This essay will analyse cross dressing- A way of
dressing like the opposite sex and adopt a role. How old is cross dressing? Is
this an extra gender? Is it a blend of masculinity and femininity? Is it a
statement against stereotypes or not? Is cross dressing related to sexuality
and how famous artists and performers use cross dressing to make a statement,
provocation and express themselves? Is cross dressing just one of all these, or
it is all of them? The answer may be that “Cross dressing is a simple term for
a complex set of phenomena.” (V. L. Bullough & B. Bullough, 1993:

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

The first image depicts a man arrested for cross
dressing, NY, 1939. An urban-style street photograph from Weegee, the pseudonym
of Arthur Fellig, a photojournalist that represented night life and the society
of New York City through his dramatic and raw style. The essay will analyse the
information about cross dressing during this particular period and how society
was facing this phenomenon. The essay will also examine the need of some people
to express themselves against stereotypes by adopting the role of the opposite
sex and how they change society’s point of view about these stereotypes and
cross dressing itself.

This photo was taken while a cross dresser man
was coming out of a police van after being arrested. Weegee was permitted to
have a portable police-band shortwave radio always with him, to have the
ability be at the crime scene first. Thanks to that, Weegee’s awareness this
image is giving the information that during this period, cross dressing was a

No matter what, the cross dresser is coming out
of the police van smiling and placing his body in a very feminine posing. He is
wearing a fur coat, skirt, heeled woman’s shoes and feminine socks. A full
feminine style with lots of details and of course adopting the lady-like
attitude. His smile and sexy posing is a provocation. One could easily say that
the outfit represents a wealthy type of woman with all these details of what
femininity means in this particular period. The accessories, hat, necklace, the
make-up and the lingerie inside the skirt show that cross dressing for him is
not just putting on a couple of women’s clothes or accessories, but rather an
adoption of the full role, strongly supported by all this elements that
emphasises femininity.

The first image was taken in 1939, but cross
dressing started happening a long time ago. As Aoife’s Monks mention:
“Euripides’ play uses the work of the actor as a metaphor for identity. After
all, while Pentheus wants to be a spectator in his desire to watch the women of
Thebes unobserved, he finds that he must mimic another sex in order to do so,
just as actors did on the Greek stage.” (Monks 2010: 1). Cross dressing is an
old habit starting by ancient Greek actors, who were doing it for the needs of
a role. Practically, cross dressing started as an actor’s costume.

Two and a half thousand years ago since the
first performance, people’s attitude about cross dressing is a variety of
actions and reactions depends on where and when somebody dresses as the
opposite sex. We cannot really know what was the reaction of the audience in
the very first time that the actor appeared with a double role, so we cannot
really say if we now are more open minded about accepting male or female
dressed as the opposite sex.

Looking back in time through the evidence we
have in modern years, cross dressers -especially when they were not artists-
have been arrested, stigmatised and finally linked to sexuality as abnormal
personas. Usually, cross dressing relates to sexual definition. A reason might
be that “In

fetish performance, the costume in most senses
is even more directly indicative for the character role” (F. Lunning, 2013:

Of course, society usually appears more
open-minded when a cross dresser is an artist, accepting it as a part of their
role. As sociologist have shown, gender is a social construction that is
organised through teaching heterosexuality, medical opinion, political and
scientific obsession. “Gender in this view is something socially achieved,
dramatic performed, a set of culturally produced practices of daily life which
are open to much change and variability” (Ekins & King, 1996: xiv).

Out of the artistic era, cross dressing is
strongly related to sexual preferences. Transgender people find a way to
represent their sexuality to society by dressing like the opposite sex and
emphasising femininity in a dramatic way, with the use of make-up, accessories
and styling in general. Cross dressing a lot of times describes as a masculine
and feminine blending and less as an extra gender. No matter how cross dressers
actors appear in ancient Greece, this gender blending acceptance becomes an
issue as heterosexual culture is defined as the new normal just in modern
years. “This transition from a formerly homosocial world to a modern
heterosexual culture merits detailed examination” (L.-G. Tins,2012 :1).

All these stereotypes of dressing and behaviour
is a status that the heterosexual culture creates to categorise the genders and
to frequently stigmatise and criticise men or women who were not suitable to
fit in this status. As an example, think of women that are defined in several
aspects as sports, business or sciences and are easily characterised as
lesbians or the opposite- Men who choose a profession in beauty or fashion
industry for example, are easily labelled as gays. “These women became known as
ninauposkitzipspe, or “manly hearted women”, since simply by their achievement
they demonstrated behavioural traits usually attributed to the males and
different from the stereotypical behaviour of most women” (V. L. Bullough &
B. Bullough, 1993 :4).

As actors were the first cross dressers in
history, we could not talk about this topic without exanimate further the cross
dressing on the stage in modern years. Famous -or not- performers and artists
in general often use cross dressing as a part of their shows, at nightclubs and
venues specialising in drag queen’s shows. Feather boas, sequins and intense
make-up are the most common glamorous drag queen figure features at these shows
that are being accepted by audience with enthusiasm. “The benefits transmitted
between performer and audience were thus reciprocal” (Ferris, 1993:93).

