In my hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi, the story goes that a pumpkin farmer raced from his house toward the frantic pleas of his eldest daughter who lay pinned beneath a tractor. Upon seeing the girl, her father was seized by a tremendous burst of adrenaline, a miraculous shot of superhuman power that trebled his strength and allowed him to lift the machine off her. Little did I realize, there within the parable of Halloween lore, was the essence of society's dysfunctional relationship with woman.
How apropos. I sat behind the wheel of my rusted-out station wagon, sweat pouring over my temples and cheeks, afraid. Gazing into my rear-view mirror once more, I tried to see what no shortage of people had been fooled to assume was a young man—perhaps a little effeminate, but a man no less. Tragically, the one person my disguise couldn't fool was me. I saw the girl, the girl God had fucked around and made. My bag was not full of candy, but rocks. And with the last day of October, I was making All Hallows Eve the night of my resurrection.
When finally I mustered the courage to face down the mysterious black door and push it aside, I felt a cool rush of refrigerated cigarette smoke and him. The scent of man, chock-full and pissing, sweating, oozing adrenaline from every pore. I gazed down at a sunken jack o'-lantern that looked as though it could have been a leftover from last year. The stale aroma of lager and sex only deepened my inebriation, and I barely heard the command.
"Jesus, Man. In or out!"
I stumbled in, letting the door close behind me, and allowing a seedy darkness to swoop in. Before my eyes had even adjusted, long before my fear was fully sated, it occurred to me I'd been accepted. Jesus, Man. The absence of a syllable—homonym of rejection and pity—feeling no woe, told not, "Whoa," for they saw not a wo-man before them.
I felt their eyes and bore the weight, slinking into a dark corner strung with fabric cobwebs where I could watch without being so greedily appraised. My felt hat stuck to my head. My secondhand suit was rumpled and sweat-stained. My heart beat feverishly as the waiter-devil came and went, and I sat back to breathe the noxious fumes of testosterone, of whisky, and of homosexuality.
It was a place where Halloween was practiced like a dark art. Perched like museum sculptures in every corner of the bar were men in one form of self-deceit or another. Angels in black leotards, French maids with thick black mustaches, towering men with large misshapen breasts in old housedresses stolen from underused wives.
There were few places like it in the Bible Belt of 1963. I'd heard tell of it from a friend—from several, actually—who spoke of Dallas's underground fagdom with reverence. I'd driven all the way from Mississippi to Texas the night I was kicked out of college, desperate for some tangible truth about my backward existence.
My parents had tried. No counselor, no professional's opinion sought nor bought could shed light on my situation. Then came the pills, or dummy capsules, as my father called them. They left me scared of my skin, but otherwise quiet and complacent. Naturally, it was then that my parents declared victory.
Left alone to tend my burgeoning breasts, blossoming hips and raging fertility, I found myself inept to deal with boys and their disgustingly forward advances. None of it made sense to me. I studied my peers—the other so-called pretty girls who gushed at being crushed on—while, to me, such behavior seemed not only cumbersome and awkward, but somehow unjust.
The epiphany—it must be called that—was startlingly simple when it finally dawned on me. I'd sat through enough Streetcar Named Desire, watching the collision course of men like Stanley Kowalski and women like Blanche Dubois. They raced through my mind, every example of feminine weakness I'd been shown since my awakening within society Americana. Not only had we been consistently portrayed as brittle, fickle, confused, dim, incompetent, emotional, quivering, trembling, bumbling, hopeless, blushing, gushing, fussy and flighty—we were.
In the weeks leading up to my expulsion, I'd felt it gaining strength. I felt as if my own body were turning gold to brown, and preparing to curl up and twist on the branch like a dead leaf. Fliers announced the coming of the costumed orgies. Men and women touched openly on campus. I'd hear a passing conversation about what devil of a man he'd make, how delicious a wench she might become. For one night, they could be anything but themselves with the comfort of waking up the following morning and showering away the makeup and the hangover.
My hangover was born of a life in bondage. My entire being so rejected the mold I was being forced to accommodate that I knew there must be some mistake, some fatal error on the chemical level. I was, as I saw it, a man sewn into female flesh. I was convinced that God had taken a royal shit when assigning my gender. Never mind the fact that I'd begun to crave sex, actually fantasizing about the exquisite pain my friends described à la cock meunière.
Early into that Halloween evening in Dallas, men were competing for my attention, emptying their tales of sorrow into my parched ears while we listened to the teeming peals of costumed street urchins racing by unattended, outside our sanctuary. I don't know why they felt comfortable with me, whether it had anything to do with my secret, but as I smiled at the black rubber bats dangling from the ceiling, I tried hard not to think about it. I was being accepted. And more, I was just one of the ghouls, slouching, pissing and moaning, bearing the weight of the world on my shoulders and getting naught but ungrateful sneers from its hetero-passenger.
"I wish she'd fall off a cliff."
