Nearly every human society throughout history has distinguished between male and female gender by the style, color, or type of clothing they wear and has had a set of norms, views, guidelines, or even laws defining what type of clothing is appropriate for each gender. Cross-dressing is a behavior which runs significantly counter to those norms and therefore can be seen as a type of transgender behavior. It does not, however, necessarily indicate transgender identity; a person who cross-dresses does not always identify as having a gender different from that assigned at birth.
The term cross-dressing denotes an action or a behavior without attributing or proposing causes for that behavior. Some people automatically connect cross-dressing behavior to transgender identity or sexual, fetishist, and homosexual behavior, but the term cross-dressing itself does not imply any motives. However, referring to a person as a cross-dresser suggests that their cross-dressing behavior is habitual and may be taken to mean that the person identifies as transgendered. The term cross-dresser should therefore be used with care to avoid causing misunderstanding or offense.
Some people cross-dress as a matter of comfort or style. They have a preference towards clothing which is only marketed to or associated with the opposite sex. In this case, a person's cross-dressing may or may not be visible to other people.
Some people cross-dress in order to shock others or challenge social norms.
Both men and women may cross-dress in order to disguise their true identity. Historically, some women have cross-dressed in order to take up male-dominated or male-exclusive professions, such as military service. Conversely, some men have cross-dressed in order to escape from mandatory military service.
Single-sex theatrical troupes often have some performers cross-dress in order to play roles written for members of the opposite sex. Cross-dressing, particularly the depiction of males wearing dresses, is often used for comic effect onstage and onscreen.
Drag is a special form of performance art based on cross-dressing. A drag queen is usually a male-bodied person who performs as an exaggeratedly feminine character, in heightened costuming sometimes consisting of a showy dress, high-heeled shoes, obvious makeup, and wig. A drag queen may imitate famous female film or pop-music stars. A faux queen is a female-bodied person employing the same techniques.
A drag king is a counterpart of the drag queen but usually for much different audiences. A female-bodied person (often lesbians) who adopt a masculine persona in performance or imitates a male film or pop-music star. Some female-bodied people undergoing gender reassignment therapy also self-identify as drag kings although this use of "drag king" would generally be considered inaccurate.
Transgendered people who are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment therapy are usually not regarded as cross-dressing. Namely, a transsexual who has completed gender reassignment surgery is certainly not considered cross-dressing, unless they were to wear clothes of the gender opposite of what they have transitioned to. Pre-operative transsexuals may be considered similarly.
The term underdressing is used by male cross-dressers to describe wearing female undergarments under their male clothes. The famous low-budget filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. said he often wore women's underwear under his military uniform during World War II.
Some people who cross-dress may endeavour to project a complete impression of belonging to another gender, down to mannerisms, speech patterns, and emulation of sexual characteristics. This is referred to as passing or "trying to pass" depending how successful the person is. An observer who sees through the cross-dresser's attempt to pass is said to have read them. There are books and magazines on how a man may look more like a woman.
Sometimes either person of a heterosexual couple will wear it to arouse the other. For example, the Male would wear skirts or lingerie and/or the Female will wear boxers or other male clothing. (See also forced feminization)
Others may choose to take a mixed approach, adopting some feminine traits and some masculine traits in their appearance. For instance, a man might wear both a dress and a beard. This is sometimes known as genderfuck.
It was once taboo in Western society for women to wear clothes traditionally associated with men, excepting certain circumstances, such as for necessity (as per St. Thomas Aquinas's guidelines in Summa Theologiae II), or in the case of the "holy transvestites" (cross-dressing female saints), of which there were many. The limiting guidelines on acceptability seemed to focus on passing; the taboo was most strongly focused on the blending of genders.. Cross dressing is somewhat cited as an "abomination" in the Bible in the book of Deuteronomy (22:5), although even in the Middle Ages, its applicability was occasionally disputed and still is.
The 15th century French feminist Martin le Franc, concerning Joan of Arc:
While this prohibition remained in force in general throughout the middle and early modern ages, this is no longer the case and Western women are often seen wearing trousers, ties, and men's hats. Nevertheless, many cultures around the world still prohibit women from wearing trousers or other traditionally male clothing.
