Ever since Jack was young, he looked forward to Halloween, but not for the same reasons that other kids his age did. For him, Halloween was the great equalizer.
Jack is gay. He grew up stereotypically gay-looking in the conservative South. He was made fun of and called "sissy" as a child and worse as a teen. As an adult, he still mentally wears some of those labels, though almost everyone in his social circle these days is accepting of his sexuality or ignores what they can't change.
Halloween is Jack's favorite holiday and always has been. Of course, he liked the candy and the treats, and the parties and the horror movie marathon on the local television station.
But the best part of All Hallows Eve, for my friend Jack, was the costumes. Every year he would plan his costume carefully. He went as Superman one year and as Dracula another. The costume didn't really matter. It was the fact that he was, at least for one day, like everyone else.
The masks or makeup he wore every year hid his effeminate high cheekbones and perfect complexion. He could hide his small frame under a bulky fireman's coat or wrap it up in 50 rolls of gauze bandages. One year he embraced his body and donned a dress and put on full glamour makeup. He also wore a wig that would have made Farrah Fawcett jealous.
When he wore these costumes, he knew the stares he got were because he looked amazing or because his costume was by far the best at the party. It had nothing to do with the fact that his voice squeaked when he tried to talk in class or because he forgot and crossed his legs instead of sitting with his knees apart like the other guys he knew. He got compliments from strangers instead of pointed fingers and hurtful names whispered under their breath.
One time, in college, he dressed up like a biker. He wore a black leather jacket and even bought a pair of black leather boots that he couldn't afford. He looked so convincing that he walked down the main street in town and no one looked at all. They had no idea he was in costume. Jack was just an average guy. A guy. Not a gay guy. Not a "homo." Not a "girl." He was a guy.
At first he liked it. He walked into a straight bar, sat down, and wasn't stared at. He ordered a beer and acted interested in the game on television. The guy next to him, a distinguished businessman, didn't give him the evil eye or get up and leave. Instead, he started talking about football stats and motorcycles.
It was fun. It was refreshing. And it was totally fake.
As Jack told this story to me, I wondered how many straight men would be brave enough to dress as a gay man for Halloween. And what would that look like? Would they wave their hands in an effeminate way and wear a pink polo shirt? I can only imagine what would happen. The straight guy would suddenly become aware of the stares and the comments about him. Would it change the way he treated LGBT people afterward?
Though many straights and gays will be unable to walk in the shoes of the other, we should show tolerance and demonstrate love and understanding to others no matter their sexual orientation, race or religion. Look beyond the mask this Halloween and every day, to see the person behind it and to embrace them for their talents and strengths, and because they are really not all that different.
This year Jack is removing all the masks. He is taking off his capes and cloaks, the makeup and the wigs. This year he is going as Jack. Jack the talented chef who likes techno music, pepperoni pizza, and going to the racetrack. Jack who can beat everyone he knows in Pac-Man and who secretly loves to watch Star Trek even though sometimes he pokes fun at his coworker who is a self-proclaimed Trekkie.
He is Jack. A man. A Superman without the cape. A man who happens to be gay. A man who no longer feels the need to hide behind a mask or costume to feel normal. But someone who is normal and feels sorry for those who think otherwise. For the first Halloween in his life, Jack isn't going to try to hide.
He's going to live. He may steal candy from the neighbors or go to the horror film festival, but he plans on doing it with his boyfriend, Ryan, and with pride.
SHANE JORDAN is a blogger and political advocate for LGBT rights. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneJordan5