Where did that adult dress-up party begin?
As best we can tell: in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. In the 1970s, that neighborhood emerged as the heart of a new home-owning, bourgeois, coupled gay community. A local variety store had long sponsored a Halloween street festival for kids. In the 1970s, the street festival transitioned into an adult party of lavish costumed theatricality. The “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” — a troupe of transvestite nuns — got their start here.
The Castro Halloween party spread to other gay neighborhoods in the 1980s: Greenwich Village, West Hollywood, Key West, Florida. In 1994, University of Florida anthropologist Jerry Kugelmass published a book on the new trend, “Masked Culture,” describing Halloween as an emerging gay “high holiday.”
And after a while — the straights imitated.
From the spread of disco in the 1970s — to the habit of paying money for sparkling waters such as Perrier — culminating in Halloween, gays have incubated and developed major cultural trends. Straights adopt, and then ungratefully forget whom they are adopting from — just as American Christians forget how much of the modern Christmas music they enjoy was written by Jews, starting with the most popular of them all, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” The majority culture forgets what the minority culture has produced.
The “masked culture” first developed by the gays of San Francisco has reached across the lines of orientation — and now jumped across the boundaries between nations and languages. It’s not just a party. It’s an ideal of personal emancipation, self-expression and self-fulfillment — an ideal that loses none of its power when it takes the form of a sexy nurse’s outfit.