Indulgence and approbation won by them giving
heterosexual women and men as well as homosexual transvestites the chance to
gender-shuffle through experimentation. Just before 1930 in New York, the gay
community started growing and as a result, the need of creating a network.
Meeting-points like bars, cafes and bathhouses appear in different areas of the
New York. During this period, more cities start seeing the rise of the gay
community, making gay men and women express their sexual identity more open
especially in gay meeting places.

In later years, famous artists and cross
dressers like David Bowie and Boy George become symbols for homosexual men and women.
It is very important to mention that cross dressing was used by famous artists
to promote and make their work even more successful. Obviously, when you are a
member of the elite, things are much easier than being an unknown cross

King of Drags, David Bowie, appears on stage
dressing as a woman numerous times, like in the second image, and always
blurred the lines of gender transgression like on the third image.
Specifically, the second image is from David Bowie’s rock video “Boys Keep Swinging”
in 1979, directed David Mallet, and clearly shows why Bowie is a great subject
to gender blending. A glamorous, very feminine long dress, long curly hair that
was in fashion that period, accessories and make-up synthesise one of the
feminine images while he parades down on catwalk. Cross dressing, identity and
gender transgression were restless ways for him to recreate himself and this is
what made him play such a crucial role in characterising this gender blending.
In this video he parades in different feminine looks, with the last one shown
as blowing a kiss to camera, like an old Marlene


The third image is from David Bowie’s album “The
Man Who Sold the World”. The album was first released on 4th of November 1970
in United States by Mercury Records, with a cartoon picture on the cover. Next
year, in April, Mercury released this album in the UK

with David wearing a dress and reclining on a
chaise longue photographed by Keef (Keith Macmillan). Bowie again blurred the
lines between femininity and masculinity wearing a man’s dress designed by
flamboyant Michael Fish and feminine boots with lady like long curly hair
synthesize provocative androgynous image. This photo taken by Keith Macmillan
in “Haddon Hall” at Bowie’s flat in Beckenham. This image was one of the first
provocative images that Bowie blurring the lines between genders and starts
experimentation to fully explored androgynous style.

Studying famous artists who build their success based
on cross dressing like Bowie and Boy George or just playing between
heterosexual and homosexual stereotypes like Madonna and George Michael looks
like cross dressing in public was a choice only after they achieved a certain
political and social standing. “Gender is also one of the most contested of concepts
in the social sciences and in contemporary political struggles” (Ekins &
King, 1996: xiii). The two genders are a social achievement in the modern world
constructed by daily life practices that makes people achieve feminine or
masculine. After demonstration cultural reaction of genders, anthropologists
found that very often women can be like men and the opposite and often there
are no differences between two genders. Cross dressing is a bench mark for
those who want to explore how society and culture construct a gender through
sex-changing and sexual experimentation. As transvestism we can define the
desire of men or women dressing the opposite sex. Sometimes the desire is to
belong to the other sex and this is strong enough to use transsexualism as a
term for such cases and correct an anatomical “error” of the nature. Cross
dressing found in plays, theatre, cinema screens, novels, television and press
but always there is a system based on two genders categories guiding by the
appropriate mannerism, dress and many other choices and achievements of the
daily life.



hurriedly back in modern years, we may say that we are far from arresting cross
dressers and their denominator. We may say that we walk far from stigmatising
the gender blending. But looking more carefully, we are far away from an
open-minded, unbiased society, that is instead acting out of a
two-gender system that separates humans in two categories. We have long way to
go until we get rid of our stereotypes and accept a third gender. We have a
long way until the acceptance of cross dressing as being part o the
“normal” social life. We are very far from accepting a man dressed as a woman
and a woman dressed as man, if they are not on stage or a transvestite.


if we perceive ourselves as being unprejudiced, it is enough to
consider about what we think if we happen to see transvestites in our
social and everyday life; a cross dresser working in an office or in a bank, or
walking into a restaurant. It is enough to think how many stereotypes pass
through our minds, influenced by what we are taught in
school on a two-gender basis, led by political guidelines that promote
two-gender mannerism; and of course, the church that is treating the
third gender as something abnormal and sinful.

Closing, we can say that
the world in modern years and especially in the 21st century, no matter the
technology, social media and the easy access to different cultures, still struggles with the
different. Thanks to artist as David Bowie who through their way of exploring
sexuality and their provocation changing things even if this happing slowly.
That make the unusual seems a bit more familiar and may be brake stereotypes.
Art is the era that always relates with fashion and hand to hand provocates,
argues, explores, questions and finally drives this world in better paths
freeing up our minds from social stereotypes making us struggles finding our
identity and accept it. Artists use fashion to create images, some of them by
cross dressing express their sexuality or their revolution against a world full
of stereotypes. As already mentioned it is easier when you are already
successful to be a cross dresser but still need inspiration and a need to
reacreate your image







Image 2: David Bowie photographed by


Written by

I'm Colleen!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out