Happy almost Halloween! I thought I’d celebrate by digging deep into my writing archives to see if I could find something festive. It may not be all that festive, but it does seem apt – I found something I wrote 12 years ago, on Halloween day, that touches on gender identity, costumes, and anxiety.
A little back story for what is to follow: I was a Junior in college, and I was taking an awesome class called Imagining Herself, a cross-class between Women’s Studies and English Literature. The book list was from some Gender Studies Dream Team (for 2002, at least):
Leslie Feinberg – Stone Butch Blues
Riki Anne Wilchins – Read My Lips
Zora Neale Hurston – Dust Tracks on a Road
Kate Bornstein – Gender Outlaw
Audre Lorde – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
And others that I can’t remember anymore. Unfortunately, I didn’t read these books (well, I’d already read Stone Butch Blues on my own). I couldn’t. I was having some major depressive issues, which really put a damper on what I was capable of doing. I hadn’t told any professors I needed help yet, but I would be doing so in the very near future. The professor’s name was Katrina (not her real name). I sort of had a girlfriend at the time, whom I’ll refer to as “girlfriend?” Question mark, because I was never clear on whether we were actually together. Girlfriend? had been in this class the semester before me, so the professor had a clear memory of her.
Here’s what I wrote on Halloween, 12 years ago:
More than ever, I became terribly anxious in Imagining Herself today. I think because we were discussing Stone Butch Blues, and I felt like I was supposed to be adding to the discussion, yet I couldn’t say anything. I’m one of five people in class who are potentially VERY focused on issues raised in that book. These other classmates all contributed a lot. I contributed nothing. I just couldn’t. Katrina even brought attention to me because of the zines I’ve been handing in for my project. She wanted me to talk about some of the stuff.
“[Janitorqueer’s] been doing these amazing zines,” she told the class. I felt like I was in elementary school again, simultaneously hoping for and fearing any kind of attention. “Can you share with us your thoughts about what you’ve been writing about, after reading through Stone Butch Blues again?” I hadn’t read through Stone Butch Blues again. I hadn’t yet read ANY of the books for class. I feel guilty and like a fraud. I stared straight ahead. Said, ” … um … ” in almost a whisper. My mind was totally blank. Why does this happen? She acknowledged my discomfort by asking me if we should just move on. I said, “yeah.”
I thought I might cry. How awful would that have been. I tuned out completely to avoid that scene, and that worked really well. I came back to reality within a few minutes. But for the rest of class, all I wanted to do was grab all of my stuff and run out of the room … go and hide. I have this urge often in class, but it’s never been THIS intense. Sometimes I want to slip through the edge of the floor, but not today. I just wanted to explode out, to escape.
Girlfriend? was brought up during the discussion! We were talking about clothing and performance, and Katrina asked me, “You know [your girlfriend?], right?” I nodded. Because I referred to girlfriend? a few times in my zines, she must have made the connection. Then she addressed the class. “Girlfriend? uses clothes as a performance all the time. She is always playing … she’ll wear goth, hello kitty, Ragedy Ann (girlfriend? prefers to call this one “Bag Lady”) … and when she came into class the day people were instructed to wear particularly masculine or feminine clothing, something different than normal, she said that this isn’t any different for her than any other day because she’s always playing. She feels comfortable dressing extremely masculine and/or feminine.”
A classmate asked, “Did she have pink hair for a while last year?” and I nodded, yes. “Oh, ok, I had a class with her. She is really interesting.” Katrina: “Yeah, she’s very bright.” Classmate: “Political Science major?” I nodded again.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought of girlfriend?’s incredible attention to clothing as “playing.” I thought of it as this valley girl thing she does. This thing which is sometimes tedious and sometimes fun and goofy. (She is really excited about creating me as a goth girl for Halloween.) To look at it as a carefully planned out form of play makes me respect it much more. I feel proud that I “know” her. I feel especially tender toward her, or something, ah, I don’t know! Anyway …”
I remember that Halloween. She dressed me up in her clothing and did my hair and make-up. I liked it. She was dressed as a school-girl gone wrong, or something to that effect. It was a really warm night, and we kind of just walked around a lot, stopping in at this party and that party, maybe acquaintances of hers. (I had no idea. As per usual, I was out of it, dissociating.)
It makes me think about all the things we can be expressing with our clothing choices, gender-wise and otherwise. And although Halloween costumes are extremes, all sorts of outfits can be seen as “costumes.” Getting dressed up in formal wear? Costume. Even business casual? Still, costume. Work out clothes? Total costume. If it’s not a t-shirt, hoodie, button-up shirt (mostly flannel), jeans, corduroys (or gym shorts, sweat pants for lounging around), hiking boots, or skater shoes, to me, it feels like a costume. Which isn’t a bad thing at all! Costumes have their times and places – I love costumes! But I will not compromise and wear clothing that does not allow me to feel like myself, when that’s all I wanna be.
Another blog writer covers some similar concepts, here – Becoming Hope: Masks
Oh, and completely coincidentally, this year I’m going as a goth boy for Halloween.
What’s your take on costumes?