Gender-Queering Halloween

by Tess Adair


I’m into Halloween. Always have been. I love playing dress up; I love picking out a character to emulate; I love getting drunk in a wig. All good things.


When I was younger, I dressed up as boys a lot. Kinda random ones, too. Davey Jones from The Monkeys and Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy. Probably both a product of watching Nick at Nite. Naturally I was Harry Potter one year. I may have done it two years in a row; I seriously do not remember.



I stopped dressing up toward the end of high school, and I didn’t really dress up in college--I had this one outfit I wore to parties that was kind of an exaggerated femme-fatale-thing with a red satin skirt and a black fascinator, but it wasn’t really a character I was dressing as. So, no Halloween costumes in college. And none for the first two years after, either--the first year, I was living back at home and probably didn’t have anything to do but hang out with my momsie (who probably does not need to see me in another bizarre getup for the rest of her life,) and the second year, I had just moved to Seattle and was completely broke.



But the next year, I started wearing costumes again. In keeping with my childhood self, I wanted to find badass characters and I wanted to keep pushing gender boundaries--but I didn’t want to do it by dressing up as boys anymore.



I started with Rogue from X-Men. She’s been my favorite X-Man since I was maybe 11 or 12. There was an X-Man cartoon that played on The WB then that cast her as this kinda goth-y punk kid, and I ate that shit up. I loved her. I’ve also long had a crush on Anna Paquin, although I’ve been deeply disappointed by Rogue’s increasingly limited and useless role in the film franchise. Still, I loved Rogue--when Coke did commemorative X-Men cans more than a decade ago, I chased down the one for Rogue, cut out the part with her picture, flattened it and attached it to my wall as part of a growing Rogue shrine. (I had a lot of shrines. The biggest belonged to Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course. The second-biggest belonged to Buffy herself.)



What I’ve always loved best about Rogue is her power, and her power’s extreme downside. With a touch, she can absorb anyone else’s life essence, and if they’re a mutant, that means she gets their power for a while. But it causes them harm and can even kill them, which means that most of the time, Rogue can’t touch anyone--she risks killing them every time she does. And it means that she can occasionally make out with someone, but it has to be limited, and they can’t have sex. It’s one of the biggest downsides in the Marvel universe, though Jean Grey/Pheonix might have it beat (and some of the nameless background mutants in certain stories which seemed to be either massively deformed or without tangible mass, period.)



Her power is massively under-utilized and under-explored in the films, but it gets a lot more play in the comics. She’ll take on the memories or personality traits of the people she’s touched. Her ability to hold onto their powers seems much greater in the comics, as well. (And since it’s comics books, of course there are alternate storylines where she can touch some people. In one alternate universe, Magneto’s power can apparently block hers, so naturally she ends up pregnant by him. Fucking comic books, man.)



I also love Rogue’s hair. And I did a pretty good job replicating it for under $20. I just bought some white hair extension clips and placed them very carefully at the top of my head so that the hair came through but the clips were hidden.



For the costume, I went green. I already owned green pants, so I bought a green shirt and some fabric paint and painted a thick yellow piece down the middle. And a brown faux-leather half-jacket.



Like this, only I wore cloth instead of body paint. (Fucking comic book artists. Seriously, you think a badass superhero dresses like that? You think clothes that hug you so tight they provide a perfect outline of boobs and abs even exist? Also her boobs are fucking anatomically incorrect but I guess they please your penis better and that was what mattered.)



I loved dressing up as Rogue. My only regret was that I was sure I could have done an even better job if I’d given myself more time. I tossed around the idea that maybe I’d dress up as her again, just for the chance to outdo myself. At the very least, I was sure I wanted to dress up as powerful ladies from here on out.



That is, until I started watching Rupaul’s Drag Race that spring. Actually, let me correct that--I never changed my mind about wanting to dress up as powerful ladies. I just broadened up my definition of powerful ladies.



That year, I fell in love with Adore Delano. She went on to become one of the top 3 that season, and she dropped a kickass album with FABULOUS music videos and went on tour. I went to see her. It was excellent.



