Following is a short recap of each of CJ’s Halloweens (it’s also our month in review for October from Instagram). I plan to add to this post each Halloween because I’ve heard from people that it’s helpful to read as they get their own gender expansive trick-or-treaters prepped for the holiday.
Little Halloween CJ. Nearly nine months old. At the time, we had no idea that his gender expression would be feminine. Luckily, a monkey with a banana on its head is pretty gender neutral. So when he looks back at pictures, CJ doesn’t mind this one like he does others. It irks him (sometimes a lot and sometimes a little) when he sees a picture of himself as a baby or toddler looking masculine. Because that’s not who he is, but we didn’t know that until he was old enough to let us know through actions and, then, words.
Little Halloween CJ and Chase. CJ was 21 months old and still not showing or telling us that he was gender nonconforming. I dressed him up as Robin Hood because:
1. My friend’s son had used the costume the year before and hand me downs are free.
2. Red heads look great in green, especially when they have little curls that poke out the bottom of their hat.
3. He could wear his cute moccasins with the costume (which I failed to take a picture of).
4. I had no idea he’d rather dress up as Maid Marian. We still had more than a year to start figuring that out.
Little Halloween CJ visiting Matt at work. He was two years old and I dressed him as a police officer so he could be twinsies with his daddy. He loved it. CJ was just starting to show signs of being gender nonconforming but we weren’t picking up on them. Pics from that day are the first we have of CJ holding dolls. They were little Halloween dolls and he had them in his hands all the way until Christmas.
Little Halloween CJ is three here. Between the last Halloween and this one, CJ was showing us that he was gender nonconforming. We just were struggling with it and hoping it was just a phase.
He wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. I stuttered and stammered for an excuse not to let my son dress up as a girl and leave the house for the entire neighborhood to see. To us, that felt like taking the whole “liking girl stuff” thing too far, like we’d be parading our son around and asking for problems. That was a line we weren’t ready to cross.
I spent weeks working on a costume for CJ that was a compromise. I got to the bottom of what he wanted most out of a costume, which was to wear makeup and fabric that felt nice. I sat him on my lap in front of the computer and went to a popular website for Halloween costumes. I clicked on the “Boys’ Costumes” section of the site and tricked him into thinking that those costumes were his only options. I felt guilty about it. But it also felt like something that I had to do to protect both of my boys from what other people might think and say and to keep the holiday as drama-free as possible.
We ended up settling on a black satiny polyester-blend skeleton costume with a face full of black and white makeup. It wasn’t the costume he wanted; luckily eating candy helps sad feelings.
Little Halloween CJ is four here. And FINALLY in a costume of his choosing.
As Halloween approached that year, I grew scared, knowing he was going to want to dress up in a “girls’ costume.” He’d been talking about it for months. Striking a compromise like we had the year before with the polyester skeleton and face paint wasn’t going to happen.
I took CJ to the costume store to select his Halloween attire. Matt and I agreed that whatever he chose to be, he had to have a wig. That felt safer to us. We both felt like we could really hide (I mean “protect”) our child under a wig. A wig felt like armor.
We wandered eight aisles of options: boys’, girls’ and gender neutral. CJ was not interested in any of the “boy” costumes, except for the moment he spent inspecting the size-extra-small Jesus getup, because, after all, it did have a dress and long hair. He informed me loudly that Jesus’s sandals were ugly, and I told him that it’s not nice to judge Jesus or his footwear and that the options were limited in those days.
Then he saw it and our decision-making process was over; there was no going back. It was a costume that he had mentioned a few times. It was Frankie Stein from the Monster High line of toys by Mattel. She is 15 and the daughter of Frankenstein. She’s supersassy and likes—according to her online bio—shopping for “scary cute clothes that are absolutely to die for.”
Little Halloween CJ at age five. He dressed up as Bloom, a fairy from Winx Club. We’d come such a long way in our gender journey that we didn’t give it a second thought; we just bought the costume. No manipulative online browsing. No off-hour trip to the costume store. No panic. No worry. No nothing.
