Halloween can sometimes be a distressing time for queer men. What may seem like a particularly fun time of year where anyone can dress up and have a great time can sometimes turn into a month-long battle between what you’d like to dress up as, and what the world fins acceptable for you to dress up as. This vortex of making yourself happy vs making the people around you comfortable often times seem completely suffocating. But the reality of the situation is that almost every recently out queer man, both young and mature, will find themselves centred in the middle of a tug and war between your own feelings and the assumed feelings of those around you. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In all reality, dressing up for Halloween should be something amazing and freeing. It shouldn’t make one feel as if they have to choose between personal happiness and the level of acceptance or tolerance that those around you may have. It’s your night and you should be able to wear whatever you want. You should be able to dress as masculine and as feminine as you want. As outrageous or as tame as you’d like (just as long as it isn’t socially insensitive and offensive) In reality, the only stress one should feel during the spookiest time of the year is the stress of choosing just one costume out of all the great ideas floating around out there. Hopefully, this article will help you put your brain into overdrive during these last few days leading up to Halloween and help you put together the most amazing queer boy costume this year.
When in Doubt, Pastel Out
Whether you opt for femme boy extraordinaire or super masc gym rat chic. Pastels are always a great way to keep things fun for Halloween. Forget bright colours and all black ensembles. Pastels manage to give you a hint of softness with any costume you wear. Wearing an entire pastel outfit, or certain pastel elements can often time give you a sugary sweet and often times funny contrast; especially if you’re fusing something scary or overly masculine with your pastel look. You’re bound to be the centre of attention in your ice cream coloured party outfit if you opt for a pastel gig. Options for your pastel costume are endless. Some super fun ideas are The Chanels, Almost any kind of dessert, The quintessential fairy costume, cheer captain, and Anime Lolita.
A Gay Staple: The Unicorn
Now, this may seem like a no-brainer, lgbtqa+ folks have been associating themselves with the mythological creature for decades now. And for good measure. The unicorn is one of those majestic creatures yields great importance in the world of myth for its power, dominance, and strength. However, the reason the unicorn should be a go-to Halloween costume for queer kids over something like a dragon (not to say that dragons are badass) is that it doesn’t present its strength through overt masculinity, instead, it presents an image of strength through the balance of graceful femininity and brute masculinity. It’s a perfect balance between the two.Now the fun thing about a unicorn costume is that you can make it as feminine or masculine as you’d like and as sexy or tame as you’d like. The possibilities are endless. Imagine dressing up as a fetish unicorn, a space unicorn, a ridiculously hilarious blow-up unicorn or a sexy boudoir unicorn.
Your Favourite Drag Race Alumni
It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, queer, or everything in between. If you’ve had the pleasure of becoming a Rupaul’s Drag Race fan, then you’ll know how sickening some of the girls that have walked through the workroom are. And you know deep down inside (like Madonna said) you want to know what it feels like for a girl. So here’s your chance. With over 100 different queens to choose from. Drag race has a plethora of queens to chose from. Even if your favourite queen’s look is too hard to achieve, you can pick any of the other queens who’s looks are easier to achieve. However, when attempting to recreating a queens look, be aware that there may be more work you can commit to last minute. Nails, makeup, tucking, and wigs are all part of the processes, but you don’t have to go full on drag. Remember, it’s your choice. Some good example of gag-worthy queens is Valentina, Alaska, and Trixie Mattel.
Here’s where you can really start to get creative and have fun. The possibilities could be endless. Whether you want to gender bend your favourite character or recreate their entire look. Video game characters are an amazing option for a queer boy to celebrate Halloween in. The world of video games has countless iconic characters to one can emulate or borrow from. Form Square Enix and their Final Fantasy series to Nintendo’s huge game roster. In all fairness, of all the costume ideas on this list. Video games are by far the easiest to recreate since there are most likely plenty of costume stores that sell video games costumes, but there are hundreds of tutorials online on how to DIY your favourite characters looks. Some good bets could be Princess Peach, Payne, Ash Ketchum, Ivy Valentine.
If art is meant to push boundaries, then some of those should be the boundaries of imposing straightness and cis-ness, right? In other words, the art world ought to be a more open and inclusive place for queer people. And while most of us can think of older queer artists from the past (Andy Warhol probably comes to mind), there are lots of wonderful and talented queer artists working now. Here are five:
1. Kent Monkman: Monkman’s work is brilliant and brutal, examining modern Indigenous life and recasting colonial history, sometimes with his alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. Monkman is known for using classic colonial images and inserting Indigenous people or characters to recast the narrative. He is also known for his stunning installations and large paintings documenting everyday life for Indigenous folks, the beautiful and the heartbreaking. Blending gender, sexuality, and race together in brilliant ways, Monkman is definitely one of the best queer artists out there. He is currently touring the exhibition “Shame & Prejudice: A Story of Resilience” His work can be found on his website here.
