I recently heard someone on television trying to be funny when he said, “Halloween is that one magical day of the year when little girls like to dress up like princesses and little boys like to dress up like little girls.” I am sure he had no idea how true that was for me. Not long after hearing that smart alack remark I began to reminisce about my own Halloween experiences.
I started dreaming of being a girl sometime around the age of 5. At that young age I didn’t know what it meant. I loved looking at girls clothes, shoes, toys, but I also knew I had better keep all of that to myself. Going to the store with my mom and my sisters, I remember “accidentally” touching a doll that was meant for “only girls.” I was embarrassed and prayed that nobody saw me. By age 8 or 9, I finally got brave enough to venture into my mom’s closet. As soon as I spent several painful minutes listening for the sounds of discovery, I slipped into a pair of her high heels, thinking “I would love to wear these out someday.” That would come many years later.
Like almost all transgender kids, I fought a terrible internal battle daily for most of my per-adolescence all the way through to my young adulthood. I got very good at hiding it (that closet was as real as metaphorical), and, as far as I know, no one ever suspected a thing. I never escaped my longings, but I learned how to push the feelings down deeper and deeper. The fear that my secret would be discovered, that I would be humiliated, punished, or hurt, pervaded my everyday life.
But for one day a year, Halloween, I dreamed that I could be free of that fear. I played over and over again in my head how I could approach it. “Hey mom… wouldn’t it be funny if I went out trick-or-treating as a girl this year?” I had this vivid idea of how it might go. My mom would think it was a good idea because she wouldn’t have to buy me a costume since I could just wear some of my older sisters clothes. My older sister would put makeup on me because, after all, I wouldn’t be able to wear a mask. I would look just like any other girl, and away I would go out into the world. People would then say, “you are such a pretty girl.” The next thing you know, I would get to be a girl all of the time. In just a few years people would even forget that I was ever a boy. Sadly, none of that ever happened.
By age 16, I knew that on the inside I was a girl. I wanted to be a girl on the outside more than ever, but I still fought the urge to tell anyone. I had never heard of anyone changing genders, and any time anyone was different, my friends used vile and hateful descriptions. Halloween that year was the first time that I got brave enough to experiment. I put on one of my mom’s bras (stuffed with water balloons for good measure) and a sweater that my older sister had left when she moved out. A friend’s sister loaned me a wig and some make up. Despite my bravery, I soon learned that 16 year old boys can be down right mean. I laughed it off, but it still stung.
Despite my first Halloween foray out in public ending painfully and caused me to push down my feelings even further, the most important thing that happened was when I got home. I told my mom all about me going out for Halloween that night – then I told her my struggle, my fears, my hopes, and, ultimately, my disappointment. To this day, I can never say how grateful I was for her understanding, which allowed me to talk with those who I cared about, including my future wife before we were married. I believe that that Halloween probably ended up saving my life.
To some, Halloween may be a throwaway holiday, or, like the man on television thought, a joke. But, remember that Halloween may allow some of us to get just a little bit closer to who we really are.