Just when we got to the point of not caring about what other people might say, think or do about our boy wearing a “girls costume,” CJ began to care. When kids at school asked what he was going to be for Halloween he replied “I don’t know yet.”
It sadden me to think that the next year he might want a “boys costume” to avoid negativity, stares and judgment from other people. At that point, I didn’t want my boy to want a “boys costume.”
Little six-year-old Halloween CJ decided to be Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. CJ was just beginning to find comfort and a sense of camaraderie in the dark, quirky fantasy worlds created by Tim Burton — worlds where being different is celebrated. CJ is different. He wants to be celebrated.
As part of the costume, CJ wore a long blonde wig and makeup. When I looked at the pictures of him in his costume, it caught me off guard to see what a beautiful girl my son was. He looked effortless, happy and confident. All the things I want him to be.
Little Halloween CJ at age seven. When the kids at school asked what he was going to be for Halloween, he told them he was going to be a lawyer. I smiled. My son was spinning the truth. I’m in PR, I know good spin when I see it.
Yes, in very general terms CJ was going trick-or-treating as a lawyer. More specifically, he would be dressed as Reese Witherspoon’s lawyer character Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde.
I’m sure everyone pictured him in a little suit and tie with a briefcase and, maybe, faux spectacles – not a pink velvet peplum skirt, white fishnet gloves, lap dog and crown. But, just as there are lots of versions of being a boy, there are lots of versions of being a lawyer.
Little Halloween CJ was eight years old and maturing. The months leading up to Halloween, he’d been drawn to mid-century design, vintage pinup fashion and 1950’s culture. So, when he saw a 1950’s car hop girl costume, his annual outfit hunt quickly ended.
Of course, because CJ uses his creativity and love for all things creepy and quirky whenever he can, his waitress had a backstory. She was murdered with a pair of pink fuzzy dice while delivering an order. Cue the posthumous makeup.
Life with a child like ours — who society deems odd, weird and different — is magical and fun. When you aren’t blinded by worry and the fear of shame, your unique kiddo can amaze you with their creativity, courage and commitment to being totally authentic.
Not-so-little Halloween CJ was nine last year. Shortly after I wrote that he would be dressing up as Bob The Drag Queen (the season eight winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race) for Halloween, Bob contacted me. I just about died. I couldn’t wait to tell CJ that his hero wanted to talk to me. But, Bob told me not to tell CJ because – wait for it – he wanted to try to surprise CJ by showing up to trick-or-treat with him on Halloween night. The only thing Bob asked was that he get to see the look of surprise on CJ’s face.
I’m a realist. What were the chances that Bob would actually fly into town for Halloween? Especially after a huge appearance and video launch that raged until 3 am the morning of. In New York.
No way it would work out, but the offer was beyond sweet. I decided that when meeting CJ in person fell through, I’d get up the nerve to ask Bob to send CJ a video wishing him a happy Halloween. What’s the worst that could happen?
I never had to find out, because the worst didn’t happened. The best happened. Bob worked until the early morning on Halloween, hopped on a flight from NYC to LAX and knocked on the door to surprise CJ and go trick-or-treating with him.
It was the best night of CJ’s short life and, for sure, the best Halloween he will ever have.
Halloween CJ is 10 this year and decided to dress up as a dead drag queen. Over the course of his life, Halloween has gone from a fun holiday for dressing up to a time filled with anxiety and confusion as we struggled with his gender identity and expression to one of our favorite holidays because it’s a good reason for CJ to unleash his creative side.
For example, here’s how his drag queen died. “Well. (click of the tongue and eye roll) Gurl. (flick of the wrist) She was headlining at a BIG drag show and one of the other drag queens didn’t show up for her shift. (disgusted eye roll) So she had to work overtime and do extra numbers. When she got done with her show it was so late that she was too tired to drive her car home. And she didn’t want to take a taxi or uber. So she decided to walk home. She was crossing the street when — BAM! — she got run over by a car!”