Dressed Like a Lady

Our modern day society puts aspects of life into labelled bins and everything that pertains to that label is filed in that section. Boys play sports so that is filed under male, and girls play dress up and that is filed under female. Once one of these aspects is out of place it throws off the standard viewpoint that has been considered the norm for so long. Cross-dressing falls into the out of norm category because it does not follow standardized gender performances. “Cross dressing involves subversion, struggle, and resistance and also modification, reconciliation and recuperation” (Humphreys). These are the different emotions and struggles that a person who cross dresses must go through to attempt to fit into such a close-minded society. Cross-dressing has been around for many centuries but is still not accepted fully into society as a way of life. From the Transgender/Transsexual: Issues and Approaches handout from one of the class presentations it lists many different definitions from the OED to identify the differences between transgender and transsexual. “Transgender: of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these” (Hersheid and Haley). “Tran sexuality: the state or condition of being transsexual, manifested in an overwhelming desire to belong to the opposite sex” (Hersheid and Haley). Now that we know the difference between transgender and Tran sexuality, we can appropriately use them to describe different actors in modern movies.

In the 1993 film, Mrs. Doubtfire a father from a divorced family chooses to dress as an elderly woman in order obtain a job as a house cleaner in his ex-wife’s home where his children live. He embodies the persona of a woman in order to be able to still raise and spend time with his children. This type of cross-dressing would be labelled as transgendered because he does switch back and forth from male to female personas. “It is obstinate core of identification purity, and mothering which helps to underpin the appeal to ‘women’s experience’—and that core is the concept of the female body” (Riley, 101). Denise Riley believes that certain attributes make a woman such as mothering and purity which Mrs. Doubtfire has in her personality but her alter male ego Daniel does not, which differentiates between male and female.

In the 2007 film, Hairspray John Travolta plays the role of Edna Turnblad, Tracy Turnblad’s mother. Travolta takes on the identity of being a woman in order to play a role; it is a desire to be a character that allows him to respond to his inner woman. This could be linked back to the mental thought process of someone who is Transsexual, meaning that they wish to completely act like the opposite sex. Travolta playing a woman threw a lot of his fan base off because he was seen as such a sex symbol for women especially in the film Grease. This is just another example of cross-dressing in the media.

John Travolta in two of his most famous roles, Grease on the left and Hairspray on the right.

John Travolta in two of his most famous roles, Grease on the left and Hairspray on the right.

Riley, Denise. “Bodies, Identities, and Feminism.” Am I That Name? (n.d.): 96-115. Print.


I’m Just a Sweet Transvestite Foucault that is all

For such a sexualized society, there are many rules that one must abide by when partaking in sexual acts. Such as the appropriate and inappropriate times to act, who they can be with, where they can do it, and why they are doing it. There are many unspoken ‘no no’s’ of the sex world that are a taboo to civilized society. In Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, he talks about the different social dos and don’ts in the bedroom.

“They determined each in its own way, the division between licit and illicit. They were all centred on matrimonial relations: the marital obligation, the ability to fulfill it, the manner in which one complied with it, the requirements and violence’s that accompanied it, the useless or unwarranted caresses for which it was a pretext, its fecundity or the way one went about making it sterile, the moments when one demanded it (dangerous periods of pregnancy or breast-feeding, forbidden times of Lent or abstinence), its frequency or infrequency, and so on” (Foucault, 37).

In the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show the main character Frank-N-Furter, who is a transvestite, shows a newly engaged couple different ways of sexuality and finding a sexual identity. Rocky Horror would count under Foucault’s theory as acts that are illicit because they are performed outside of a matrimonial relationship. The newly engaged couple, Brad and Janet, have followed the proper steps in their sexual lives by not having sex before marriage and Janet keeping her virginity for her wedding night. Frank-N-Furter shows both of them that it is perfectly normal and acceptable to experiment sexually with different sexes and different inner desires. Both Brad and Janet are very influenced by Frank-N-Furter to express these different thoughts and desires with everyone in the household except for each other.

“Doubtless acts ‘contrary to nature’ were stamped as especially abominable, but there were perceived simply as an extreme form of acts ‘against the law’; they were infringements of decrees which were just as sacred as those of marriage, and which had been established for governing the order of things and the plan of beings” (Foucault, 38).