2. Eiki Mori: This Japanese artist is best known for his beautiful photography that explores male sexuality in the most intimate settings. Born in Kanazawa, Japan, in 1976, Mori has been active for almost 20 years in the art and photography world and has produced several photography shows and three books, including, most recently, Intimacy, which was published in 2013. Mori is never flashy and doesn’t demand your attention, instead he invites you to the quiet, more gentle moments. Some of his work can be seen on his website or his Instagram account.
3. Joe Average: After being diagnosed with HIV at the age of 27, Joe Average chose to commit the rest of his life to his art. While his work may seem a bit simplistic, it is undeniably beautiful, colorful, and bright. You can even see his work on banners around the gay village of Vancouver. He is also a prolific photographer, with bright images of flowers, drag queens, birds, and other daily images of life. You can see all of his work here.
4. Sophie Campbell: Campbell is mostly known for comic art work like her graphic novel Wet Moon and her webcomic Shadoweyes. What is most admirable about Campbell’s work is her inclusion of a diverse array of characters of different races, genders, sexualities, and body types, a diversity rarely seen in most comics. She has also drawn for the Jem and the Holograms graphic novel series. You can see all of her work on her art Tumblr.
5. Elisha Lim: Lim first came to prominence for their portrait series “100 Butches”, an ambitious project meant to document many butches Lim came across. They have since worked on numerous different projects, many about documenting other queer, trans, and non-binary people. These include series of portraits about “Sissies“, or works documenting their own life history from Canada and Singapore. Lim’s work can be found in their graphic novels 100 Butches and 100 Crushes.
Last Sunday, Pride Parades took place around the world, including one right here in Toronto, which happened to be the first parade I’ve ever attended. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more rainbows, naked people, drag queens, and babadooks all in one place.
In some ways, it felt like two parades were happening at once. There was a corporate parade with huge banks and tech companies atop floats, blasting music, handing out rainbow stickers with their logos prominently placed. This was the parade full of rainbow Canadian flags, with our Prime Minister and his family at the front, along with other politicians, rainbow flags on their cheeks, waving and smiling at the crowds.
The ‘other’ parade wasn’t as flashy, as loud, or as celebratory. This was the parade of Indigenous folks with Cree artist Kent Monkman serving as Grand Marshall. I saw signs noting that Indigenous presence here is a lot older than 150 years. Shortly after a float from TD Bank passed by, a sign went up asking why TD was investing in tar sands. One sign from Greenpeace demanded that Pride return to “queer liberation” and not “rainbow capitalism”. This was also the parade where Black Lives Matter, unregistered, showed up to remind us that they didn’t need to register because Pride belongs to them, to queer and trans people of color. When the first Toronto Pride Parade happened back in 1981, there were no corporate floats and the police were involved, but only because of the arrests made in Operation Soap (the raids on Toronto bathhouses) which led to Pride.
I’m not trying to say we should go back to 1981. I’m not even saying that corporations should be banned completely from Pride. But it still feels odd that the pounding music and free giveaways from Colgate and Pizza Pizza and others overshadowed small local queer groups and activists who clearly weren’t there for the free advertising and good press that comes from painting a bus in rainbow stripes and calling yourself progressive. It also felt more than a little bizarre that people from the Conservative Party were marching, considering that the new leader of the Conservatives is Andrew Scheer, who opposed gay marriage and voted against Bill C-16, which guarantees federal protections for LGBT people.
Putting aside any debates about Israel and Palestine, it’s a bit disturbing to me as a queer Jewish woman to see a star of David, an old symbol of Judaism that has been around for thousands of years, be considered a political symbol or a nationalist one. Yes, the star is associated with the state of Israel, but as it turns out symbols can mean different things. Are we being asked to avoid representing our whole selves in the name of “equality”?
I will say, though, that the wrong response to this controversy would be asking to keep politics out of Pride. Pride is political. How can it not be? Our collective rights as a community are still in question. For example, legal protections for trans people has been a very recent subject of political discourse right here in Canada. LGBT people are facing persecution all over the world, from Trump/Pence in the US and Putin in Russia.
