Halloween is almost upon us. In the book Gender Born, Gender Made Diane Ehrensaft says,
When Halloween arrives, it is not just the goblins that come out of the closet. So do children’s wishes to be all that they may not be allowed to be the other 364 days a year. . . . For gender-nonconforming children, it is the awaited day when they are truly “free to be me,” if only their parents will allow it. The boy who dreams himself a princess can beg for the costume — just for this one occasion. The girl who really is Batman, if only everyone stopped to notice, can step out and for just one night truly be the flying male hero that resides within her. Even in communities where there is little option for gender freedom, even in families where gender ghosts have squelched gender creativity, on Halloween children can revel in the once-a-year opportunity to be who they really are or who they dream themselves to be.
From that passage, you would think that in families who support their gender-creative kids freedom to be themselves, Halloween would be a delight, a highlight of the whole year. Yet in our community, every October the posts begin to fly about the stress, and sometimes the agony, of Halloween. I asked a fellow mom, JT, to share a recent post as a guest blog because for me it captures the reasons so eloquently. I’m curious if some of you can relate:
Halloween has always sucked for my son. Or maybe it’s just always sucked for me as a mother because every year I feel like I’ve failed.
When he was in preschool, “we” chose this gorgeous elephant costume and he brought it to preschool with him to wear for the school’s Halloween parade. It was raining that year and so the parents lined the edges of the school hallways, creating a path for all the kids to parade in their costumes. When we arrived, my son took his costume and ran (I thought) happily up to his classroom and I waited with the other parents … finding just the perfect spot for parade viewing.
You see, our son’s preschool classroom had a dress up area, stocked with all of the Disney princess costumes. Back then, I knew that he loved to dress up, but I didn’t think much of it other than that it was probably “a phase.”
So I stood that day on my tip toes watching the kids come down the stairs and turn the corner to the hallway of cheering parents. And there was my boy donned in all of his splendor as Cinderella. He was not an elephant. He was Cinderella. He was beaming. Beaming. He wasn’t parading in a costume, either. He was probably more himself in those moments than perhaps he had been for much of his life before that moment.
Then reality set in. A father standing beside me (and who did not know me or who my son was) said “Oh my God! I would NEVER let my son dress up as a princess!” My inner Mama Bear came forth, turned to him and said “Really? Because I most certainly would!”
Every Halloween since then has been difficult because he struggles with wanting to dress as a princess or other fabulous, sparkly or gorgeous female villain (think Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Aayla Secura, Queen Amidala) and then realizes that the “world” outside in our little town knows him and won’t understand. Even last year, he dressed as a black cat – trying to be fabulous and not so fabulous at the same time – and a boy in the neighborhood said “why are you dressed as a girl cat?” He was so heart-broken. And again I had failed.
So here we are again – on the edge of the Halloween season and he has decided that he’s not “doing” Halloween this year. I’ve told him to choose his costume and I’ll take him to another out of town neighborhood. Nope. Halloween’s not fun if you’re not with friends in the neighborhood. It’s funny because a boy we know dressed up as an old lady last year (great costume, by the way) and no one made fun of him. Was it because the “she” he was being wasn’t a princess or sparkly? Curlers, a bathrobe, slippers and a shower cap weren’t quite girl enough to cross over into teasing?
I always loved Halloween – the chance to just be someone else. My son wishes to be someone else just about every day and yet even on the day society says it’s OK to be someone else, he still can’t or won’t out of fear. It’s not fair and I don’t have the answer. I want to tell him to be that princess and to hell with the neighbors!
And so I’m turning to all of you for guidance and strength and courage because I want my son to have his Halloween back. And being an elephant just isn’t going to cut it.
By the way, here are some suggestions for dealing with Halloween that I wrote last year.