I'd learned a lot about being a man. Certainly, the married sort. Tragically, that Dallas bar was nothing more glorious than a refuge for a man whose true self was hostage to job and spouse, and the reality of that November would soon dawn. It seemed unthinkable to me—almost criminal—that these pillars of bunched nerves and raw strength, parading around with such pride and expression, could be brought down to their emotional knees by societal conformity. Unlike woman, man could rely on himself. He ought to maintain duty to no one else. But, to listen to my friends, it seemed as if I'd gotten it all wrong.
Either through fear of public ridicule, church indoctrination or financial implosion—the way I saw it—the great Dons of masculinity had been fooled, lured and bound by the shackles of a society no longer appreciative of his ability to mold life from raw material. He'd been sold a pithy freedom, then weighted beneath the burden of responsibility to another—shackled to a weaker wife and in-laws, forced to do menial chores and be in bed by a reasonable hour.
And what of those who'd signed the contract in blood, only to discover they'd no love for women at all? Bludgeoned by the dictates of religion, the latent homosexuals pledging servitude to a life they could never truly live. No less gruesome than the black and white horror movie that flickered on the bar's television screen.
It was a surprise when he slid his fingers between mine. He was dressed as Humphrey Bogart. He was a fag who'd had the good fortune of knowing what he was at puberty and never looking back. He was mustached—older by the time I entered his world—and in possession of the thickest black eyebrows I'd ever seen. His wrinkles had been filled in with a black eye pencil to make them more expressive. His arms wore a black coat of fur, and I knew he was strong the moment he grabbed me.
We made our way past the sheets and spooks and queer queens. I turned my back to him in the bathroom so he could press against me, to shove me against the wall. My body was florid and aching, and he breathed hotly into my neck.
"Don't ever forget this night," he hissed. How would I? I was a wilting virgin.
The catch unsnapped from the front of my jeans and he dragged them down over my butt, exposing my pale hot flesh. I breathed deeply, feeling crushed by his weight and the gauze bandages wrapped around my tits meant to hide them. He ought have been a vampire the way he bit at my neck, and then he reached past me to jab at the liquid soap dispenser. A blue gel spat into his palm until overflowing, and he drew back, shoving his hand between us.
I gasped at the cool sensation slithering down the crack of my ass, then a finger—the first ever—as it pushed to enter me. He kissed me, his free hand clinging tighter as he misinterpreted my rectum's natural response to invasion.
"You'll be okay," he said gently. I believed him and did my best to relax, waiting, fearful and full of want. He plumbed me with his finger and I listened to his breathing grow heavy and moist. His Bogey hat fell to the floor, but I didn't care. I felt dizzy, unable to draw a complete breath. No sooner had I felt his finger's retreat that I experienced the first stab of real pain. It was the moment I began to live—something akin to a Christian's being born again—biting my lip and crying through the bitter sting of soap and stretching. His cock began to fill me and I gazed wide-eyed into the cobweb-covered bathroom mirror, beholding with awe his semi-holy expression of pure innocence, and perhaps, yes, holiday gratitude.
Reality came crashing back when he placed his hands at my hips and thrust. Forced forward to squint, clench my teeth and clutch at the edges of the dirty sink, I was fucked hard and without mercy. Steadying myself, I jabbed a hand down to my crotch, stabbing a pair of fingers into an already sodden cunt. A fire rippled through my thighs as he slammed against me. The pressure was tremendous. Our moans melded—me growling as he growled, groaning as he gritted his teeth and opened his mouth.
When he came, he told me. I visualized the spurting weapon ejecting deep within my bowels as he shook and whimpered. I couldn't even remember how it'd begun, now so readily colliding with its feverish climax. Yes, a fucking miracle, and had I come with him, it just might have been enough.
Later, as I lay draped across a loveseat in the back of the bar, inebriated and listening to the kissing, touching ghosts, I was overcome by a revolting body. My own. I shivered and clung to myself. Playing a man had taken its toll. I was Cinderella's wet dream, and midnight was nearing.
A man came to me in a violent dream. He slid a stubby revolver into his long-tailed coat and beckoned me to follow. We slipped like shadows into a theater, slinking over plush carpets and pushing aside blood-red curtains as we went. All at once, I saw a tall man who sat alone in his private box. His beard was as scraggly as it was phony. He was tapping his knee in time to the rhythm of a melody being hummed by the costumed actors below. I stood stone-faced as the man beside me withdrew the revolver from his coat, grinning a grin at me and whispering, "The trick is the treat." When his victim toppled to the floor, I recognized the costumed man as Abraham Lincoln.
I heard the call in my sleep, and when I woke staggeringly sober, I knew what I must do. I was stronger than I'd ever taken credit for, myself capable of throwing off the yoke of oppression and leading my fellow man beyond a night of rotten candy and childish pranks. I would stake our claim on November and carry Halloween to the Promised Land. I could make the world remember when men were masked avengers, crusaders with secrets we proudly kept, leaders of all, slaves to no-one and nothing.
A cigarette was stuck in my face and I took a drag off it. "Be rid of her," I said. "I could do it."
