San Francisco, USA. 1994
Sequins: the most indestructible flair in fashion. These sparkly plastic disks are surprisingly tough — especially if you get caught on a Drag Queen’s sequined gown in a crowded bar in the Castro District of San Francisco during Halloween.
Unwittingly, I volunteered for this sequins durability and strength testing on October 31, 1994. One week earlier, my friend Cathy and her boyfriend Grant invited me to come with them to the Castro for what was sure to the biggest and most outrageous Halloween celebration around. We decided it would be far more exciting than spending the night in Berkeley where we all lived. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be than the Castro.
A bit of history on Halloween in San Francisco and the Castro
The Castro’s celebration, essentially a massive street party, was the most popular Halloween event in the nation for decades. Traditionally, Halloween has been a celebration during which many members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in San Francisco have felt free to be themselves or their alter egos. In San Francisco, Halloween, as a holiday embraced by the city’s LGBT community, has roots dating back to the 1950s. The Tenderloin, North Beach and Polk Street have all been hosts to the blowout. The Castro naturally inherited the celebration when more gay residents moved to the area in the 1970s. It has rivaled Mardi Gras as far as major ragers go.
Unfortunately, like all good parties that draw the masses, the Castro’s Halloween celebration ballooned to more than 10,000 participants in the early 2000s. City officials canceled the celebration after a 2006 shooting injured nine revelers. While people still gather in the Castro on Halloween it is nowhere near as epic a celebration.
Colonel Sanders is in the House
Cathy, Grant, their friend Ally and I arrived in San Francisco around nine o’clock. When we got to the Castro it was a total free for all.
Scantily clad guys sprinted down Castro Street while gorgeous drag queens sashayed down what turned into an asphalt catwalk. Public displays of affection abounded. This was a homophobe’s biggest nightmare.
For a woman, however, it was awesome. No cat calls, whistles, getting groped or ordered to “Smile.” Cathy and Ally were dressed as sassy flappers, and making use of a former bridesmaid’s dress and lots of black kohl eyeliner, I was “Tinkerhell,” Tinkerbell’s evil Gothic twin. Basically, we could have been naked and on fire and no one would have given us a second look.
Grant, on the other hand, who was dressed as Colonel Sanders, received whistles, cat calls, and air smooches. His identity pretty much begged for comments like “Hmm….finger lickin’ good,” and “Hey Colonel, I’d like some of your special recipe!”
After being told, “Let me salute you, Colonel,” by a well oiled shirtless guy in tight Daisy Dukes, Grant clung to Cathy or whichever female was closest. He was terrified of being left alone. In fact, when Ally, Cathy and I told him we were going into to a nearby bar to use the bathroom, he pleaded for one of us to stay with him. Although not homophobic, Grant, like most guys who haven’t experienced all that overt attention, wasn’t sure how to deal with it.
We squirmed our way into one crammed club where most of the guys looked like they were auditioning for a Hanes briefs commercial. Again, several guys voiced their request for finger lickin’ goodness. Grant couldn’t handle it anymore, so Cathy, Ally and I reluctantly left with him.
Walking to a slightly less crowded and boisterous part of the Castro, we went into a more “mellow” club. Several drag queens held court in this particular bar —and man, could they rock their dresses. While waiting for drinks, I stood next to one of the queens who was particularly tall in his five-inch platform heels. With a gorgeous head of long blonde synthetic resin hair, he also donned a fuchsia satin gown that was covered in sparkly sequins.
Basically, my shoulders were level with his butt. This bar, which wasn’t as crazy as some of the other clubs, was nevertheless very crowded. When we decided it might be time to head back to Berkeley, I realized I couldn’t move forward; I was stuck to the giant Drag Queen. My Tinkerhell costume had quite a bit of angel hair fashioned into what was supposed to be a cobwebbed shoulder wrap.
The angel hair had become tightly wound in his sequins. I wasn’t going anywhere. And neither was the Queen, which made him just a bit annoyed. Every time I tried to move forward, I pulled on his butt. Angel Hair, which is pretty much spun glass, is quite durable, and it wasn’t just ripping away.
Discovering their friend was halted in the revelry, the Queen’s friends came to inspect. Cathy was already busy trying to undo some of the angel hair. Every time she tugged on the strands, the Queen’s dress came with them.
“Hey, Honey, watch it, watch it, said, the Queen.
Meanwhile, one of the Queen’s more proactive friends, dressed as a Gothic Swiss milk maid in combat boots, arrived. Wearing a mermaid cut gown and boa, another friend, who was not nearly as tall as my bedazzled attached mate, also came by to survey the scene.
“Oh my god, who are you anyway?” Gothic Heidi asked me.
“Tinkerhell — Tinkerbell’s evil twin,” I said.
“Okay, I can see it. But this angel hair is god awful,” he said holding a free strand and frowning at it.
When you are surrounded by men who look damn good in dresses and heels, you begin to become a bit insecure and self-conscious. At that point, I just wanted to be set free.
One of the Queen’s considerate followers in a sailor outfit brought drinks over for all of us while the rest of both our entourages worked at undoing the angel hair.
Eventually, I came loose. The Queen fanned himself and flung his blonde wig in what seemed like mock exasperation. “Free at Last,” he said in his best breathless Marilyn.
“I just have to tell you how good you look in your dress,” I said to him. “Honestly, I could never rock a gown like that, and, really, it was an honor to be stuck to your..ah..sequins.
“Aren’t you a sweetheart, Tinkerhell,” He looked over and started to reach down and pat me with his fuchsia glove, but then reconsidered because of the possibility of getting stuck on my angelhair wrap again.