Gaze upon her beauty and despair.


First of all, Adore Delano is hilarious. It became clear she was a standout character a few episodes in, based almost entirely on her endearing, semi-consciously over-the-top personality, which she managed to translate into some amazing lip-synch battles and some excellent comedic performances for challenges.



She plays into trashy, working-class LA girl tropes, and she stirs in a good amount of punk-pop attitude. She’s tough and self-assured and she always looks fabulous--basically my own personal feminine ideal.



So I decided that dressing up as her in no way interfered with my desire to dress up as Powerful Ladies. In fact, it was even better--the whole point of the Powerful Ladies was to question gender norms and stereotypes, which is at the very core of drag. Drag is Gender Performance--and I wanted to perform gender with femininity and power combined. Who can do that better than a drag queen in seven-inch-heel boots doing a dead-drop into a split? NO ONE THAT’S WHO.



I wish, girl.


So, Adore was last year. Sadly, got very few pictures. But I did her justice. I found a zebra-print corset and a silver metal half-jacket (I love half-jackets for Halloween.) And I wore a blue wig and gold go-go boots. Months later, she came out with a vid where she wore this:



Gold instead of silver, leopard instead of zebra, red instead of blue. I’d say I got the gist.



I also did RIDICULOUS makeup for it. Like it took more than an hour.



I imagine it won’t take so long for the next one, though: Rose Quartz.



She’s from this cartoon called Steven Universe, which I happen to think is one of the most incredible cartoons of all time. It’s definitely aimed at kids, but it deals with life and love and sexuality in such a beautifully nuanced way without ever once feeling like it’s talking down to you. At its core, Steven Universe is a show about the magic and wonder of life, but it doesn’t hesitate to show that wonder often comes with a dark side. It handles every relationship and character, no matter how minor, with respect. And it handles the nature of love and sex in the same way; it even captures the complex ways that love and sex connect--or don’t.



Importantly, queer love is at the forefront of the show’s messaging. In fact, one of the primary characters on the show is herself a symbol of queer love--but I can’t get into that any further without massive spoilers, and I think everyone in the world should watch this show spoiler-free.



While queer love is at the heart of the show, Rose Quartz actually makes up one-half of the primary hetero couple on the show. She and Greg Universe are Steven Universe’s parents. On the show, Rose Quartz no longer exists--Greg mentions off hand in the second episode that Rose “gave up her physical form to bring [Steven] into the world.”



For a long time, we know very little about Rose. We know she’s Steven’s mother. We know his father loved her. And we know she was the leader of the Crystal Gems.



Oh yeah, the Gems.



The Gems are the 3 main characters apart from Steven. They are mystical female warriors from some unknown alien world who hang around defending Earth from threats--primarily the leftover results from experiments that other members of their species were doing on this planet. The Gems are comprised of Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet. They all raise Steven together.



Interestingly, the idea of Steven’s father raising him barely ever comes up. Steven lives with the Gems, and the three of them co-parent him. This idea feels so natural and innate within the show that it is never questioned--if Steven’s hanging out with his dad, we understand that it’s a temporary situation. Greg, Steven’s dad, is...kind of a space cadet. But the Gems are great primary parents.



Anyway, Rose was once their leader. (Now, Garnet is the clear leader.) They all miss her greatly, and as the show continues, we slowly find out more about their individual relationships with her. (Ahem, queer.)



She’s still a largely mysterious presence on the show. Steven knows very little about her, and the audience only knows what Steven knows. We know she kept a weird magic garden, and her room has a weird kind of empty magic as well. We know she was giant--and on this show, giant women are symbols of power.



She was powerful. And she loved things that were vulnerable or innocent or full of wonder. And at some point, she decided to give up her physical existence to bring the title character into the world. We still don’t really know why.



And she’s super pink.



And they made a fountain of her.


So, yeah. That’s where I’m going this year. The mysterious mother/leader/warrior in the giant pink dress.

I still haven't decided if I might secretly wear some Adore boots underneath though.


Cartoon of me as Adore--the only remaining documentation of the event.