Cosplaying may also involve cross-dressing, for some females may wish to dress as a male, and vice versa (see Crossplay). Breast binding (for females) is not uncommon and is most likely needed to cosplay a male character.
In most parts of the world it remains socially frowned upon for men to wear clothes traditionally associated with women. Attempts are occasionally made, e.g. by fashion designers, to promote the acceptance of skirts as everyday wear for men. Cross-dressers have complained that society permits women to wear pants or jeans and other masculine clothing, while condemning any man who wants to wear clothing sold for women.
While most male cross-dressers utilise clothing associated with modern women, there are some who are involved in subcultures that involve dressing as little girls or in vintage clothing. Some such men have written that they enjoy dressing as feminine as possible, so they will wear frilly dresses with lace and ribbons, as well as multiple petticoats, corsets, girdles and/or garter belts with nylon stockings.
In modern Western societies, cross-dressing behaviour in women is more difficult to identify as a large number of traditionally men's clothing such as trousers have become socially acceptable for both genders to wear, leaving few types of clothing that are only socially acceptable for men to wear. A woman can even wear men's shirts, trousers, and underwear without it being noticed or considered as crossdressing, as very similar clothing items are produced for women.
Social acceptance plays a large role in the perceived low numbers of women crossdressers for the simple reason that it is far more socially acceptable for a woman to be seen wearing men's clothes than a man to be seen wearing women's clothes. Therefore a woman wearing rugged jeans and a plaid shirt would not garner much attention, whereas a man wearing a skirt and high heels would instantly be deemed a cross-dresser. Since the advent of feminism, women have been held to much more lax standards of gender expression and dress, allowing them to still express their femininity but at the same time not being constrained to the feminine ideal as in ages past. Men, on the other hand, are still subject to the same social constraints that existed before the advent of feminism. Thus, men are being held just as much (if not more) to the same standards of masculinity as in the past, and a display of seemingly opposite gender behaviour on a man's part is socially taboo. Therefore the reason it is so hard to have statistics for female-bodied crossdressers is that the line where non-crossdressing stops and crossdressing begins has become blurred, whereas the same line for men is just as defined. This is one of the many issues being addressed by the modern-day masculist movement, the male-equivalent of the feminist movement.
Some psychoanalysts today do not regard cross-dressing by itself a psychological problem, unless it interferes with the functioning of a person's life. "For instance," said Dr. Joseph Merlino, Senior Editor of the book Freud at 150: 21st Century Essays on a Man of Genius, "I'm a cross-dresser and I don't want to keep it confined to my circle of friends, or my party circle, and I want to take that to my wife and I don't understand why she doesn't accept it, or I take it to my office and I don't understand why they don't accept it, then it's become a problem because it's interfering with my relationships and environment.
It can be equally difficult to be certain of the motives of modern day people who cross-dress. The only real proof of motive is that person's own statement. Yet even this is not always certain, as there are examples of people attributing their cross-dressing behaviour to one motive only to later realize that they may have had another reason. The classical example of this would be a transsexual person who initially attributed cross-dressing behaviour to transvestic fetishism (for transwomen) or the utilitarian practicality of male clothing (for transmen).
Another problem which many cross dressers recognize in the attempt to attribute motives for their behaviour is the pathologization of cross dressing inherent in this sort of research. Many cross dressers feel, that rather than attributing motives for cross dressing, research should rather focus on the reasons for why cross dressing is considered taboo by society, or why clothing is gender-segregated at all.
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 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 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.
In the musical Rent, Angel is an example of a modern drag queen.
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 a 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.
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 onagata.
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.
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 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 which 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. Though this practise has fallen out of favour somewhat recently with the rise in 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'.
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" 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 late Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, crossdressed in the movies he's in due to the part he plays, which is usually a woman. He also crossdressed in his music videos.
Marilyn Manson often used crossdressing in their performances, music videos and public appearances.
Mana Japanese musician and fashion designer.
The Bitch and Animal song "Drag King Bar" is about cross-dressing.
U2 wore dresses on the Achtung Baby sleevenotes
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