I’ve been reading Dan Savage since the day of his first publication of the now nearly iconic Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger, in the early 1990s — this was before the Savage’s advice column, “Savage Love” became syndicated and before his appearances with Anderson Cooper on CNN. I would pick up The Stranger on the steps of Savery Hall and read it before and after my graduate classes in classical and feminist theory. Though not an “academic,” Savage introduced a sort of Pop-Queer Theory to University of Washington’s students prior to any formal classes in this area. For this, I credit to Savage as being one of several key cultural workers who indirectly supported the development of cutting edge (third wave feminist, postmodern, queer) sexuality and gender scholarship. In that spirit, I’m going to share with Sexuality & Society readers some quintessential Dan Savage analysis — on Halloween as a Heterosexual Pride parade. Just a head’s up: the language here is bawdier than our typical format at Sexuality & Society (I’ve cut out some sections but you can read the entire story from the link above). Savage unfortunately employs the same repression/release analysis long ago refuted by Foucault and other critical sexuality scholars. He also often tends to glide over issues of sexism, and doesn’t mention the use of race or class stereotypes in the production of some halloween performances. However, other points I think are worth considering. There is certainly much here for analysis as a cultural text. Let us know what you think and Happy Heteroween!
(thanks to David Ryder for this story!)
I’m often asked—confronted—about gay pride parades when I speak at colleges and universities. Usually it’s a conservative student, typically someone who isn’t happy about my being invited to campus in the first place. We gay people like to pretend that we’re all about love and marriage, the conservative student will insist, but look at your pride parades! Look at those guys in assless chaps and all those bare-chested lesbians dancing! Just look! The exchange almost always ends with this:
Conservative student: “Straight people don’t flaunt our sexuality like that. We don’t have straight ‘pride’ parades.”
Me: “You should.”
And it seems clearer with every passing Halloween that straight people do.
Back in the bad old days—pre-Stonewall, pre-pride-parades, pre-presidential-gay-history- month-proclamations—Halloween was the gay holiday. It was the one night of the year when you could leave the house in leather or feathers without attracting the attentions of the police. Halloween resonated for pre-Stonewall homosexuals because the closeted life—out to a select few friends, closeted at work and home—was a stressful masquerade that never ended. We were good at masks, at pretense, at dressing up, because we had to be in order to survive. Halloween took our skill set—pretending to be what we are not—and allowed us to find joy in it one night a year.
While Halloween is still celebrated by gays and lesbians, it’s no longer the most important date on the gay calendar. Oh, we keep it, but we don’t keep holy. It’s just another excuse for a party—and we’re always on the lookout for an excuse—but Halloween has been downgraded, displaced by other and better excuses for parties, by pride parades and Folsoms and the weekend. There are still parties in gay bars on Halloween, of course, and you’ll see plenty of homos in costume on Capitol Hill this weekend. But Halloween belongs to heterosexuals now.
And you need it more than we do. Straight people in Brazil have Carnival, straight Northern Europeans have Fasching, straight people in New Orleans have Mardi Gras—all big public parties where straight people show their tits, shake their asses, and flaunt their sexualities. Booze companies attempted to make a national holiday out of Mardi Gras, without much success. But straight people seem to have made a collective unconscious decision to adopt Halloween instead.
You made a good choice, straight people, a better one than the booze companies were trying to make for you. Whereas the pride parade is now the big public celebration of queer sexuality with all its squalor and glamour, Halloween is now the big public celebration of straight sexuality, of heterosexual desire, every bit—tit?—as squalid and glamorous.
We don’t resent you for taking Halloween as your own. We know what it’s like to keep your sexuality under wraps, to keep it concealed, to be on your guard and under control at all times. While you don’t suffer anywhere near the kind of repression we did (and in many times and places still do), straight people are sexually repressed, too. You move through life thinking about sex, constantly but keenly aware that social convention requires you to act as if sex were the last thing on your mind. Exhausting, isn’t it? It makes you long for moments when you can let it all hang out, when you can violate the social taboos you honor most of the rest of time, when you can be the piece of meat you are and treat other people like the pieces of meat they are.
It’s that kind of pressure—pressure to conform and maintain—that makes you want to pull on a pair of assless chaps and march down the street, the kind of pressure that cries out for some form of organized mass release. It’s the kind of pressure that a pride parade—straight or gay, Mardi Gras or Halloween—can release.
Right now things are a little unfair—a little—on the gender front. Straight girls are expected to show flesh on Halloween; straight boys aren’t. Sadly, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. People who want to f… men—straight and bi girls, gay and bi guys—show flesh because it works, it will attract positive male attention. (Well, that depends on how you feel about male attention, I guess.) … Straight guys don’t have the same incentive to bare their flesh on Halloween.
It’s a shame, of course, because there are a lot of straight guys out there who have amazing bodies, and they should be encouraged to show off on Halloween, to celebrate their erotic power and do like the gay boys do: objectify and be objectified at the same time. That would make the straight pride parades, aka Halloween, feel as egalitarian as the gay pride parades on which they were unconsciously modeled.
Every year around Halloween, I see some columnist or blogger or other talk about how ‘Halloween is just an excuse for girls and women to whore it up all night,'” writes nicolechat on a post at Feministing.com. “But every time I read that, I think to myself, so what? What’s wrong with having a night where we can say ‘This is my body, and I’m not ashamed of it, or of using it to express my sexuality.'”
Nothing at all, nicolechat. Heterosexuals in North America have needed a holiday like this for a long, long time. And now you’ve got one in Halloween. It’s yours now, straight people. Be good to it. And remember: Wrap those bandages loosely, and by midnight your boyfriend’s “mummy” costume will be just as revealing as that off-the-rack “sexy witch” costume you bought at Champion.