Brad and Janet do not feel the least bit guilty about becoming over sexualized by their new transvestite friend, in fact while initially being skeptical about the whole situation the couple became more comfortable and confident in themselves and their relationship once the end credits were about to roll up the screen. I guess it could be noted that Foucault’s theories are false during the modern age societal norms but his article was published only a year after this film had come out, therefore pushing the envelope of normality in the bedroom. Foucault created a specific outline of what is and is not tolerated between a man and a woman, never mind between the same gender and anything else that would be considered outside of normal to his theories, that created a stigma to the actions and preferences that society has in the sexuality department.

  • Eribon, D. “Michel Foucault’S Histories Of Sexuality.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 7.1 (2001): 31-86. Print. 


The Twelfth Night is a key play written by William Shakespeare about a woman who disguises herself as a man in order to make her way through her new path. Viola is the female protagonist in the play and dresses as Cesario in order to have a place of employment in Duke Orsino’s castle. There are many different love tangles, as every Shakespeare story does, and Viola finds herself right in the middle of it all. In Davis Cressy’s Article Gender Trouble and Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England, he speaks about the different stigmas associated with cross-dressing and transvestism. “If it was unsettling, in an age of ambitious self-fashioning, that people used clothing to misrepresent their social status, it was downright disturbing if they misrepresented their gender by dress” (Cressy, 442). Cressy states that dressing outside of one’s gender was unspeakable and an act that should not be committed. This is seen within Shakespeare’s play once Viola reveals her identity to both of her love and her admirer Orsino and Olivia. Before Viola does this, she is still known as a Cesario to both Orsino and Olivia. Cesario is sent on behalf of Orsino to relay a message to Olivia confessing his desires for her. Cesario misplaces Orsino’s script and is left to improvise through her own desires as a female:

Cesario: If I did love you in my master’s  flame,

With such  a  suffring, such  a deadly life,

In your denial I would find no sense,

I would not understand  it.

Olivia:  Why, what would you?

Cesario: Make me a willow cabin  at your gate,

And call upon my soul within the house;

Write  loyal cantons  of contemned  love,

And  sing them loud  even in the  dead of night;

Hallow your name to the  reverberate hills,

And make the babbling  gossip  of the  air

Cry out “Olivia!” 0, you should not rest

Between the elements of air and earth

But you should pity me!

(Shakespeare, 266-279)

With Cesario doing such a good job relaying the emotional desires of Viola to Olivia, he puts himself in a predicament. Olivia now falls for Cesario because she enjoyed how he spoke to her about these feelings, she wishes that he would live with her and move from Orsino’s castle. Cesario does not agree to this offer because he (Viola) is in love with Orsino and is a woman who would never be able to please Olivia as a man. This is the reason mentioned earlier by David Cressy as to why society should follow their gender and the roles that coincide. “Cross-dressing, we are told, upset patriarchal values, assaulted cultural boundaries, and unraveled the sexual separators of ambivalence, androgyny, and eroticism” (Cressy, 439). Although Viola did dress as a man in order to survive and support herself, she did not however take into the considerations that follow with being a man in her era. Viola overall caused more trouble and will be ‘blamed’ for it because she is ultimately a woman.

The video above is from the modern spin of The Twelfth Night She’s The Man, in this scene it shows how Sebastian (Cesario) is trying to make himself seem like a ‘man’ to all of his friends by using woman to make him look desirable.

  • Cressy, David. “Gender Trouble and Cross-Dressing in Early Modern England.” Journal of British Studies 35.4 (1996): 438. Print.

Dress Up

The theatre has always been a place of free creativity. This includes expression of the actors and actresses have in their roles and in costume design. In the Victorian era women were not permitted to be a part of theatrical productions, even if there was a female role. Men played every role in each production including the female parts. This was one of the first known instances of cross dressing. In this time period, however, men dressing as women for the purpose of theatre were considered socially acceptable. Although once women were allowed in theatre these men no longer we allowed, “Socially”, to dress in women’s clothing.

Even though women are a part of the entertainment industry there are still men who play women’s roles or are needed to act as a woman for their role. In modern day this is not seen as an unacceptable act to our present society. I will touch on the different men who played women in the recent years in my next few posts.

In Cheryl Herr’s article One Good Turn Deserves Another”: Theatrical Cross-Dressing in Joyce’s “Circe” Episode she speaks about men who play women in theatrical roles. In one section she specifies to Julian Eltinge who was a famous American female impersonator and his extents he went to for his roles : “a complex ritual of gender-worship; even when shaved, corseted, rouged, coiffured, and costumed, Eltinge still had to enact with grace the poses and gestures characteristic of womanhood in his day if he were to establish a convincing illusion for his audience” (263). This type of cross-dressing, although intended for entertainment purposes, is considered to be drastic for the job. “But it is notable that dramatic transvestism was especially in vogue during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, when sexual impersonation was tolerated poorly, if at all, in routine social settings, and when the theatre functioned as a refuge for those phenomena like cross-dressing that Victorian and Edwardian society wanted to see as having no more substance than theatrical illusions” (263).