The real issue is, of course, determining the balance between trying to centre Pride events around the most marginalized members of the queer community, ensuring people don’t get left behind or left out for their religion, giving a space to people to celebrate and feel joy, having a protest, and remembering history. It’s a lot to keep track of. I don’t think there’s any easy answers here, and I know that this is a challenge the entire community will continue to face for a long time.
Tate Sameshima is a photographer, a visual artist, and the owner of TKVO on Dundas West. We met in front of Windows Gallery, where his latest series, HUMAN. is being shown, and walked to Glad Day Bookshop to chat about his work and how the different aspects of his life are connected. In person, it’s difficult to avoid recognizing Tate’s generosity of mind, his willingness to see beyond the surface and eagerness to let others’ shine through. And this side of him is abundantly clear in HUMAN. wherein the seemingly mundane or overlooked details of life that make up most of our experience yet remain in the background bind us in ways that overgrown politicized and make-believe differences in culture, sexuality, gender, etc. continue to fail in breaking.
Hoon: You come from a medical family, studied theatre production at Ryerson, you’re a photographer, and you’re the owner of TKVO on Dundas West. How would you describe yourself?
Tate: I would say that I wear a number of different hats. I’ve always been creative, ever since I was a kid, and never without my family’s support, although yes, they’re all medical. Studying Theatre Production at Ryerson was definitely a launching pad for me; that’s where I learned how to be a storyteller. Storytelling has been a prominent focus in my work, especially my recent work. And even within my retail shop, TKVO, there’s an underlining story being told – why the shop exists, why I felt the need to deem it a ‘safe space’, through the curated collection of goods we offer; it’s our story, which I feel is a relatable story to a lot of folks. So essentially I’d say that I’m an art maker, business owner, and storyteller.
H: On your website you write, “[Tate Sameshima] learned how authenticity and vulnerability can connect us, bridging gaps across differences that too often divide.” What did you mean by that and does it still inform your work?
T: For me it’s a matter — especially for the work that I produced this year [HUMAN.] — of being really honest in terms of how I present my work as an artist. I live a fully authentic life now. This is my true self and it was imperative that the work I produce is representative of that. For me, authenticity and vulnerability go hand in hand, I can’t be one without the other. I think when you’re honest with yourself and each other there’s a far greater chance that differences can be understood and respected, rather than disregarded and used as another means to increase a divide.
H: Could you tell us what you mean by living authentically?
T: For me living authentically… well, I discovered that crucial missing piece when I transitioned from female to male. I began transitioning in September 2015, I finally reached the point of living authentically when I was honest with myself and made that decision to transition. I can’t speak for others, but I think it can be as simple as being kind, being genuine, being true to yourself and presenting yourself as such to the world.
H: How would you say Theatre Production informs your work?
T: I studied Lighting Design at the Ryerson Theatre School and having that comprehensive understanding of how light behaves has definitely influenced my work. I shoot in natural light environments so in a sense the light is an additional subject in the frame and it’s that kind of challenge (manipulating light) that keeps me invested in the photographic process. But essentially, it was really the attention to detail that RTS engrained in us. In first year you have to study everything and as a results you gain knowledge and experience in every department that exists in order to mount a theatrical production. It was that type of learning model that helped sculpt me into a more mindful, aware artist that considers every detail of every shot.
H: How did you get into photography from theatre school?
T: I picked up a camera when I was 15 and I never really put it down. I was heavily influenced by my high school Drama teacher. To be honest, high school was quite challenging for me. My Drama teacher — her name is Valerie — became my safe person. That class was such a joy for me, it was one of the few things I would look forward to. I was very depressed throughout high school, but I found myself really invested in her class. She made it OK for me to consider pursuing a career in the Arts. She was such a positive force in my life during a really dark time. I would say that Photography was always my passion, from the moment I picked up a camera, but it was those 4 years at Ryerson that really saved my life.
H: Take us through your creative process.
T: I capture through both digital and analog processes so that’s my starting point – what do I feel like holding that day? I had a friend once say that if you look at something for more than 3 seconds, it’s worth documenting, so that’s my mindset when I’m working, I don’t want anything to escape me. I have an appreciation for daily city life – streetscapes, texture, patterns, stories people can relate to. But for the HUMAN. series it was a very different process; the entire series is based on connecting with people in a very personal, intimate setting. Each finished piece is comprised of the subject’s story / their experience, and our time spent together. There was a level of vulnerability and visibility present in those pieces that I had yet to experience, hence why this series is very special for me.
