By: Amber Leventry
My four year old daughter has been talking about Halloween since Labor Day. She likes the spooky decorations, the heinous inflatable lawn characters, and the candy—I can’t argue about the candy. As an extension of her excitement, my two year old twin boys are starting to get excited about the holiday too. They are too young to really understand the concept of Halloween, but they like the orange lights we strung over a doorway in the house. They also enjoy using their plastic, candy-collecting pumpkins as toy holders and hiders.
Eva is going to wear her Elsa dress (again) this year, but with the added flare of a unicorn horn and tail. Your guess is as good as mine. Her brother, Ryan, also wants to be Elsa, and our other son, Ben, is terrified of most people in costume and refuses to wear one himself. Last year we put an Elmo suit on him, and he hated it. This year, Ben may be trick-or-treating as Ben.
I would love to get our kids into matching costumes that fit a theme or into costumes of characters from a cartoon or television show; the photo ops are just too good. Three Blind Mice, Alvin and the Chipmunks, or rock, paper, and scissors. Even Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus would make for a fun night out on the suburban town. But my kids are just too headstrong to be persuaded into such nonsense. To them Halloween is just another day to be exactly who they are, wearing exactly what they want as they march door to door to collect candy.
To me and my partner, Amy, Halloween marks the beginning of our lives together. In the fall of 1997 I was a freshman at Pennsylvania State University. When I was not at class or sleeping through class, I sat at my dorm room desk and played pinball or solitaire on my computer. I sat and faced the wall that held the door to my room, my back to my weird roommate who was usually topless, and my face to any other possibility.
It was October, and I had not made any friends. I ate dinner with the girls across the hall, but new friendships are laced with so many unwritten rules, and I thought hiding my sexuality was one of them. I was out to a few friends from home, but still very much in the closet. As excited as I was to live a new life exploring the real me, I was too nervous and scared to show all of myself to the people I hoped would become my friends. I didn’t know how to be myself, and by knowing I was gay, I felt like I was being dishonest to everyone I met. Among 50,000 students, I was lonely.
Then I met Amy. She lived a few doors down the hall and was inviting people to join her and her friends for trick-or-treating. When Halloween arrived, Amy and her three friends were dressed as different colored M&Ms; I was dressed in a full, head to toe, furry Chewbacca costume. I was a walking accident waiting to happen. Dogs growled and barked at me, and my vision was severely impaired by the mask that was too big for me. Steps, curbs and anything in my peripheral line of sight was a hazard, so all of my movements became jerky and exaggerated as I tried to move my head to a place where I could catch a glimpse of anything not right in front of me.
Add the naturally slow tempo of my stride to this first impression of the woman I would eventually marry, and you can envision three M&Ms and one lagging Chewbacca. Amy, dressed as a green M&M, dropped back to walk with me. I was surprised by her kindness and her willingness to leave her friends to stay with me. I was surprised that I made her laugh so much, and her warmth overwhelmed me. The disguise of a costume seemed to uncover who I really was and I relaxed. Unexpectedly, a bond formed, and I was comfortable and happy for the first time in months.
Later that evening we went our separate ways, to separate parties. I went with my neighbor to a party across campus at an upperclassman’s apartment; I sat with strangers, drank Zima—oh, Zima—and couldn’t stop thinking about Amy and her easy smile. The events of the night bridged into the next morning and into the rest of my life.
The next day, Amy and I had the night all future couples have. The one where you stay up all night learning how much you have in common while yearning to know every detail about the other person. Months passed before our relationship became anything else. It would be several more months before we talked about what our relationship had become, but Halloween night started it all. 18 years later we can still remember how scary and exciting those feelings of new love were, hidden under fear and uncovered with a Halloween mask.
Halloween in our house is a reminder to throw on your best costume (or not, Ben) and go confidently into the world as whatever you want to be. It’s okay to use a mask or the guise of someone else to bring out the real you. Your authenticity will shine through, and the people who matter will see how amazing you are. My kids have not been shamed or pressured to fit any labels, and I am not about to dictate what they should be on Halloween. My only request is that they be their unicorn horn wearing, gender bending, and nonconforming selves. And Reese’s Cups. I also request chocolate covered peanut butter.