Oct. 26 2015 04:15 PM

Halloween is rife with cultural insensitivity

It's that time of the month again for me. I'm not talking about Aunt Flo, either, because I don't have a whole lot of visits from her at this particular life juncture, if you know what I'm saying. This might be too much information for the faint of heart. But just wait until I write an 18-chapter column all about The Change. For now, I'll tease you with two little words my therapist uttered last month that sent me into heaving sobs and then led me to fire her: vaginal atrophy.

Wow, that was a neck-jolting detour right there. Condolences to my editor (and all male readers, especially Justin).

The time of the month to which I'm referring is Halloween. I love Halloween. Or, at least, I used to. But the more I journey through my own personal summers (and winters and springs and falls), the more aware I am of the problems inherent with it. Can we struggle in this together?

It shouldn't be that hard for any of us, really. Don't put on a native headdress. Same goes for you, hipsters at Coachella. And you, College Area porch-sitters with the Kegerator on the corner of Montezuma and 63rd. Don't don a sombrero and mustache. Don't wrap yourself in a kimono and tie it with an obi. And never, ever, evah go in blackface. We white folks can go as Crazy Eyes if we want to, we just gotta settle for a paler version.

I'd like to say I haven't had issues in this area. But! Like you, I am on a lifelong journey of unlearning my own ignorance and racism. Though I've never gone in blackface and understand the historical reasons why this is unacceptable, I deviated from a long history of Halloween costumes based on fictional, non-appropriated characters and went in white face. As a Geisha. In kimono and obi. (I'm shaking my head as I type.) That was 14 years and a lot of learning ago, but I did it nevertheless, and I'm pretty well embarrassed by it.

I also once dressed my toddler in a purchased-online Pocahontas costume. Her desire to be Pocahontas was driven by her love of the Disney movie that has all sorts of nothing to do with historical accuracy. I was driven by lack of knowledge-slash-not wanting to say no to the big begging eyes.

My affinity for Halloween is longstanding and is directly tied to my childhood experiences of it that are, thankfully, not filled with culturally inappropriate costumes even as I have had missteps in adulthood.

Growing up, my mother and her mainly-artist friends used to have a giant annual party in which all the costumes—generally planned out and constructed throughout the year by her many artist friends—were epic creations. My own costumes were on a smaller scale, but with the same committed effort. I went as a mime, a bumblebee, Raggedy Andy, and as a silver crescent moon. My costume that year was taller and wider than I was, and it was the talk of the school. It was outstanding. That is until I had to sit down, walk through a doorway or run from the bully who was stealing candy from innocent trick-or-treaters.

Around sixth grade, I fell in love with all things '20s and began an eight-year run as a flapper. I wore a rotation of several fringed and beaded dresses that had for years lived in a basement closet next to the equipment room of my grandparent's house. I always felt like I'd stepped out of history, a nod to Coco Chanel even as I smelled more like mothballs than I did No. 5.

All of this served as my model for once a year inhabiting the likeness of someone or something else. I was Gene Simmons a few years back (my lingual frenulum hurt for three days after that one), and Jane Fonda to my husband's Richard Simmons. My stint as the California Mountain Snake, Elle Driver, taught me that an eye patch makes life dizzying, and my Mommy Dearest version of Joan Crawford, though spot on, was lost on the millennials at the party I went to; they had no context and just thought I was a gargantuan bitch.

It's really not as fun when people don't know who you are.

I still enjoy Halloween, but I approach it with increasing trepidation. Is it okay if my child wants to be Mulan? Can I dress up as Left Eye in red satin pajamas? Can I wear a t-shirt with a stencil of La Catrina? If there is even so much as an inkling of doubt, I'm gonna skip it and go as gap-toothed Madonna, the "Borderline" years.

I wish all the Halloween revelers among us would skip the Sexy Squaw and the Tiki Warrior, the sumo wrestler and the suicide bomber. If you want to be offensive, there are plenty of options that exclude cultural appropriations.


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