There is a distinct difference between cross dressers, drag queens and the neighbors who put a lamp shade on their head for Halloween. And neither catagory necessarily means the person is gay or has a sexual identity problem. I don't profess to be an expert on any of these subjects though I have enjoyed Jim Bailey as Barbra Streisand in his one man show in Las Vegas. I am not a fan of 'Dame Edna' but I loved Charles Pierce and who didn't laugh at Flip Wilson as Geraldine?
Since ancient days men have gone on stage dressed as women and the Shakespearean era was known for not allowing women on stage. There is an excellent movie starring Billy Crudup and Claire Danes with the latter playing female figures such as Desdemona on stage until the king decrees that women can do stage roles . There was also "Shakespeare in Love" where Gwyneth Paltrow had to play a young man auditioning for the role of Romeo. Who hasn't laughed at Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in "Some Like It Hot" or enjoyed Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie"?
What does all this have to do with Halloween being a Gay holiday? What follows is MY experience and what I observed over the years. Now I haven't been into a gay bar in years so I don't know if this Halloween we will still see hundreds of Judy Garlands and Nuns but at one time both were a symbol of the holiday.
In the 1950s and 1960s many States had laws on the books--and some probably still do--that a man could not dress as a woman or he could be arrested. In fact I went to a number of bars, called the Bird Circuit, in New York where men where not allowed to touch each other. Some had dancing in a back room and if a bartender thought a customer looked suspicious, like a plainclothesman, he would flick the lights in the backroom from a switch under the bar and the men would immediately stop dancing.
Back then there were infamous drag balls in Harlem that were known far and wide attended by many socialites. The costumes were outrageous, each one more glamorous than the next one and though illegal it went on without a hitch. Dressing up in costume for Halloween became high art and some of the grandest balls were held that night.
I vaguely remember being in the Faision D'Or bar one Halloween sort of surprised by all the women who were in there--hey I was young back then--only to slowly became aware it was men. Living in New York drag shows were nothing new and in fact there was a nightclub that catered to tourists where the cast was all men dressed as women except for one woman dressed as a man. Yes even back then drag was an accepted form of entertainment.
I don't remember the name of the bar on Miami Beach that was off LIncoln Road on Alton Road that in the early 1960s did drag revues and a few blocks south was the famous Jewel Box Revue that traveled all over the USA and would be nodded to by the character Paul in "A Chorus Line" in 1975.
There being drag in New York and Florida really didn't surprise me but I was surprised to find a drag bar--don't remember the name--in Memphis, Tennessee, when I moved there in 1969. I, also, remember the high caliber , finely polished drag show I saw in Sidney, Australia, a few years later where it was all live music including the singing but that's another blog.
Halloween as a big gay holiday hit home to me when I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1979 and went to The Sandpiper nightclub that October 31. At that time we had 4 different gay magazines/bar guides/newspapers and the 'Best Costume' events were being held in every bar--gay or nongay--but the biggest awards/ prizes were in the gay bars. That was the night I thought the whole world was made up of Judy Garland!