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cross-dressing

Any context where an individual wears clothing that is socially designated for a different gender than the one they are assigned. The tag includes instances where clothing is used as an overt symbol rather than an overall presentation.

LHMP entry

Chapter 5

Rather than arising from male fantasies as some suggest, the ballads are rooted in actual working class experience. Three features are key contributors to the context in which they arose. There was a general expectation of physical strength and toughness from working-class women. There was a context of near constant warfare and the routine participation of women in military contexts, as well as a somewhat less rigid and regimented structure to the military. And there was a general preoccupation with disguise and cross-dressing.

Lesbian sex, per se, has rarely been against the law, but in literature the forbidden nature of lesbian relationships encourages entanglement with murder (in both roles), blackmail, and other staples of crime fiction. This chapter, though, focuses more on the act of detection and the ways in which the identification of lesbians and lesbian behavior parallels the solving of mysteries or crimes. As the specific literary examples in this chapter fall after my project cut-off of 1900, I'll just summarize motifs.

“Travesty” comes literally from “cross-dress” with the theatrical term later picking up its sense of general transgression. Anyone familiar with theater and opera from Shakespeare onward is aware how popular it was to include gender disguise in its many forms and consequences. The two most common expressions both revolve around anxiety about female-female desire: a woman disguised as a man who attracts female romantic attention, or a man disguised as a woman to gain intimate access to a woman who then worries about the ensuing “wrong” erotic attraction.

There are many aspects of the history of homosexuality where an assumption of parallelism between the experiences of men and women leads to erroneous conclusions about what did and didn’t exist. For men seeking sexual experiences with men, there’s a fairly well documented history of networks, meeting places, and informal associations that helped them achieve their ends.

There was a theatrical counterpart to the real life cross-dressing women discussed in the previous chapter. It had become the fashion for women to play certain types of male roles on stage, under the cover term “breeches parts”. This was part of the contradictory acceptance/rejection of women in male disguise. Acceptability was not related to how well the disguise was pulled off: “masculine” clothing among fashionable women (such as riding habits) might be mocked while women discovered after passing completely as soldiers might be lauded.

Donoghue’s second conceptual cluster in this analysis is the “female husband” motif. That is, not simply women passing as men, but doing so in a context where they courted and/or married other women. The chapter begins with a general note on the prevalence of this type of event and the wide variety of superficial motivations for passing.

Chapter 1: Introduction

We start with a type-case (although unusual in the level of detail given in the court records). Maria van Antwerpen dressed in men's clothing, took a male name, and enlisted as a soldier in 1761. For eight years she lived undetected, including courting and marrying a woman. When discovered, she was tried and condemned for fraud and for "mocking laws concerning marriage." It was discovered that she she had been tried for the same offenses in 1751. She was neither exceptional nor unusual.

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