For a long time Halloween has been a big deal in gay culture. So much so that many a queer has called the holiday Gay Christmas, placing it in opposition to actual Christmas, a time when many folx in the queer community feel especially alone among unsupportive families and outdated traditions. But how exactly did Halloween come to be such a massive holiday among the queer community? Follow along as we detail the wild ride that saw Halloween transform from a Celtic tradition into the month-long celebration it currently is. And learn all about our new gay Halloween icon: the Babadook. That’s right kids, buckle up because we’re talking the Babadook.
The first instances of Halloween came from the Celtic holiday of Samhain some 2000 years ago. The tradition started as a time to celebrate the end of summer and the coming of the darkness. Even at this early date queer folx were representing and took places of prominence on Samhain as shamans, priests, and healers. Samhain became Hallow Eve once the Romans conquered the Celtics. And then Decades later under catholic rule Samhain became All Saints Day. The pervasive influence of Catholicism allowed the holiday to spread widely. The Hallow Eve holiday comprised of scary story telling and games such as trick or treat. These traditions then made there way to the Americas where they blended again with indigenous cultures, adopting games like trick-or-treat and dressing in costume.
Fast forward to the early 1900’s and the tradition of dressing in costume on Halloween had become a socially-accepted means for people to protest social norms if only for one night. People were big into crossdressing and Halloween was the number one day to get in drag and strut your stuff. On Halloween 1912 men and women in Pittsburg were actually arrested for crossdressing and in the same city a local paper reported bands of girls dressing as tomboys. Within two years, crossdressing on Halloween had become so popular that the Pittsburg police stopped arresting people for it.
Through the 1920’s and 30’s crossdressing continued to be a central part of LGBT culture during Halloween. Meanwhile the popularity of cabaret allowed this type of gender-bending expression to expand beyond the holiday. The emergence of gay neighborhoods met the soaring popularity of crossdressing and by the 1960’s Halloween masquerade balls were born. During the 1980’s it was reported that some 30,000 people poured into San Francisco’s Castro district to celebrate Halloween.
With generations of revelers celebrating Halloween as a chance to explore their gender and sexuality, and with crossdressing built in as a central part of the celebration, it’s really no wonder the queer community has dubbed Halloween as Gay Christmas. For one day a year people can explore and express themselves without the fear of social repercussions. Halloween has allowed the queer community and their straight allies a space to be as colorful and loud as they like. In recent decades the holiday has become even more popular as it continues to evolve.
Our Newest Gay Icon
So then how did the Babadook come to make its way into gay culture? First, let’s rewind a little.
For those of you new to the Babadook, it is the principal scary monster in the 2014 film of the same title. The movie takes place in sunny Adelaide, Australia following the story of widowed Amelia and her young son Sam. Things begin to spiral when Sam develops a fascination with monsters and stops sleeping. One day Sam brings a book called Mister Babadook to Amelia to read, after which things start to get spooky. The Babadook begins to haunt Amelia and Sam, prowling through their house and dreams. The directorial debut from Jennifer Kent is definitely worth a watch.
The Rise of an Icon
After the film was released whispers on the internet turned into a full-on rallying cry: the Babadook was a gay icon. Prides of 2015, 2016, and 2017 even saw folx cosplaying as the Babadook. From indie film character to gay icon the scary monster rocketed into gay culture starting from a somewhat-likely place on the internet: a tumblr post.
That’s right. The ironic post on Tumblr proclaimed that anyone who said the Babadook wasn’t a gay icon clearly hadn’t seen the film. Drawing over 100,000 thousand notes on Tumblr folx bantered back and forth about the merit of including the Babadook into the pantheon of gay icons. And joking that the B in LGBT actually stood for Babadook.
Later that same year a doctored image of the Netflix home screen made its way around the internet. The image showed The Babadook as a suggested film under the LGBT Movies category. From here things got scholarly.
In a 2017 article in the LA Times Karen Tongson, an associate professor of gender studies and English at USC explained the connection between the monster and gay culture. “He lives in a basement, he’s weird and flamboyant, he’s living adjacently to a single mother in this kind of queer kinship structure.” As the film progresses we see that the family initially struggles to accept the Babadook but by the end of the film they have found a way to accept him and live in relative harmony.
Some have said that reading the Babadook as a gay character or a gay icon is at best a leap of the imagination. After all, the character never says he’s gay, nor does he display in attraction to anyone over the course of the film. However, characters and people are not required to be overt in their sexuality to be considered gay icons. Both Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand have certainly been claimed as gay icons by the community despite hetero tendencies. Tongson says: "So many LGBT people have been barred from seeing themselves represented in popular culture, so we’ve had to project ourselves into so many of these figures.
Projection aside there is an argument to be made that a deep reading of the character definitely lends credence to the idea that the Babadook represents the queer journey. Tongson says, "There are ways to read into the character itself and the structure of how this ostensibly monstrous thing becomes incorporated ultimately into a family.” In 2019 with the real lack of queer representation in the media it's no wonder folx have continued to read the Babadook as queer character. And above all, the Babadook as a gay icon is plain and simple fun. And if gender-bending, flamboyant fun isn’t what gay Halloween is all about, then what is?