I crouched down in the aisle of Target, looking both ways, and picked up the cheap wig. The Jungle Explorer style was a knockoff of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. The dark brown “hair” didn’t quite match my wife Lauren’s, but the chopped bangs that would drape over my forehead looked similar. I was going to have to unravel the long braid and trim the excess length.
It wasn’t the first time I’d worn a wig. Lauren and I dress as couples for Halloween. When we paired as Fry and Leela from Futurama I simply wore an orange wig spiked with hairspray along with my own red jacket, white T-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. Lauren really goes the distance: in addition to a tank top, black jeans, and boots, she cut her own cyclopean eye from paper layered over a length of hose, sprayed purple dye into her ponytail, and constructed a utility wrist strap from rolled up cardboard.
This year, I had options. Lauren set out two skirts that my grandma had given her. I chose the longer one. Lauren had me try on a blue long-sleeve shirt. The length of the clothes would cover my hairy legs and arms. I felt open in the skirt, but, I was afraid I’d rip out of the shirt, despite its ribbed material.
I still had to wear a bra that we would stuff with shape. I stretched Lauren’s sports bra over my back, but the front revealed my hairy nipples. To cover me, I had to wear a padded floral bra. The underwire dug into my ribcage and the shirt cinched my chest tighter. When I tried to breathe deeply the bra’s clasps began to bend.
Lauren wore two sports bras underneath my loose navy button-up. She tucked the shirttail into my khaki pants, filling out the seat and inseam with her curves. Her long hair was folded up into my orange ball cap that I began to wear during summer when my handyman hat got too streaked with soil and stained with paint to wear to parties.
But it wasn’t my clothes that made Lauren look like me. It wasn’t the scruff. With a stipple sponge she dotted stubble all over her cheeks, chin, and throat. Lauren even added a dot like my beauty mark on the left side of her upper hairy-appearing lip. It was like looking at a fun-house mirror.
When I was a kid, Mom let me and my brother Joe stand in front of the mirror and dress up at home. We wrapped boas around our necks and wove hairclips into our bowl cuts. I don’t remember smudging on lipstick but Mom didn’t usually wear it, so she probably didn’t have any for us to try. Dad called us Josephina and Christina. He thought it was just as fun as when we acted like pirates in bandanas, clip-on hoop earrings, and eye patches. Dad always played with us whether we strutted down the hallway for our catwalk in a fashion show or shot darts behind empty box-forts in a Nerf battle.
Later in the summer of my freshman year of high school, my Aunt K, who didn’t have any children, brought me and my cousin Jess to New York for a week, because she took all her nieces and nephews to a city when they became teenagers. Every afternoon, she would kick us out of our hotel to explore the streets and people watch while she took a nap. Jess and I wandered the nearby blocks and visited surrounding buildings. We rode the chipping gold-plated elevators of Trump Tower with bell-hope uniformed men and lit a wispy-wicked candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with habit-wearing nuns. One afternoon, we returned while Aunt K was still sleeping. So, Jess and I went into the bathroom. He had bought a candy bar that he would split if I did something ridiculous. I picked up Aunt K’s dress, put it on, and danced around the room having as much fun as being a kid again playing dress up.
I didn’t feel as comfortable as a kid when I dressed up looking like Lauren. I clomped out of our house in my own boots with wool socks just short enough to reveal my hairy calves below the hem of Grandma’s skirt. The autumn air blew up my legs and over my exposed clavicle in Lauren’s sweater. I wouldn’t want to wear those clothes at any temperature. I wore plastic lenses set in a painted pair of pink frames like Lauren’s glasses instead of my own. Daylight Saving Time hadn’t fallen back and so the sun still shone for any of our neighbors to spot us, and judge me, on our way to the party.
A female Fidel Castro met us at the door of the apartment of George Michael (not the singer, but the son from “Arrested Development”) and the Brawny Man who were hosting the party. Lauren introduced me as, “My wife….” Immediately I got weird looks — despite everyone knowing us — followed by suggestions on how to improve my costume, from men in the kitchen.
Cowboy said I should have shaved and worn make up, as he had done as Sarah Palin in 2008. Batman (from the Adam West years) said I looked ridiculous. He poked my sock-filled chest without my permission. Before moving to the living room, I wondered aloud who should be calling whom ridiculous, since he was wearing a mask made out of electrician’s tape and running shorts pinned up to his waist to create bulging briefs over gray pajama bottoms like a diaper.
A bearded prom queen in a powder blue dress walked into the party. His chest was too huge with all-too-round breasts the size of volleyballs. Then, in came a bearded blonde princess. His chipped plastic tiara was as fake as his lumpy toilet-paper-filled top. Both of them sat with me in the corner; our backs to the wall, defensively and cattily facing the rest of the party.
“I didn’t know you were back,” I said to bearded princess. “How’s your mom?”
“What happened to your mom?” bearded prom queen interrupted.
Bearded princess explained about his mother’s mental illness compounded by hoarding tendencies, and his time spent helping her clean up her multi-story house where she lived alone. Bearded prom queen’s wife, Cheerleader, jumped in to take a photo on her phone and sent it to his mom. He said she’d be surprised.
I started talking about my mom’s issues with possessions and how she loves giving knick-knacks as gifts. I spent the rest of the party talking to those two other guys about our mothers; women who birthed and raised and knew us as boys; now men who had dressed up as women.
On our way home in the dark, Lauren told me she talked to another woman at the party who went on and on about wishing to be a man for a day. The other woman just wanted to know what it felt like to penetrate. I didn’t like for the idea of a man being condensed to only a penis. I wondered if any of the women at the party didn’t like me and the two other guys stuffing our chests and wearing dresses as the idea of being them.
But I didn’t want to physically be a woman. And I couldn’t list only one thing that could be condensed into being a woman. I just wanted to have fun dressing up in clothes that I usually wouldn’t. Costumes are something ridiculous. I’m not making fun of being someone different than myself, but having fun discarding my own uniform and forgetting my usual self. Costumes have been a way for me to be part of a cartoon couple, a pirate, a goofy aunt, or another gender. I try on an outfit and at the end of the night get to feel a bit like another person. Costumes have been part of my childhood, teenagehood, and continue into my adulthood; I’ve even had a costume allow me to consider my future.
Last Halloween, Lauren put age make up on my face. She brushed on dark lines deepening my wrinkles. My forehead creased in shock, eyebrows crunched together in disagreeableness, eyelids scratched outward in sun-squinting, and mouth dug from my nose to the edges of my lips in laughter. Lauren spraypainted my buzz cut and her bun silver. I put on her dead grandfather’s newsboy cap, buttoned a shirt up to my neck, yanked a pair of grey sweatpants above my jutted out belly, and slid into slippers. Lauren wore a loose white blouse under a black sweater-vest with an arched-back cat stalking along a fence top. She wore a wool skirt draped down to some no-non-sense shoes. We stuffed our pockets full of Werther’s candies and hobbled out together as I hope we eventually will fifty years from now.
Originally published on The Hairpin.
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