From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Cross-dressing is the act of wearing clothing commonly associated with another gender within a particular society. The usage of the term, the types of cross-dressing both in modern times and throughout history, an analysis of the behaviour, and historical examples are discussed in the article below.
History of crossdressing
Crossdressing has existed throughout much of recorded history. There are many examples in Greek, Norse, and Hindu mythology. A reasonable number of historical figures are known to have crossdressed to varying degrees and for a variety of reasons. There is a rich history of crossdressing found in folklore, literature, theater, and music.
In Greek mythology
- In punishment for his murder of Iphitus, Heracles/Hercules was given to Omphale as a slave. Many variants of this story say that she not only compelled him to do women's work, but compelled him to dress as a woman while her slave.
- Achilles was dressed in women's clothing by his mother Thetis at the court of Lycomedes, to hide him from Odysseus who wanted him to join the Trojan War
- Athena often goes to the aid of people in the guise of men in The Odyssey.
- Tiresias was turned into a woman after angering a Greek goddess, by killing a female snake that was coupling.
In Norse mythology
- Thor dressed as Freyja to get Mjölnir back in Þrymskviða.
- Odin dressed as a female healer as part of his efforts to seduce Rindr.
- Hagbard in the Scandinavian legend of Hagbard and Signy (the Romeo and Juliet of the Vikings). After having slain Signy's brothers and suitors, Hagbard was no longer welcome in the hall of Signy's father Sigar. Hagbard then dressed up as one of his brother Haki's shieldmaidens to gain access to the chambers of his beloved. When the handmaidens washed his legs, they asked him why they were so furry and why his hands were so calloused. He responded with a clever verse to explain his strange appearance. Signy, however, who understood that it was Hagbard who had come to see her, explained to the maidens that his verse was truthful. Hagbard was, however, deceived by the handmaidens and he was arrested by Sigar's warriors. Hagbard was hanged and Signy committed suicide as Hagbard watched from the gallows.
- Frotho I dressed as a shieldmaiden in one of his eastern campaigns.
- Hervor from Hervarar saga. When Hervor learnt that her father had been the infamous Swedish berserker Angantyr, she dressed as a man, called herself Hjörvard and lived for a long time as a Viking.
In Indian mythology: The Mahabharata
- In the Agnyatbaas ("exile") period of one year imposed upon the Pandavas, in which they had to keep their identities secret to avoid detection, Arjuna crossdressed as Brihannala and became a dance teacher.
Famous historical examples of cross-dressing people include:
- Hua Mulan, the central figure of the Ballad of Mulan (and of the Disney film Mulan), may be a historical or fictional figure. She is said to have lived in China during the Northern Wei dynasty, and to have posed as a man to fulfill the household draft quota, thus saving her ill and aged father from serving.
- Several tales of the Desert Fathers speak of monks disguised as women, and being discovered only when their bodies were prepared for burial. One such woman, St. Mary of Alexandria, died 508, accompanied her father to a monastery and adopted a monk's habit as a disguise. When falsely accused of getting a woman pregnant, she patiently bore the accusation rather than revealing her identity to clear her name, an action praised in medieval books of saints' lives as an example of humble forbearance.
- The legend of Pope Joan alleges that she was a promiscuous female pope who dressed like a man and reigned from 855 to 858. Modern historians regard her as a mythical figure who originated from 13th century anti-papal satire.
- Joan of Arc was a 15th century French peasant girl who joined French armies against English forces fighting in France during the latter part of the Hundred Years' War. She is a French national heroine and a Catholic saint. After being captured by the English, she was burned at the stake upon being convicted by a religious court, with the act of dressing in male clothing being cited as one of the principal reasons for her execution. A number of witnesses, however, testified that she had said she wore male clothing (consisting of two layers of pants attached to the doublet with twenty fasteners) because she feared the guards would rape her at night.
- Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650), known as La monja alférez (The Nun Lieutenant), was a Spanish woman who, after being forced to enter a convent, escaped from it disguised as a man, fled to America and enrolled herself in the Spanish army under the false name of Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán. She served under several captains, including her own brother, and was never discovered. She was said to behave as an extremely bold soldier, although she had a successful career, reaching the rank of alférez (lieutenant) and becoming quite well-known in the Americas. After a fight in which she killed a man, she was severely injured, and fearing her end, she confessed her true sex to a bishop. She nonetheless survived, and there was a huge scandal afterwards, specially since as a man she had become quite famous in the Americas, and because nobody had ever suspected anything about her true sex. Nevertheless, thanks to the scandal and her fame as a brave soldier, she became a celebrity. She went back to Spain, and was even granted a special dispensation by the pope to wear men's clothes. She started using the male name of Antonio de Erauso, and went back to the America, where she served in the army till her death in 1650.
- Anne Bonny and Mary Read were late 17th century pirates. Bonny in particular gained significant notoriety, but both were eventually captured. Unlike the rest of the male crew, Bonny and Read were not immediately executed because Read was pregnant and Bonny stated that she was pregnant as well.
- Ulrika Eleonora Stålhammar was a Swedish woman who served as a soldier during the Great Northern War and married a woman.
- Bonnie Prince Charlie dressed as Flora MacDonald's maid servant, Betty Burke to escape the Battle of Culloden for the island of Skye in 1746.
- Ann Mills fought as a dragoon in 1740.
- Hannah Snell served as a man in the Royal Marines 1747–1750, being wounded 11 times, and was granted a military pension.
- Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée Éon de Beaumont (1728–1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Eon, was a French diplomat and soldier who lived the first half of his life as a man and the second half as a woman. In 1771 he stated that physically he was not a man, but a woman, having been brought up as a man only. From then on she lived as a woman. On her death it was discovered that her body was anatomically male.
- George Sand is the pseudonym of Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin, an early 19th century French novelist who preferred to wear men's clothing exclusively. In her autobiography, she explains in length the various aspects of how she experienced cross-dressing.
- Dorothy Lawrence was an English war reporter who disguised herself as a man so she could become a soldier in World War I.
- Rrose Sélavy, the feminine alter-ego of the late French artist, Marcel Duchamp, remains one of the most complex and pervasive pieces in the enigmatic puzzle of the artist's oeuvre. She first emerged in portraits made by the photographer Man Ray in New York in the early 1920s, when Duchamp and Man Ray were collaborating on a number of conceptual photographic works. Rrose Sélavy lived on as the person to whom Duchamp attributed specific works of art, Readymades, puns, and writings throughout his career. By creating for himself this female persona whose attributes are beauty and eroticism, he deliberately and characteristically complicated the understanding of his ideas and motives. More contemporary artists like J. S. G. Boggs, Yasumasa Morimura, and Grayson Perry have also explored cross-dressing.
- Shi Pei Pu was a male Peking Opera singer. Spying on behalf of the Chinese Government during the Cultural Revolution, he cross-dressed to gain information from Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat. Their relationship lasted 20 years, during which they married. David Henry Hwang's 1988 play M. Butterfly is loosely based on their story.
- Billy Tipton was a notable jazz pianist and saxophonist in the United States during the Great Depression. He was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in 1914, but began living as a man in the 1930s. He was married five times to women, and adopted three boys. He led a full career as a musician and, in later life, as an entertainment agent. Other than his birth family, no one knew of his birth sex or cross-living until after his death in 1989.
- Willmer "Little Ax" Broadnax was a lead singer in several important gospel quartets, most famously the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. When he died in 1994, it was discovered that he was female bodied.
- Because female enlistment was barred, many women fought for both the Union and the Confederacy during the American Civil War while dressed as men.
- Edward Hyde, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, colonial governor of New York and New Jersey in the early 1700s is reported to have enjoyed going out wearing his wife's clothing, but this is disputed. Hyde was an unpopular figure, and rumors of his cross-dressing may have begun as an urban legend.
Cross-dressing is the subject of many works of literature and plays a significant role in popular culture. References to cross-dressing are frequently used for comic effect. And some established events are centered on cross-dressing, such as Southern Decadence in New Orleans, where the official festivities are coordinated by the Grand Marshals, who are traditionally cross-dressers.
