On being trans at Hallowe’en


Hallowe’en is a time of magic and mystery. It once served as the end of harvest season, when autumn gave way to the dark and dim days of winter. In that liminal space between the seasons, Hallowe’en marked a moment that pierced the veil between this world and another, between life and death itself.

It was a time for communing with spirits and finding secrets from the great beyond. In short, this was when what was hidden could be revealed.

The holiday today is mostly one for adult pursuits, as fears of drugs, poison or sharp items in Hallowe’en candy, coupled with the crippling fear of “the other” that seem to permeate our ill society, have led us to all-but-bar children from enjoying this annual ritual beyond carefully supervised events.

Meanwhile, adults take to wearing costumes throughout their day. A whole cottage industry is focused on providing “sexy” versions of just about any pop-culture noun in existence, and parties allow adults to drink their favorite alcohol rather than trading “fun size” candies.

When I was a child, more decades ago than I wish to consider, Hallowe’en was a somewhat different affair. The idea of it as an adult affair was largely foreign, as kids dominated the holiday.

In my neighborhood, we’d eagerly await dusk, when we’d have full rein of the semi-suburban streets I called home. We’d hit all the homes we could, bringing home buckets full of candy.

My parents would usually make my costume. My mom would typically sew, while my dad would sometimes draft up something special, like securing fake blood and painting a widow’s peak on me for a vampire look, or wiring up some tiny lightbulbs when I hit the streets as a Star Wars “Jawa” character.

As much attention as my parents put into these costumes, of course, I really wanted one of the cheap mask-and-smock costumes available at the local five-and-dime, displaying whatever character was hot that year.

Then one year, my mom made a costume suggestion that shook me to the core: she suggested she could dress me up like a girl.

As much as you might think otherwise, this suggestion terrified me.

By this point in my young trans life, I’d already tried my hand in my mom’s makeup drawer, as well as a stash of old 1960s-era party dresses. I was a “latchkey” kid and had many hours at my disposal. I had also become an expert at removing makeup within mere seconds, sawing myself from any awkward questions that might come my way.

This suggestion made me question just how well I had done, and if this was some test my mother was putting forth. I could not help but assume there was an ulterior motive at play, and I feared what it all meant.

What’s more, if I were to show up dressed as a girl for Hallowe’en, the bullies, who had by this time labeled me the school queer, would have a field day. I knew the taunts would be louder and the punches harder.

There was, of course, a third option, one that frightened me the most. I already knew how I felt and had already heard of transgender people. I feared I may likely be trans. I knew that once I experienced this, even just for one night, my life might never be the same.

I knew that Hallowe’en was a time of magic and mystery, and I feared what may be revealed of me.

It would be another decade and a half before I would work up the courage to have that experience, wearing a hand-made Belle costume to an event at a local trans support group, then later at the nearest trans-friendly nightclub.

I am somewhat disappointed to admit that no incredible transformations took place, as I remained — physically, at least — the same person I was. Also, by that point, the genie was already out of the bottle, and my trans self was no longer a dark secret.

A decade or two later, this experience is old hat for me. The magic and mystery may remain, but I find myself with precious few secrets to reveal on Oct. 31.

But I know that for a great many more, this may be the year when they first end up experiencing a possibility they may have only dreamed of before; something they never thought possible, revealed under the light of a Hallowe’en moon.

Maybe they too have experienced the fear of revealing themselves in a city not ready for them, or to parents who would not be ready to accept if their child’s costume was something more, some outward sign of who they truly were within.

If this Hallowe’en will be the first time you’ve been able to reveal your truth, I wish you nothing but success, and I hope the mystery of Hallowe’en carries you to a place of happiness.

If you don’t yet feel you can reveal yourself, understand too that this is okay. In these times, being safe and well is important. Hallowe’en will come again, and one day you may be ready for it.

Finally, if a friend or family member of yours decides this year is a time to share a part of themselves they’ve long since kept hidden, show your support and your love. In short, be a part of the magic. 

Gwen Smith has no costume plans for 2019. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com.