H: Would you say that it was a thematically or conceptually motivated piece?
T: Honestly I had produced a completely different body of work for The Artist Project and I shared it with a few very close friends of mine who also have creative backgrounds. And it was my best friend, in particular, who challenged me. He said, “This really isn’t representative of the year you’ve had. It doesn’t feel like you.” Hearing that from him really impacted me. He pushed me — as he always does — to take a closer look at the work, at myself and decide – what do I want to put energy into creating. The Human. series is thematically motivated because, in a way, any human being can relate to this work. With the current political climate we find ourselves in, I felt that it was very necessary to produce work that was going to instigate important conversations, ones regarding safe spaces and the LGBTQ+ communities.
H: You have a lot of experience photographing architecture and space. Yet for the HUMAN. series you decided to photograph the interviewee’s ‘Adored Item’ to showcase alongside the collages. How did you come to that decision?
T: It was simply a matter of relatability. I wanted to essentially level the playing field. Everyone has a personal item they feel close to, whether it’s from their current day to day life or an item from their childhood. Having everyone hold their item in their portrait and displaying that item next to the finished piece, it creates that link…a way to connect. Anyone has, say, a stuffed animal that they are fond of because it reminds them of their childhood. I felt like there had to be some type of connection to bridge the gaps, some way for the viewer to relate to these portraits of folks they had never met. Sure enough people were really expressive when they took the series in, pointing out the GameBoy they remembered playing or being reminded of their favourite stuffed animal growing up. The ‘adored items’ definitely created the response I was hoping for; they weakened the socially-constructed boundaries that cause these divides in the first place.
H: Transgender issues are starting to pop up more frequently in mainstream media — Transparent, for instance, or, more recently and controversially, in Dave Chappelle’s comedy special. What are your thoughts on how artists and audiences can make positive contributions to shaping our conversations around transgender experiences?
T: I think mainstream media is a powerful vehicle. Hollywood plays a significant role in how certain topics are discussed, they cast the widest net. Growing up in the 1980’s, there was zero representation of a transgender person, at least not a relatable, positive representation. But now we are a community whose voices are getting louder and I really think that’s because we are speaking for ourselves, we are telling our stories and making them heard. Transparent is an incredibly inclusive project. Members of the community are in the writing room, editing room, on set, assisting actors, in the accounting department, etc. There’s a reason why it’s successful. It’s honest. Now having a comedian who has no understanding, appreciation or respect for the community (or any marginalized group for that matter) make offensive jokes, well that just breathes more negativity and does more harm. I’ve never been a fan of mean, hurtful humour and I don’t engage with people who react well to that kind of comedy.
I don’t know if you’ve heard about Her Story, but it’s a miniseries written by Jen Richards and Laura Zak. It’s groundbreaking. It’s a beautifully executed story regarding two trans women and their unexpected love stories. It features predominantly LGTBQ+ women on and off-screen. For me it’s another perfect example of how to positive contributions are being made via mainstream media.
H: Tell us about TKVO
T: TKVO is a medical acronym that stands for “to keep vein open”. My family is entirely medical and I wanted to pay tribute to them. It was a means to keep them close to me, but really I see TKVO as a state of mind – be open, embrace creativity, push against constraints. Essentially, TKVO is a queer lifestyle shop. We sell everything from gender-neutral clothing to accessories, artwork by local artists, and a number of unique home goods as well. TKVO is a safe space — everyone is welcome. Anyone can come in, try a piece of clothing on and not feel any kind of judgment. It’s a tightly curated collection of goods, highlighting queer makers, both local and international.
H: What are some ideas you’d like to explore or plans you’d like to execute both for your art and at TKVO?
T: I’m definitely going to expand the HUMAN. series. The end goal for the series would be to create a very large body of work with folks from all around the world. For TKVO, really, what’s most important to me is continuing to present ourselves as a safe space and celebrating queerness. For example, the one very personal project for me at TKVO is our Super series – that’s our in-house brand, it’s very important to us. To put it simply, we believe in living authentically. As members of the transgender community we care very deeply about living visibly and continuing to have those necessary conversations within our communities and amongst our allies. Embracing our identities has meant everything to us. We encourage others to do the same. That has been our inspiration for our SUPER series. (Super series is a line of t-shirts, tank tops and accessories, with a number of different logos like SUPER QUEER, SUPER HUMAN, SUPER TRANS, SUPER BUTCH, SUPER FEMME and SUPER ALLY.)