Ballads have many cross-dressing heroines. While some (The Famous Flower of Serving-Men) merely need to move about freely, many do it specifically in pursuit of a lover (Rose Red and the White Lily or Child Waters) and consequently pregnancy often complicates the disguise. In the Chinese poem the Ballad of Mulan, Hua Mulan disguised herself as a man to take her elderly father's place in the army.
Occasionally, men in ballads also disguise themselves as women, but not only is it rarer, the men dress so for less time, because they are merely trying to elude an enemy by the disguise, as in Brown Robin, The Duke of Athole's Nurse, or Robin Hood and the Bishop. According to Gude Wallace, William Wallace disguised himself as a woman to escape capture, which may have been based on historical information.
Fairy tales seldom feature cross-dressing, but an occasional heroine needs to move freely as a man, as in the German The Twelve Huntsmen, the Scottish The Tale of the Hoodie, or the Russian The Lute Player. Madame d'Aulnoy included such a woman in her literary fairy tale, Belle-Belle ou Le Chevalier Fortuné.
In the myth of the Trojan War, Achilles' mother Thetis wanted to keep him from joining the Greek forces (and thus dying in battle as was prophesied), so she dresses him in woman's clothes and hides him among a cloister of women. When the Greek envoy arrives to fetch him for battle, Odysseus is suspicious of Achilles' absence and concocts a scheme to reveal the deception: he offers gifts to all the women, including among them a sword and shield. Then he has an alarm sounded, and when Achilles instinctively grabs the weapons to defend himself, the ruse is revealed and he must join the Greek army and fight at Troy.
In Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, Bradamante, being a knight, wears full-plate armor; similarly, Britomart wears full-plate armor in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. Intentionally or not, this disguises them as men, and they are taken as such by other characters. In Orlando Furioso, Fiordespina falls in love with Bradamante; her brother Ricciardetto disguises himself as his sister, dressing as a woman, persuades Fiordespina that he is Bradamante, magically changed into a man to make their love possible, and in his female attire is able to conduct a love affair with her.
In Giannina Braschi's mock diary, "Intimate Diary of Solitude/el diario intimo de la soledad" (the finale of the Latin American trilogy "Empire of Dreams/el imperio de los suenos") the heroine Mariquita Samper is a cross-dressing Macy's makeup artist who plots a literary revolution to kill the narrator.
In Terry Pratchett's novel Monstrous Regiment, he has an entire regiment of females (of assorted species) dressing as males to join the army, satirizing the phenomenon of crossdressing during wartime.
William Shakespeare made substantial use of cross-dressing for female characters, who take on masculine clothing to carry out actions difficult for women. In Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, Portia and her maid dress as men to plead in court on the merchant's behalf, and are quite successful in their ruse; in the same play, Shylock's daughter Jessica dresses as a man to elope with her Christian lover. Twelfth Night, or What You Will deals extensively with cross-dressing through the female protagonist Viola. She disguises herself as Cesario, and immediately finds herself caught up in a love triangle. She loves Duke Orsino who loves Countess Olivia who loves Cesario. Luckily, all is resolved when Viola's presumed dead twin brother Sebastian comes along. We only see Viola as Viola in one scene; for the rest of the play she is dressed as Cesario. When Rosalind and Celia flee court in As You Like It, Rosalind dresses, for their protection, as a man. However, as a way to further complicate the situation for comedic affect, Shakespeare has Rosalind's male character "Ganymede" dress as a woman to help a male friend, Orlando de Boys, practice wooing Rosalind, with whom he is smitten, while at the same time fending off the affections Phoebe has for "Ganymede". In other words, it is a man (the actor) dressing as a woman dressing as a man dressing as a woman.
In the musical Rent, Angel is an example of a modern cross-dresser.
In Clue: The Musical, Mrs. White is usually played by a man.
Although there is some dispute as to whether the character is transgendered or simply a cross-dresser, the character of Hedwig from the musical and subsequent movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch is another modern drag queen (the musical also features a male character played traditionally by a female actress, although the character's true gender is deliberately left with slight ambiguity).
