Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
November 09, 2004

Boo! We’re gay!
By Bruce Vilanch
From The Advocate, November 09, 2004

This Halloween I’m going as Condoleezza Rice. She’s the scariest thing I can think of. I mean, here she is, a concert pianist right up there at the Miss America level, working for that cowpoke in the nest of vipers they used to call the White House. My wish for Condi is that after she is routed from Washington, someone gives her a talk show and puts it opposite Oprah. That ought to finish her off for all time. She’d have to give away more than a Pontiac to make me pay attention to her. Nevertheless, she is my ghoul of choice this year.

You’ll have to look hard for the Condoleezzas at this year’s big Halloween parades. Even the Log Cabin Republicans don’t want to dress up as Condoleezza. Of course, they don’t dress up. Oh, they may go from a two-button Brooks Brothers to a three-button model, but they never can be counted on to spring for anything with too much oomph in it. My theory is that as gay Republicans, they spend most of their time beating themselves up in the parking lot, and there are just so many hours in a day.

They actually got some mainstream press this year when they refused to endorse Shrub for reelection, which most gay people greeted with a hearty “Welcome back to our planet, girls.” Even so, they cannot be counted on for Halloween.

We’re talking about perhaps the biggest gay holiday of the year—bigger than gay pride, because even self-conscious straight people can celebrate Halloween with us without fear. Along with Mardi Gras, Halloween is a time when even the straightest individual can be gay for a night, dancing and prancing dressed up as some other gender or species. But Mardi Gras, with its emphasis on debauchery and hurling chunks onto the sidewalk outside every bar, has a far more sinister bent than good old Halloween, with its ghosts and goblins and big-boobed bimbo vampires like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

Although not gay herself, Cassandra Peterson, the actress who created Elvira, is a living testament to her own smart marketing of something quintessentially gay. Peterson has managed to take her heavily mascaraed alter ego from a very gay, campy local Los Angeles TV show, where she made pricelessly bitchy comments while screening old horror movies, to being the symbol of Halloween slapped on the side of 12-packs of beer every October. Of course, the giant jugs help.

But Halloween was the gay national holiday long before Elvira. Some years ago in Chicago there was a big drag ball the Saturday before Halloween. It was on that Saturday because if October 31 fell on a weeknight, the chances for real revelry were somewhat diminished, so we were guaranteed at least one October night to howl. It was called the Bitches’ Christmas, which at the time had a double-edged meaning. It was our holiday, a trivial day made important to us because they would never let us celebrate their holiday. Families weren’t quite so loving and inclusive to their gay children back then. There was no PFLAG, if you catch my drift.

Now, of course, everybody celebrates everything, and Halloween has become such a big business that it actually gets in the way of Christmas—which, if Madison Avenue had its way, would start being celebrated the Tuesday after Labor Day. It’s no secret why gay people love Halloween. Sure, straight people like it too. But deep down, we know: Halloween is for gay people.

Halloween was the one night of the year when it was all right to wear a mask—a fun mask, as opposed to that protective mask most of us wore every day of our lives. On Halloween everybody was wearing masks. That free, crazy, anything-goes spirit that puritan America kept chained in the basement was allowed to breathe free, if only for one night. It was intoxicating.

It’s funny to remember how far straight people would go to put together a look for Halloween, even back when. That’s something most gay people had to do every single day for as long as they lived. For one night a year, our misery had company.