The Vermont Cynic

Identity on a night of disguises

Kian Deshler, Assistant Feature Editor

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For a lot of people Halloween is about being able to shape shift, to try on different identities or exaggerate certain parts of ourselves we don’t show in everyday life.

Halloween gives people the opportunity to rehearse their otherness as their audience either applauds their efforts or does the opposite.

Some quickly find that their otherness crossed the line.

I always feel my own otherness.

Standing out isn’t something I just think about on Halloween.

Last year, while I was attending a small school in Los Angeles, I was with several of my closest girlfriends waiting outside to get to a nearby fraternity’s Halloween party.

We filed out of an Uber dressed in various costumes, some friends dressed as sexy nuns and devils, while I had on a tight S.W.A.T ensemble.

As we approached the house, my girlfriends and I were met with an arm obstructing our path and a man in a Hawaiian shirt who said, “You all can come in, but not him.”

We tried a different party and were faced with the same impediment. I encouraged the girls to go in and a friend and I walked around the block, calling another Uber back to campus.

Colloquially speaking, Halloween was canceled for me after this incident.

It was a humiliating experience, regardless of the reasons behind the rejection.

When not in costume, I have been able to pinpoint the parts of my identity that frequently receive judgement.

In costume, I lose that control as it becomes unclear whether my costume or my otherness behind the costume is sparking a judgement.

Whether dressed up as a sexy angel or a skeleton, we all find ourselves toeing the line of otherness as we have the opportunity to present an alternative version of ourselves.

As we’ve gotten older, many of us have retreated further back towards things that feel closer to our selfhood, as crossing the line can lead to a higher risk of rejection.  

As kids, many of us probably toed the line of otherness more freely as our audience was less critical of who we were behind the costume, rather, they focused on the intricacies of our ensembles.

My crunchy-granola, alternative elementary school in Seattle was a safe haven for this creativity and freedom of expression.

During Halloween, classrooms were turned into huge mazes, and we would all galavant through the hallways attempting to embody whatever identity we had put on earlier that day.

This safe space, however, began to change one day when a group of fifth-grade girls unexpectedly yelled that I needed to get a sex change in front of the entire lunchroom, as my high pitched voice violated their expectations about how a male should sound.

This was the first time I felt out of control of what others thought of me as I started to develop a lisp and some tell-tale signs of flamboyance.

Halloween felt intimidating to me after this. In fifth grade, identities started to become polarizing and I began to want to dress up to conform rather than stand out.

Being gay is one of the many identities that can become marginalizing, even as early as fifth grade.

No matter the identities we hold, Halloween can be the ultimate venue for expression, but for some, presenting a different version of ourselves can be scary.

While last year’s Halloween fiasco was just a big slap in the face, it was a reminder that no one is forcing me to like Halloween.

I’ll just straight up say it: Halloween is my least favorite holiday. And frankly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Halloween, in whatever form we celebrate it, is an expression of otherness.

In real life, however, being different often receives rejection rather than applause.  

In my time as a collegiate athlete who wore a uniform, I had to shapeshift and try on different versions of myself for my audience. My uniform, whether it be less flamboyant clothes or a track jersey, felt like a costume as I had to adjust my personality to go along with the outfit.

In everyday life, I present different iterations of my identity in altering my voice and intentionally choosing to wear certain outfits.

On the one day of the year that allows for creativity of expression, I want to do just the opposite.

I’m still toeing the line between which versions of myself to present, and Halloween is not the setting in which I feel comfortable seeking approval from my peers.

I expect my relationship with Halloween to change as I grow into my otherness, but this Halloween, I’m going to applaud those dressed up, eat pumpkin seeds and count down the days until Thanksgiving.


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Identity on a night of disguises