31 October 2012

The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade

Well, as you might have heard by now, this year's Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village is being postponed.

In its four-decade history, it has never been cancelled.  In fact, it's never been held on any night but the 31st of October.  As Jeanne Fleming, the Parade's artistic director, has pointed out, it is one of the few events in this city whose timing has never been co-opted.  Whatever day of the week the 31st fell, and whatever the weather, it was held.  Even in those uncertain days after 9/11, the Parade made its way down Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas to those of you who aren't from around here!). 

I believe that the parade will be held this year and in the future because, quite frankly, we need it.  At least, some of us do--or did. 

Although I had not planned on being in the Village with the other revelers, I've been a part of parades past.   I never was a "party girl" (or guy), but every once in a while I like to let loose.  And, at the parade, I could always express some part of my self, or some yearning, that I could not at almost any other time.  One year I even won a prize:  Some bar on or around Bleecker Street gave gift certificates for the best costumes.  At least, that's as much of that night as I remember! (Hey, it was a long, long time ago--near the end of the Parade's first decade.)  I went to a couple more after that one, but then there was one Parade--1992, or some time around then--that left me in tears. Many of the marchers wore "Grim Reaper" costumes, or other equally morbid outfits.  

That, of course, was about the time the AIDS epidemic peaked, at least among gay men and white people.  In one seven-month period, between Memorial Day and Christmas of 1991, I lost five friends and other people who were important in my life to illnesses wrought by the disease.  Others--some of whom I knew--were experiencing even more illness and death in the families and communities they created for themselves as well as the ones into which they were born.  As I was completely in the closet (except, of course, at events like the Parade), I could neither give nor receive the support I and others needed to anyone besides the loved ones of the victims I knew.  And, perhaps, I was not as supportive as I might have been had I been living as the person I am.

What is often overlooked is the roles transgender people played in, and the ways they were affected by, the events I've described.  Some people still think of the Parade as a "gay" event.  There's no doubt that many of those who marched and made, or rode in, floats were indeed homosexual men.   However, it's (or, at least, I'm) equally certain that I wasn't the only trans person at the Parade.  Of course, some were openly so.  But I can tell you that there were many others, besides me, who went, whether as spectators or participants, to release some of the tensions brought on by navigating a hostile, or at least uninformed, world.  

Now, what I'm about to say may seem wildly improbable.  But here goes:  Although I didn't realize it at the time, the Parade (among other things) helped me to learn, over time, that I was not a transvestite.  Although I preferred wearing women's clothing to donning men's garb, I never got any sort of sexual thrill out of it.  It just felt like a truer expression of who I am.  Every costume I wore to the parade was one of a female character, persona or role.  One year I was a ballerina.  Another time I was a diva.  Then, a suburban housewife like June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson.  And Dorothy.  (I sprayed a pair of shoes with ruby-red paint.)  They were exaggerated female roles, to be sure.  But what other kind of role could I have played?  Also, what's a parade--especially on Halloween in the Village--without exaggeration.

As campy and ludicrous as those outfits might have been, they allowed me--even if only a few hours--to express who I am, at least somewhat.  Since those days, I've come to realize that people who feel repressed and frustrated express their yearnings, in those brief moments in which they can do so, in ways that seem almost parodical.  We've all seen, or at least heard, about the things some males will do when they're trying to show that they're men.  (A few institutions, such as the military, make use of this.)  And, of course, in the days between the Stonewall Revolution and the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, many gay men mimiced the most extreme icons of maleness:  All you have to do is look at The Village People to see that.

Anyway, as I've mentioned, there were--and probably still are--more manque as well as outre transsexuals than almost anyone realizes at the Parade.  Some will, in time, acknowledge and live by their true natures. Others will go to events like the Parade as a "release" and return to their families, communities and jobs in the costumes of the genders in which they are living.

And then there are those who have been taken by the Grim Reaper in the same ways as gay men--and, to a lesser extent, lesbians--have been:  suicide, homicide and AIDS.  Much has been said and written about how those things have devastated gay males, and the communities and industries in which they are concentrated.   It was indeed devastating, but for transgenders, it was little short of an apocalypse (or, as some would argue, a genocide).  They are among the things that are responsible for the Lost Generation of Transgender People I've described in previous posts.   And the Parade is one of the few institutions that has endured from that time.

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