The shadow before me Jack Selig. He was broad-shouldered and bear-like. He was JFK. Beautiful. He leaned back and eyed me cautiously. After all, I'd just proposed he do his wife and have done. We sat across from one another, the table a clutter of beer bottles and a smoldering ashtray, the night dying to wane but for our refusal to give in. Jack knew I was serious, and the way he looked at me I knew it too.
"She's home now. I could pay you to do it. I will pay."
I'd rung the doorbell all of seventeen times before a youngish woman with brown hair stood before me in a nightgown. She was disheveled and upset.
"The trick is the treat," I said and forced myself inside. Jack's wife screamed and collapsed to the floor where I fell on top of her. But she was strong, and she clung to my jacket and pulled me to the floor beside her.
"Who are you?" she cried, clawing my face and mussing my costume. My hair came unfastened and fell over my shoulders. She gathered it into her fingers and yanked.
"Christ!" I shouted, trying to get my arms free of her nightgown.
"You're just a girl," she said and I froze. She let go of my hair and reached out to caress my face. I felt tense and angry, as though I'd betrayed myself and my order. Her touch was indescribable, gentle and yielding.
"Leave me alone," I said feebly. My brain pulsed, and I felt aflush with liquid heat and blood-red confusion.
I could not be sure, but it seemed as though she was unbuttoning my shirt, running her fingers over the rough gauze wrapped around my chest. When the lengths of bandage fell away, we gazed together at my breasts. The sharp nipples and small bulbs blushed from where they endured the shell of the man I'd worn like a cloak.
"It was awfully tight," said Jack's wife, kissing between my breasts.
I closed my eyes, feeling her supple body beneath mine. "It was."
"Yes. So tight." She kissed my nipples and circled them with her tongue.
We moved with purpose, hurried and awkward, tearing one another's undergarments, climbing and pressing ourselves together. Her pale flesh was coursing with heat and trembling tendons. I pressed myself between her legs, grinding hard as she bucked and hooked her ankles through mine.
Glossy green eyes stared up at me. Her breasts heaved and pancaked. I gazed down at our cunts, twisted and tangled, her blood-filled lips peeking out beneath the coarse thatch—grinding, splitting and fraying my nerves with every impassioned grunt.
She rolled her eyes and purred, grinning and whimpering at me. Her arm snaked out and felt through my discarded jacket. In a moment, she had my knife open and was leaning back, tracing the blade over her belly.
"You'd have killed me," she teased.
"Stop," I told her.
"Show me. Show me how you'd have slain me on such a night." She drew the sharp tip between her breasts and fucked me harder.
"Don't be stupid," I hissed. "You'll hurt yourself."
She put an arm around my neck and pulled me in for a kiss, but I turned my head. I felt the sting of cold steel when the knife touched my skin. "Don't be that way," she groaned into my ear. I didn't want to kiss her, wanted only to come, to be done. I'd not gone to Selig's house to fuck his wife—I'd gone for the sake of destiny. My destiny. Was the hope of a new November to be dried up?
She was close, digging her heels into my butt, gasping for breath. "Yes, yes, yes." Her hand was between us, fingers suddenly inside me. I cried out as my stomach twisted into knots and my whole body went tight. A flood of searing moisture swept outward from my core.
"You lovely girl. You sweet, sweet thing." Her brown hair was matted to her forehead, and I felt such hatred for her—hatred I'd reserved for myself—the thing within the costume—but couldn't own.
"Shut up," I groaned.
"You wouldn't hurt a soul," she whispered, taking my hand from her breast and guiding it to the knife pressed to her skin. She closed her hand tight over mine, forcing me to clutch the hilt.
"Stop," I growled. My head was pounding, vision blurring and I thought I saw her face as the sagging jack o'-lantern outside the black door of that Dallas bar.
"You're not a man. You're a woman. Just a girl. They knew. At the bar, they all knew. Jack told me you were coming."
"No," I said, gripping the knife, tears welling in my eyes. I couldn't tell what was real, nor why she insisted on punishing me. I was John Wilkes Booth, I was Lee Harvey Oswald. A man of destiny. I was the farmer who lifted the tractor from Lady Liberty's broken back. I had not come with candy. I'd come with poison for anyone who'd ever spat at us and forced us into drag.
"I'm a man," I told her.
Her blushing expression turned dark, and she sneered. "You fucking idiot! I want you, don't you see? You came on behalf of Jack? What about me? What about what I had to endure? You don't know me, where I came from! He sent you to me as my Halloween present. They all know about you, my girl. " She grabbed my hand hard. "You want to do it? Carve me like a gourd? You're drugged out. What's the matter with you? You're no man. You're not even a boy! You're completely revealed! The night is over."
"Shut up!" I cried.
"Stupid girl. Wake up!" She started to push away.
The extra syllable—like extra baggage—woe. The extra syllable—homonym for rejection—whoa. I leaned forward and felt the blade go in. I watched the eyes widen with surprise, the mouth open and go tight, and I braced myself for the scream. But it didn't come. And the candlelight in her lantern-eyes flickered and went out.
"You're wrong," I screeched. "I bear the weight of the world. I am the last man of a disgraceful October!"