Bugs Bunny frequently cross-dresses in his cartoons for either comedic effect or to confound a male opponent. Notable examples include "Rabbit of Seville", "What's Opera Doc" and "Rabbit Seasoning", all in attempts to deceive Elmer Fudd.
Dr. Frank 'n' Furter in the Rocky Horror Picture Show wore nothing but women's clothing the entire movie/play.
Doctor N. Gin from the Crash Bandicoot series, wears a ballerina dancer outfit in Crash Tag Team Racing. The tutu, obtained through one of Crash's missions, is an alternative costume that made N. Gin feel "pretty" and boosted his self-esteem.
In the manga and anime, Ouran High School Host Club, the main character of Haruhi Fujioka crossdresses as a boy so that she can work in a Host Club to pay of a debt she owes to the other members.
In the manga and live action series of Hana-Kimi (Hanazakari no Kimitachi e)), the main character, Mizuki Ashiya, crossdresses as a boy to attend an all boys boarding school to meet her idol, Izumi Sano.
In The Drew Carey Show, Drew's brother, Steve Carey, is a cross-dresser.
In Hairspray, Edna Turnblad is played by a man.
Cross-dressing actors and actresses
In Renaissance England it was illegal for women to perform in theatres, so female roles in the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporary playwrights were originally played by cross-dressing men or boys. (See also Stage Beauty.) Therefore the original productions of the above-mentioned Shakespeare plays actually involved double-cross-dressing: male actors playing female characters disguising themselves as males.
Cross-dressed female actors are referred to as playing "trouser roles," a historical example of an actress famous for trouser roles is Julie d'Aubigny, AKA "La Maupin" (1670–1707).
All roles in Japanese Noh dramas are traditionally played by male actors. Actors playing female roles wear feminine costumes and female-featured masks.
Japanese Kabuki theatre began in the seventeenth century with all-female troupes performing both male and female roles. In 1629 the disrepute of kabuki performances (or of their audiences) led to the banning of women from the stage, but kabuki's great popularity inspired the formation of all-male troupes to carry on the theatrical form. In Kabuki, the portrayal of female characters by men is known as onnagata.
In ancient China, nearly all the characters in Chinese Opera were performed by men, so that all the male actors, who played the role of a female were crossdressing. A famous cross-dressing opera singer is Mei Lanfang. From early 20th century, Shanghai yue opera (or Shaoxin opera) is developed from all male to all female genre. Although male performers were introduced into this opera in 1950s and 60s, today, Shanghai yueju (yue opera) is still associated as the only all female opera and the second most popular opera in China.
The Monty Python troupe have been known to cross dress for comedic purposes in their TV series and films. The troupe usually dress up as older, more unarousing women referred to by the troupe as "pepperpots". Although member Terry Jones was most famous for his female characters, all the members have been seen in drag in one sketch or another; members Michael Palin and Eric Idle have been said to look the most feminine, Graham Chapman specialized in screeching, annoying housewives and John Cleese, whom the troupe has said is the most hilarious in drag, appears so extremely unfeminine, with his square chin and six-foot, five-inch frame that it is funny. Cleese also wore female clothes while appearing as himself in a magazine advertisement for American Express. For more information about cross-dressing in movies and television, see the article Cross-dressing in film and television.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams regularly cross-dress in the Little Britain television comedy show, with Lucas in particular often somewhat more feminine and convincing in his appearance and performances than cross-dressing comedians of the past. The two also sometimes play a pair of unconvincing transvestites as a parody of some cross-dressers who try to act in a stereotypically feminine way while not succeeding in "passing" as women.
The British writer, presenter and actor Richard O'Brien sometimes cross-dresses and ran a "Transfandango" ball aimed at transgendered people of all kinds in aid of charity for several years in the early 2000s.
The Takarazuka Revue is a contemporary all-female Japanese acting company, known for their elaborate productions of stage musicals. Takarazuka actresses specialize in either male or female roles, with male role actresses receiving top billing.
