Halloween was the one time of year when it was not only acceptable but encouraged to embrace my creativity and emerge in all my twisted glory. Until I came out, that single holiday was the most freeing I could imagine. The mid-80s were a time of rock stars so distinct, so instantly recognizable, even the most unimaginative could see they begged to be mimicked. Every little girl (and budding queen) wanted to be Madonna or Cyndi Lauper — and the the boys all wanted to be Michael Jackson or Billy Idol. Kmart must have sold millions of knock-off pleather ‘Beat It’ jackets with all those zippers.
My muse came in the form of the lead singer of a little British New Wave band, Culture Club. From the first time I saw Boy George, I was taken with amazing voice and brazen glamour. To a fat, gay kid from the Midwest, he was the closest thing I could think of to someone living without the pressures of society to be something he wasn’t.
When I found a knee-length purple sweatshirt and matador-style hat at my great-aunt’s house a month or so before Halloween 1985, the seed for my costume was planted. Despite hesitation from my family–whom I somehow convinced that Boy George was simply an androgynous straight man playing to the media for attention–I stapled a series of multi-colored shoestrings to a band of cardboard, fraying them at the ends to be my hair. Using my grandmother’s make-up – and cursing her all the while for not having a better selection — I did my 12-year-old best to emulate George’s face.
Once my costume was complete, I could barely pry myself from the mirror. (Some things never change, I guess.) Standing there, staring at myself, it was exactly like that old show tune says: “I feel pretty, oh so pretty! I feel pretty and witty and gay!”
Now many years later, as a professional performer myself, I have to admit Halloween – like poor George — has lost some of its shine. Rather than suppressing myself for 364 days, waiting with baited breath and planning my costume to its final detail, I have the freedom to transform myself into a mythical, magical or fantastic creature of death, seduction or wonder several times a week – and I do!
For me, every day has become a little bit like Halloween, and it has won me the kind of support and acceptance I craved as a kid. It reminds me of what Boy George said when accepting the “Best New Artist” award at the 1985 Grammys. “
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