This time of year is THE BEST. The best outfits (because layers), the best weather, the best holidays–by which I mean my birthday & Halloween, which are only a week apart.
When I was a kid, I had epic birthday parties. The last birthday I celebrated on the farm where I grew up was the best birthday party ever. My friends’ parents drove them twenty minutes from their suburban homes to the beef cattle farm where I lived. This was the first year that I was allowed to invite BOYS to my birthday party. The guest list confirms that my gaydar was 100% accurate back then, even though I had 0% knowledge of queers even existing. None of us would come out until after high school.
Across the gravel driveway from my hundred year old farmhouse was a dusty building full of bags of animal feed and salt blocks and an occasional litter of kittens. There was just enough space for my mom and I to set up our own personal haunted house.
Party guests were guided in one by one, blindfolded. Except for Amanda. She was too scared. My mom would walk them over them to a long table and guide their hand to touch an icy boot, worn jeans, and — SURPRISE — a mess of slimy guts where the stomach should be. The guts, oddly enough, were similar in size, shape and consistency to cooked spaghetti! Continued exploration would reveal icy, rubbery hands (kitchen gloves filled with water and frozen), and –SURPRISE — a bowl of sliiiiimy eyeballs! (peeled grapes) and a jack-o-lantern wearing a monster mask for a head. If you were brave enough to reach inside, you’d get to feel the braaaaains (pumpkin guts)!
After encountering the corpse, guests walk off a plank on to a hayrack lined with hay bales and were un-blindfolded. Once everyone was on board, my dad drove the tractor through dark country roads that weren’t particularly remarkable to me, but must have seemed extra scary to the kids used to living on well-lit streets in houses armed with motion detectors.
As we wound our way through the farm, country a cordless CD player stuffed with C batteries battled with the diesel engine to make tracks like “Chaaaains Rattling” heard. As my dad slowed down to cross a tractor bridge over the crick, suddenly creatures jumped out, lunging at the hayrack and laughing maniacally. I could tell it was just my brother & a few of his friends wearing pantyhose on their heads, but everyone else was screaming. Somewhere not too far away, Mr. Urick set off some illegal fireworks, causing another round of screams from the hayrack. The sky lit up with blues and greens as we trundled along through the dark, weaving through fields of corn stalks twice as tall as our twelve-year-old selves.
Soon we approached the old pioneer cemetery. There was a single spotlight, which I knew wasn’t usually there, shining on one of the tombstones. As we got closer, I could just see the outlines of lurching bodies moving around.
A whisper made its way around the other kids, pointing and squinting into the dark. Not only where there shapes moving around in the graveyard, but there was also a full sized coffin in front of one of the gravestones. As the hayrack approached the coffin, creeping slower than ever, the top slammed open and a huge man lumbered out, coming directly towards the trailer. He grabbed hold of the side and shook it, with all his might, nearly dislodging some of the hay bales not weighted down by a twelve-year old or two.
I loved it. I loved jumping half out of my skin from surprise. I loved how scared all my friends were, and how I felt kind of cool that I wasn’t that scared. I mean, Amanda wouldn’t even go through the haunted house part! I also loved spending time with my mom to decorate and turn our most definitely for real haunted farmhouse into the spooky place I knew it truly was.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time imagining weird worlds with monsters and talking animals. These days, it’s harder to get excited for Halloween. Maybe I’m just too much of a grown up, but I hope not. I’d like to think it has more to do with finally feeling like I have some power to make a world that’s safe for all of us goblins and weirdos 365 days a year, and not just during the week from my birthday to Halloween.
If I’m honest, it’s more that Halloween has gotten more complicated since I came out as genderqueer and trans. My whole life I’ve loved playing dress-up of all kinds: monster, Bride of Frankenstein, Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas (I made the dress myself), high-femme dead mime, drag king, zombie. The more make-up the better. And the truth is, some (but not all) days in my post-pubescent body felt like I was doing some kind of Halloween-esque performance. A theater piece to convince others and myself that I was something definite, that I fit in some box or another.
It’s harder to come up with costume ideas these days. It seems like everything is gendered and dressing up as either a male or female persona seems like cross-dressing and going back to hiding. I wish I still had that old night-gown of my mom’s that I buttoned up over and around my head with a pinned monster hand under my chin so it looked like I was carrying my decapitated head. Hell, I wish I could call my mom up and ask her if she still has that nightgown, but we’re not exactly on speaking terms these days. Maybe I’ll be a zombie this year…zombies are for everyone. Maybe this time I’ll add glitter.