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  • Writer's pictureHil Hoover

The Costumes We Wore, On Halloween and Every Other Day

an exploration of costumes and gender, with both queer trauma and queer joy

@wanderinghil on twitter

we were 1980’s kids standing in a circle with a pile of plastic and fabric in the center:

buckets and bags, hats and wigs, proton packs and princess skirts,

cheap armor plates and striped shirts, and everywhere, glitter and gloss,

stolen from every sibling and parent we knew wouldn’t commit actual murder

(and a few who might)

looking across our haul at each other feeling like the heroes of our own stories,

(the kind of heroes that might die tonight)

as we put together the kind of costumes that weren’t one thing or another.

the year I, after far too many years of being Punky Brewster,

finally become something more like Bog Witch Prince Charming,

and went out to play with the likes of Errant Knight But Also Drag-on,

Princess Ghostbuster, Cheerleader Master Splinter, and something

that I’m pretty sure included bits of Pirate Turtle Demon Priest Rainbow Brite

and I kept stealing the demon horns even though I’d said I didn’t want them

because I was that kind of child, wasn’t I?

and every house we stopped at was a risk, was an opportunity to go too far

with our experimentation, to involve the wrong people, but we did it anyway,

because we were tired of waiting to be somewhere else, to be safe,

to be in a world where I didn’t have to hear whispers about the AIDS

status of my family because of my gay father, or my own queerness

and then later, we were 1990’s kids, who wore what were basically costumes

on days that weren’t Halloween, except when I say “us” I don’t mean the same

group of friends, I don’t mean to pretend that there’s some linear story here

about some pack of hardy queers that managed to survive small-town life

together and all come out okay, what I mean is, I found more when I lost them,

(I always found someone looking for something)

we traded clothes around the table at our games, laughed with delight

at each new offering, short skirts for wide-legged pants, a pair of stompy boots,

a corduroy jacket in just the right shade of green borrowed from my crush,

pairs of pilfered tights and passed-around jewelry, makeup, makeshift

binders, packers, every sort of thing there was nowhere to buy

and come Halloween, we’d take it as far as we wanted,

we’d pretend we were smarter than everyone else, be that book character

no one was going to recognize anyway, that weird philosophical reference

that we’d have to explain or not bother explaining, go full-on LARP nerd with it,

just be a vampire three years in a row,

do something to try and get someone’s attention, or maybe

hide because you desperately need to stop having anyone’s attention,

because some of us were like that by then, had learned that lesson,

started blending in with our surroundings as well as we could

in every context we could, until we forgot how to do anything else,

while others still danced in clubs in secondhand ill-fitting suits,

pretended we were fancy people, got thrown out of our homes

like the fanciest of people

I don’t know what we were like after that, can’t tell you the story

of the years between then and now, lose the thread of it somewhere,

but now it’s 2022, and it’s almost Halloween,

and I don’t even have a mind’s eye, am all words-words-words

but there’s a part of me that is always that kid, standing in that circle

looking at all those clothes, and it’s all cheap trash, none of it

would last more than a night’s worth of wear, but it was magic,

to have an eternity of options

and these days we’ve borrowed all the language of the younger generations,

put them together with our own words, cobbled together new ways of speaking

and dreaming about ourselves, and I’m so over Prince Charming but probably

still a little bit Bog Witch some years, and if I fell out of love with dressing up

(because I was made to do it a little too much)

I never fell out of love with watching others enjoy it

watching their eyes light up when they realized they could be

anything they wanted, anything at all, even if it didn’t

make sense to anyone else.

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