In pantomime plays that are traditionally adaptations of fairy tales and performed around Christmastide, the role of lead male was once commonly played by a principal boy—a young, attractive, female. This practise has fallen out of favour recently, with popular male television and pop stars taking these roles. Conversely, the role of a pantomime dame, a middle aged woman played by a man for comic relief, is still one of the mainstays of the Pantomime.
Eddie Izzard, a British stand-up comedian and actor, states that he has cross-dressed his entire life. He often performs his act in feminine clothing, and has discussed his cross dressing as part of his act. He calls himself an 'executive transvestite'.
An entire cross-dressing genre of operatic roles, called "pants roles", "trouser roles", or "travesty roles". These are male roles performed by women, typically mezzo-sopranos but occasionally by sopranos. Some female opera singers specialize in these types of roles.
A major artistic reason for "pants roles" was that some storylines required young boy characters, but the actual performance required an adult's vocal strength and stage experience in addition to a high, boyish voice. Women were thus better suited to these boy roles than actual boys. Some examples of these boyish pants roles are Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro," Siebel in "Faust," and Hansel in "Hansel and Gretel". Other pants roles were created due to the need for an adult male character to seem other-worldly (Orpheus in "Orfeo ed Euridice") or unmanly (Prince Idamante in "Idomeneo," respectively). In some cases, the casting of a woman in a "pants role" may have been just an excuse to have an attractive actress appear in tight-fitting trousers. During the Grand Opera era, women typically worn voluminous dresses onstage. Some male operatic roles originally written to be sung in the voice range of castrati (men castrated in boyhood, whose voices never descended into the normal male register) are now usually cast with female singers in male costume.
Beethovens' only opera, Fidelio, is unusual in that it features a female character who cross-dresses as part of the plot. Fidelio involves a woman who disguises herself as a young man as part of a plan to rescue her husband from prison.
In the early 20th century, German composer Richard Strauss included a major trouser role in two operas: the Composer in "Ariadne auf Naxos" and Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier."
- The Kinks' 1970 hit "LOLA" is a song about an encounter with a transvestite.
- Pete Burns, the lead singer of the New Wave band Dead or Alive, cross-dressed in the bands' music videos, performances, and in his appearances on TV.
- The late actor and singer Harris Glenn Milstead became known for his drag persona, Divine.
- Prince, in his early career made andrgynous fashion choices; he currently wears high-heeled shoes.
- Marilyn Manson often wear androgynous costumes in their performances, music videos and public appearances.
- Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the American grunge band, Nirvana often cross-dressed at home and on stage.Template:Citation needed
- Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day wrote a song about cross-dressing called King for a Day.
- Mana is a Japanese musician and fashion designer who often cross-dresses.
- Brian Viglione, member of the punk cabaret group The Dresden Dolls, has cross-dressed since he was 12 years old.Template:Citation needed
- The Who's song "I'm a Boy" is about a young boy dressed as a girl.
- The Bitch and Animal song "Drag King Bar" is about cross-dressing.
- "Be My Human Tonight" by Norman Iceberg also talks about the concept.
- Queen cross-dressed in their video for the song, "I Want to Break Free".
- L'Arc-en-Ciel In the PV for "My Heart Draws a Dream" Tetsu can be seen wearing a girls' school uniform skirt when the band is shown.
- Annie Lennox is seen dressed in a suit, tie, gloves, and cane in the music video for Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).
- The rock band Twisted Sister often dresses cross dressed on stages and photo shoots.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis has been known to crossdress on stage and, occasionally, in videos.
Cross-dressers from other fields
The British writer and doctor Vernon Coleman cross-dresses and has written several articles defending men who cross-dress, stressing they are often heterosexual and usually do not want to change sex.
U2 wore dresses on the Achtung Baby sleevenotes.
Led Zep also dressed in drag in one of the pics on Physical Graffiti , they also hung out with drag queens.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is a known crossdresser.
- Breeches role
- Breeching (boys) – Young boys in the Western world wore gowns or dresses until an age that varied between two and eight.
- Cross-dressing in film and television
- En femme
- Female masking
- Sissy (transgender)
- Hijra (South Asia)
- List of transgender-related topics
- List of wartime crossdressers
- Passing (gender)
- Sexual Orientation Hypothesis