The air has that wintertime chill that stretches my lungs, the fallen leaves have faded from yellow to brown, and there are animatronic witches with green and haggard faces mumbling at me as I pass them in my local Carrs. Halloween is right around the corner.
As a kid, this was an exciting time of the year. The trick or treating and the resulting candy was a big deal. I remember going around our Seward neighborhood with small buckets, meeting up with other children in the driveways of neighbors’ houses and screaming with delight when our door thumping and doorbell ringing was acknowledged with a handful of sweet treats.
But what really made Halloween special was the costumes. My best friend and I would start planning months in advance, browsing catalogs and brainstorming ideas. And it was not just wearing our own costumes; there was a certain magic in seeing how everyone else dressed up. Some of the kids wore more traditional costumes, like clowns. Some were superheroes, some were creatures and people I did not recognize. It did not really matter. What did matter was the power of our shared experiences. We crafted ourselves into what and who we wanted to be — and we knew we could be anything and anybody — because our self-creation was accepted by all we met.
Halloween only comes once a year but my relationship with costuming is more than an annual fling. It is like a bad relationship that I stay in out of habit and because I am not sure how I would get by without it.
I do not view Old Me, the one who lived as a girl and briefly as a woman, as a different person than who I am now. We are both adrenaline junkies, we both dislike Bach’s music, we both feel at peace in the mountains, we both enjoy Monty Python, we both use cute animals as cheap therapy, and we both have the same giggle. The distinction is that Old Me is Julien wearing a costume. A pretty convincing one.
It is a costume I find myself wearing when I am meeting people for the first time or when I am interacting with people I do not know well. It’s never a conscious decision, putting Old Me on in these situations, and I often find myself in the middle of a conversation before I realize that I have fallen back on behaviors that are no longer representational of me. But the people I am talking to buy it. Every word, every nod, every smile reinforces that I am the person they expect, and that tacit approval makes it hard to regroup, hard to assert Julien instead. I know that I am not going to offend, that I am not going to have to explain, that I do not have to worry, that people are just going to let me be. Reverting like this is not healthy, it is not a tactic I would ever recommend, and it is frustrating how easily it happens.
More frustrating, though, are the times when I choose to wear my costume. Well, it is as much a choice as someone with a knife telling you to hand over your wallet: you do what you have to do. Alaska has no anti-discrimination laws and Old Me is the one with a job. Even though Old Me and Julien have the same experiences, the same education, the same personality, the same qualifications, Old Me is perceived as more valuable, more professional, more marketable than Julien. Old Me is not going to get fired, but Julien could. There is no small amount of pain in that realization. There are days at work when I know that I am going to be in situations where any unavoidable indication of my gender nonconformity could be detrimental or around people who I know would strongly disapprove, and those are days when I criticize Old Me as I lay her out on the bed: Not that shirt, I think to myself, something more femme.
There is candy in the cupboard and I am already preparing myself for the cacophony of over-excited dogs and over-excited children. While my friends figure out what or who they are going to be for Halloween, a process I am pleased to find is no less serious than when we were kids, I find myself wondering when I am going to feel as though I can stop dressing up. Maybe Halloween will become my holiday for resolutions. Be you everywhere, Julien, even if it’s only on one day a week that you pick out in advance! Just not a weekday, okay?