Cross-dressing was meant for the sole purpose of theatre because women were not allowed to participate in productions. It was a fearful thought to see someone of the opposite gender dressing in similar clothes.”The nature of human sexuality and its relationship to identity and consciousness, cross-dressing could be viewed only as an abnormality, a disease, a confusing condition as threatening to the sense of stability deemed necessary to most individuals as was true physical hermaphroditism or an overt behavioral psychosis” (264). It was seen as a mental disease to dress outside of your gender because it went against the ‘normal rule’ of gender.

Cross-dressing for men was only allowed in the theatre but once women were allowed to participate those who actually enjoyed their alter egos became cause to a fear and ridicule of dressing outside of your gender.

Below is a short video of male sex symbol who played a role as a cross dresser

  • Herr, Cheryl. “”One Good Turn Deserves Another”: Theatrical Cross-Dressing in Joyce’s “Circe” Episode.” Journal of Modern Literature 11.2 (1984): 263-76. JSTOR. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3831247&gt;.

Gender Roles: Effects of Labeling

Gender roles have been implemented for many centuries in our society and are still instilled into our younger generations. “The term sex is used to refer to physical differentiation (i.e., male-female) whereas the term gender is used to refer to a social construction (i.e., masculine-feminine)” (Blume, et al, 785).  Children are taught at a young age their own gender and the roles that accompany their sex. “In this process of social construction (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Gergen, 1994), both children and parents contribute to a family’s unique interpretation of sex-typed gender stereotypes, known as gender schemas” (Blume, et al,786).In a short video from youtube it is seen how children at a young age know the differences between genders and when asked about certain tasks they knew which doll to point to, male or female.

Society’s outlook on gender roles covers many subtopics such as identity, looks, and actions that male and females should abide by in public. Males are expected to be masculine and powerful over their female counterparts. Masculinity is shown through identity in his career choice; a man’s career is very influential on his personality and outlook on himself in society. A man is expected to have a career that stabilizes not only his identity but his wife and children. Masculinity is also shown through how a man looks in his build and stature, he is supposed to be tall, built, and muscular. This is a sign of masculinity because it shows that he is powerful and able to protect his wife and family through strength and dominance. Lastly masculinity is shown through a male’s actions and how he portrays his character, as a bachelor he needs to been seen with many women fawning over his masculinity in order to enhance it, the more women the more masculine he is according to society. If this male is a married man it is shown by how he takes care of his wife and family, linking back to his career of choice. Society puts a lot of pressure on the male community to create a solid base for himself and his family and continue to support it while keeping his masculine physique and be a family man. In this clip from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast the character Gaston is considered to be the ideal of masculinity for both the male and female standpoint.

Females are expected to be feminine and matronly in society’s definition of being a woman. Femininity is shown through a woman’s identity which would be her relationship with her husband and the amount of love and care she shows her children. A woman is considered to be successful if she is married and has children by a certain age, which varies depending on culture and residence. Femininity is also shown through a woman’s looks which means her build and how she carries herself. A typical woman should be of average height and be curvy yet skinny, have long hair and perfect skin. Women should always dress trendy and be put together with make-up and styled hair. Lastly femininity is also shown through a woman’s actions in a public realm. She must act lady like and keep a composure in emotional events, as well as not be too sexualized as this causes negative attention to her. Society also puts a great amount of pressure on women to look, act, and represent femininity in a certain light. In the clip below is a parody of how woman are portrayed in modern day society through the eyes of men.

  • Blume, Libby Balter, and Thomas W. Blume. “Toward a Dialectical Model of Family Gender Discourse: Body, Identity, and Sexuality.” Journal of Marriage and Family 65.4 (2003): 785-94. Print.

Reason Behind the Name

Here is Aerosmith’s 1987 music video for Dude Looks Like a Lady that shows different forms of crossing dressing for the purpose of the video.

A bit about me

Hello all,

I am writing this blog about how the social media portrays cross-dressing to society and the effects it has upon the image of cross-dressing. This blog is based for a final project in my Gender and Sexuality in Literature class where we are graded on how well we can develop our topics through a blog format using social media while still creating a scholarly base for discussion. My blog will consist of five posts over the next five weeks were I will be breaking down the aspects of cross-dressing through the using social media.

Hope you all enjoy!