10/07/2013 03:01 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

My Friend Jack, the Unmasked Hero


For many, Halloween is all about tricking well-meaning neighbors out of candy and stealing from children, but for Jack, it's about a whole lot more. For him, Halloween is the great equalizer.
Jack is gay. He grew-up stereotypically gay looking in the conservative south. He was made fun of and and called "sissy" as a child and a "homo" and worse as a teen. And now, as an adult, he still mentally wears some of these labels, though most people in his social circle are either accepting of his lifestyle or just ignore what they can't change.

Halloween is Jack's favorite holiday of the year and always has been. Ever since he was a child, he looked forward to it, but not for the same reasons that other kids his age did. 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 Hallow's Eve, for my friend, Jack, was the costumes. Every year he would plan his costume very carefully. He went as Superman one year and as Dracula another. The costume didn't really matter, though planning was fun. It was the fact that he was, at least for one day, like everyone else.

The masks or make-up he wore every year hid his effeminate high cheek bones 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 glamor make-up. He also wore a wig that would have made Farrah Fawcett jealous.

When he wore these costumes, he knew that the stares he received were because he was looking 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 he when 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 positive comments and 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 that he was in costume. He 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 that was playing on the television. The guy next to him, a distinguished businessman, didn't give him the evil eye or get up. 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 people would be brave enough to dress as a gay person 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 if an average straight man walked into a bar wearing a fanny pack and pink bandana. He would suddenly become aware of the stares and even the comments spoken about him. Would it change the way he treated gays after that experience?

Though many straights and gays will not be able to walk in the shoes of the other, I would like to encourage everyone to show tolerance and to demonstrate love and understanding to others no matter of their sexual orientation, race or religion. Remember to look beyond the masks this Halloween, and every day, to see the person behind it and to embrace them for their talents, strengths and because they are really not all that different than you are.

This year Jack is removing all the masks. He is taking off his the capes and cloaks, the make-up and the wigs. This year he is going as Jack. Jack the talented chef who likes techno music, pepperoni pizza and going to the race track. Jack who can beat everyone he knows in PacMan and who secretly loves to watch Star Trek even though sometimes he pokes fun at his coworker who is a self-proclaimed Trekky.

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 go to the horror film festival. And he still plans on stealing candy from the neighbors, but he plans on doing it with his boyfriend, Ryan and with pride.

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