like its pagan roots, Halloween provided an outlet for us cross-dressing and gender-bending LGBTQ outsiders who are ostracized by mainstream society.

The author of this piece seizes specifically upon the camp-like qualities of Halloween; if donning a costume as a way of “unmasking” or releasing the “queer” or deviant within, then Halloween is nothing but an annual, day-long practice on how to be gay…campy-gay, to be specific. In the vein of Susan Sontag’s “On Camp,” it’s pleasure minus utility; camp as performative, visual irony, “sees everything in quotation marks,” whereby all “identities” are “roles” that we play.  

Photo courtesy of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Camp, as David Halperin explains in his phenomenal How To Be Gay (Harvard UP 2012), is a style specific to a gay male ethos, or aesthetic, which is why Halloween feels extremely “gay” to me—male gay and not the generalized appellation “gay” that is applied to reference the LGBT community at large. My mind jumps to images of all my faggy gay male friends in their Halloween costumes that were posted on Facebook this weekend: my friend Patrick dressed as Wonder Woman, my “little brother” Thai dressed as Chun-Li from Street Fighter. All fabulous, but not my Halloween.

My question is whether there is an ethos or a practice that lends to an understanding of Halloween as a “lesbian” holiday. Beyond witches, beyond Willow and Tara (who are evidence enough of the lesbionic qualities of witches), what about Halloween can be read as lesbian? I’ve discussed the whole notion of reading “as a lesbian” in a previous Pop Theory post; appropriating Halperin’s inquiry and his observation that gay can be understood as a “mode of perception, an attitude, an ethos: in short, it is a practice,” I want to think about if and how Halloween evinces a kind of lesbian feeling, an ethos, an aesthetic?”

Photo by Grace Chu

Honestly, I’m not sure how to proceed with this question, as my Halloweens are generally ill-spent (this one, for instance, will consist of me teaching four undergrad courses at two different universities), but, when “well-spent,” I’m usually watching Halloween cartoons (Garfield’s Halloween Special is the BEST!) and eating candy.  That’s how I prefer it—so perhaps I’m not the best (as in most knowing or most authoritative) person to speak about how Halloween might be lesbian or have a lesbionic sensibility about it. And, let’s face it, there are a lot things about Halloween that are a far cry from “lesbian”: dressing-up, apple “bobbing” (or the associated game of kneeling and trying to bite an apple that is dangling from a string), and just the whole “trick-or-treating” enterprise in general seems to reek of the peen—that is, it seems REALLY GAY…. And any keyword search in Google for “halloween” and “lesbian” and/or sapphic is a quick route to Pornville.

So, this time, readers, I’m going to leave this answer entirely up to you. What do you think? Are there any practices or aspects of Halloween that seem lesbionic to you?