Sears, Clare. 2015. Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-5758-2
A study of the intersections of gender and race.
Chapter 4: A Sight Well Worth Gazing Upon
Clothing was not the primary target of the anti-cross-dressing laws; normative gender presentation was. Both the means by which cross-dressing transgressors were identified and the routine police and court procedures after an arrest was made show how these laws policed aspects of appearance and behavior unrelated to dress.
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Transgender individuals were the group most seriously affected by both the anti-cross-dressing laws and the intense scrutiny required to enforce them. Enforcement of something as subtle as whether the clothing being worn matched an approved body wearing it required both the police and those supporting their efforts to look closely at suspects and interpret a variety of clues. The crime, after all, was “public visibility”--if a viewer couldn’t detect the transgression, in theory it didn’t exist.
Suspects were evaluated against an expected gender presentation. An interesting side-effect is that, as the template of normative gender assumed white subjects, the focus of transgression enforcement was also primarily white persons. Non-white individuals might be persecuted for other types of "problem bodies" but they were considered enough outside normative gender categories that the question of "appropriate" clothing became moot.
The requirement that the gender-clothing mis-match be noticed meant that the entire behavioral and physical presentation came under scrutiny: size of key body parts, style of movement, voice, etc. Not only the police, but “concerned citizens” participated in this regular evaluation, and citizen tips were sometimes the basis for further police investigation.
This intense and subtle scrutiny also carried the hazard of mis-identification. If the accused person challenged the arrest on the basis that they actually were the approved sex for the clothing they were wearing, a physical examination might be required as proof. This meant that even minor variances from the normative gender-presentation “package” might be policed by the threat of the public humiliation of being stripped naked at the police station before witnesses. There were cases of women being issued an official identification card confirming their sex that could be used to avoid repeated challenges to their identity.
Those who were proven to be wearing clothing not appropriate to their sex endured a gauntlet of humiliation including forcible public stripping at the police station (even when the fact of the cross-dressing was not disputed) and documentary photography that went beyond routine “mug shots” to include “before” and “after (naked)” pictures that might wind up in sensational newspaper accounts.
Most cross-dressing charges were settled in the municipal police court alongside other petty crimes such as drunkenness and theft. The cases that received wider publicity and a place in the regular law court generally involved other factors than simple cross-dressing. But the news stories tended to focus in detail on the specific clothing involved and depictions of the accused by the press were in some ways considered part of the expected punishment.
Often the discussions around cross-dressing offences downplayed the clothing itself and re-defined the issue as a different offence. Dress reformers were a nuisance, those involved in same-sex relationships were engaged in gender fraud, and those with transgender identities were insane.