Introduction - Clothes Make the Man
In contrast to the f>m version of gender disguise, literary or historic examples of a male-assigned person presenting as female to engage in a relation with a woman generally focus on themes of deceit. That is, the disguise is intended to circumvent social barriers to male access to women who are not their wives. If the female partner is unaware of the disguise, there may be a homoerotic subtext if she experiences desire for someone she believes to be female.
Introduction - Clothes Make the Man
Roos examines an interesting Jewish legal commentary from 13th century Germany that discusses the contexts in which Jewish people are permitted to cross-dress, either in terms of gender or in terms of religious affiliation. The thesis of her study is that, rather than being seen as transgressive, these licensed contexts serve to reinforce category boundaries, both of gender and of religious community.
When one of my summaries is basically a list of contents, either it means that the publication is really thin on relevant content, or it means that it’s so rich that you simply need to buy the book and put it in a cherished place on your shelf. This one is the latter. At least half the contents apply to women’s experiences (although it’s still true that the male-authored female-relevant content far outnumbers the female-authored male-relevant content) and the collection includes many of the oft-cited texts from the covered period. Far from all, but an excellent place to start.
Vern L. Bullough wrote a number of articles in the 1970s through 1990s on topics relating to crossdressing and “transvestism” in the middle ages. They are all thoroughly outdated, especially with respect to contextualizing gender presentation as it relates to gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m going to summarize the article using more current terminology (that would not have been available to Bullough at the time this was written).
This is an excerpt from a German family chronicle about the Counts of Zimmern. All material transcribed from the published original will be in bold type. My translation will be in plain type, and my commentary will be in italics. I’ll be interleaving my translation and discussion with several separate sections and noting where I’ve omitted material that wasn’t relevant to the interests of the Project. The German text is a transcription of the original 16th century manuscript, reflecting 16th century spelling conventions.
This article takes a focused look at all the women (and there were only 13 of them) recorded in London legal records for cross-dressing as men in the century after 1450. While this data set is too small to draw strong conclusions, the variation among the cases challenges our understanding of the purposes and motivations for female cross-dressing. The article provides a longer chronology of cross-dressing in London before 1603 from sources that include letters and courts overseen by the city, the Bishop’s commisssary, and the chancery.
[Note: I originally picked this up thinking that it would cover literary female cross-dressing knights as well as male ones. Although the article is entirely about men cross-dressing as women, it helps to round out the picture of how medieval people viewed clothing as a gender signifier and some of the asymmetries of cross-gender behavior.]
Putter looks at the phenomenon of (male) cross-dressing knights, both in historical records and in chivalric romances and considers how the topic contributes to our understanding of gender and sex categories in the middle ages.
The article takes a critical look at the concept of “chastity” as an attribute of the mythical goddess Diana, especially as interpreted in early modern literature and art, and at the depiction of Diana as the focus and leader of a community of women who reject romantic and erotic interactions with men, but engage in those interactions with each other.
This case is drawn from a legal document that is almost unique in medieval England in providing a description of male same-sex activity in a context of male cross-dressing. The legal focus emphasizes the importance of gender, and not sexual behavior or sexual “identity” in the context of medieval law.
Female same-sex flirtation is a regular feature in popular Spanish drama of the early modern era. Erotic attraction to cross-dressed actrresses was cited in moral warnings. Velasco discusses the “meaning” of same-sex flirtation in cross-dressing scenarios, based on the several layers of “real” versus “apparent” gender, and considering different audiences. If female attraction to cross-dressed actresses isn’t quite all-out lesbian desire, it at least acknowledges its possibility.