Monday, October 31, 2011

Irene Monroe on Halloween as "America's Gay Holiday"

Nationally renowned African American lesbian activist, scholar and public theologian Irene Monroe has an insightful article published today at The Huffington Post, one that examines Halloween as "America's gay holiday." Following are excerpts. (Oh, and for my own thoughts on Halloween, click here!)


In the words of the lesbian poet and scholar Judy Grahn, Halloween is "the great gay holiday."

And this weekend of lavish costumed theatricality will attract everyone, but especially lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) revelers.

Back in the day Halloween, the night before All Hallows Day (All Saints Day), was linked to the ancient Celtic festival Samhain in the British Isles, meaning "summer's end." And because the celebration is associated with mystery, magic, superstition, witches and ghosts, the festivity, not surprisingly, was limited in colonial New England because of its Puritanical belief system.

But today it's an LGBTQ extravaganza that rivals – if not out-showcases – Pride festivals.

Long before June officially became Gay Pride Month and October became Coming Out Month for the LGBTQ community, Halloween was unofficially our yearly celebrated "holiday," dating as far back as the 1970s, when it was a massive annual street party in San Francisco's Castro district.

By the 1980s, gay enclaves like Key West, West Hollywood, and Greenwich Village were holding their annual Halloween street parties. And the parades the night of Halloween did and still do draw straights and gay spectators out to watch.

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."

Nicholas Rogers, author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, points out that while Halloween is enjoyed by everyone, "it has been the Gay community that has most flamboyantly exploited Halloween's potential as a transgressive festival, as one that operates outside or on the margins of orthodox time, space, and hierarchy. Indeed, it is the Gay community that has been arguably most responsible for Halloween's adult rejuvenation."

Halloween allows many LGBTQ Americans at least one night annually, October 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. . . .

– Irene Monroe
"Halloween: America's Gay Holiday"
The Huffington Post
October 31, 2011

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Halloween Thoughts
A Hallowtide Reflection
All You Holy Men and Women
Halloween Hijinks
Quote of the Day – November 1, 2010
The Signalman: A Ghost Story by Charles Dickens

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Image 2: Subject and photographer unknown.

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