Cross-dressing, transvestism (is that a word?), drag queen, transgender, gender queer are all words that are part of today’s vocabulary. Throughout history, an existence as the opposite gender for a variety of reasons has existed, in most cases as an illegal act that was punishable in a court. There are however many accounts of men and women who were cross-dressers and either received a light sentence due to their situations or were acquitted.
An imposter is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but just as often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement. Crossdressers frequently were accused of being imposters, one of the reasons for their persecution. An erroneous belief that men who were crossdressers were homosexual, was another reason. Women have been dressing as men in history for various reasons, even though it was judged to be illegal, (and crossdressing men, who were charged with ‘assuming female attire’). There were many reasons for women to cross-dress:
- to get a man’s job at a man’s wage;
- to join the army or navy; to avoid recognition;
- to go where it would be unsafe for a woman;
- to evade creditors;
- as an outward sign of lesbianism;
- to marry a woman.
Akhenaten, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh had a form that was quite feminine, possibly due to a genetic mutation, whereby the pharaoh’s body converted more male hormones to female hormones than needed. Despite fathering many children, Akhenaten had wide hips and breasts. Depictions of members of the royal family are extremely stylized, with elongated heads, protruding stomachs, heavy hips, and exaggerated facial features. Why Akhenaten had himself represented in the bizarre, strikingly androgynous way he did, remains a debated question. Religious reasons have been suggested, such as to emulate the creative nature of the Aten, who is called in Amarna tomb texts, “mother and father” of all that is.
Joan of Arc
A famous case of a woman who lived as a man in order to serve the King’s army was Joan of Arc, however her true gender was known to the King and his court. Joan was a peasant girl and led the French army to several victories during the Hundred Years’ War. She was captured by the Burgundians, transferred to the English, put on trial for charges of “insubordination and heterodoxy“,and was burned at the stake for heresy when she was 19 years old. During her trial, Joan agreed to wear feminine clothing, howevershe told a tribunal member that “a great English lord had entered her prison and tried to take her by force.”She resumed male attire as a defense against molestation. She was safe to disguise herself as a page during her journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. It ensured that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field.
She continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape.Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for cross-dressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as an object of desire in any case. 22 years after her death by burning at the stake, a “nullification trial“, was held to investigate whether the trial of condemnation and its verdict had been handled justly. It was delcared that an innocent woman was convicted and the technical reason for her execution had been a Biblical clothing law.
Cross dressing in the theatre is significant because it was a practice which shows the ongoing gender struggle of the period (because ideas about gender were in transition from the Middle Ages).
- Women acting in roles onstage was illegal (what wasn’t where women were concerned)?
- The theatre’s role was contradictory because it both showed its audience radical gender ideas and then undercut those ideas by reinforcing tradition gender hierarchies and roles.
- The poor, exaggerated representation of women onstage (exaggerated feminine gestures and the use of boys who hadn’t hit puberty to emphasize high-pitched voices) demonstrated the inferior position and on occasion, mockery, of lower and middle-class women in Renaissance society.
- Women did crossdress as men in the period, and legal cases which showed that lower class women discovered to have done so, were encoded as prostitutes and publicly whipped.
- Cross dressing can violate the dress codes of the period: dress codes designed to signal one’s gender, social status, and sexual availability to everyone else…truly, this meant rigid binary codes defining homosexuality, heterosexuality, and an acknowledgement only of male and female as legitimate genders were challenged. This mentality was unacceptable during this era.
Dorothy Lawrence was an English reporter who posed as a man during the First World War. At the start of the war Dorothy had a desire to be a war reporter on the front lines, but was unable to get employment because she was a woman. She befriended two English soldiers in a café, and they gave her a uniform. She bound her chest, and her friends taught her to drill and march. With forged identity papers she headed for the front lines. However, the toll of the job and of hiding her true identity soon gave her a case of chills andrheumatism. She was concerned if she was killed her gender would be discovered and the men who befriended her would be in danger. After 10 days of service she presented herself to the commanding sergeant, who placed her under military arrest. She swore not to write about her experiences and signed an affidavit to that effect, or she would be sent to jail. She moved to Canonbury, Islington, but after claiming she had been raped by her church guardian, she was institutionalised as insane in 1925.She died at Friern Hospital, formerly Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1964.
Mary Anne Talbot
Talbot was an Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic wars.In 1792 Talbot ended up as a mistress of captain Essex Bowen who enlisted her as his footboy under the name “John Taylor” for a voyage to Santo Domingo. She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where captain Bowen was killed. She deserted and became a cabin boy for a French ship. When the British captured the ship she was transferred to the Brunswick where she served as a powder monkey.In 1797 she was seized by a press-gang and was forced to reveal her gender. Talbot continued to use sailor’s clothes, worked in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage at Drury Lane but was arrested and taken to debtor’s prison at Newgate. When she was released she became a household servant for publisher Robert S. Kirby until she died Feb 4 1808.
Pope Joan was a legendary female Pope who reigned during the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in 13th-century chronicles, and was spread throughout Europe. Modern religious scholars consider it fictitious.In the most common accounts, due to her abilities she rose through the church hierarchy, eventually being elected pope. While Pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion. Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St Peter’s while riding on horseback, thus exposing her gender. In most versions, she died shortly after, either being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes. She was known as “John Anglicus” or “John of Mainz.” It changed the date from the 11th to the 9th century, indicating that Joan reigned between Leo IV and Benedict III in the 850s.
And now for something completely different. We have reached the darker depths of our transgender men, beginning with the mentally unstable Eugenia. (16:06) Born in Italy in 1875 Falleni passed herself off as a man for large parts of her life, even marrying two other women in the guise of a man. However Fallini’s double life came to a sudden end when she was convicted of the murder of her first wife, Annie Crawford, in 1920 at Darlinghurst Court House. Fallini murdered his first wife, 35-year-old Annie Burkett for practical reasons: she discovered his true gender and threatened to turn him in to police. After hitting Burkett over the head with a bottle, Fellini set fire to the unconscious, but not dead Burkett, thinking mistakenly that she would be reduced to ash. Falleni covered her body with branches and when it was discovered, it was burned enough that police couldn’t make an identification. Eventually Fallini re-married but after several months, Burkett’s remains were identified, exposing Fellini as a fraud.
Her trial was overshadowed by speculation about her “deviant” sexuality and images of her dressed in both male and female attire. Her chance of a fair trial was damaged by the discovery of a dildo or “article” as it was called. Falleni pleaded not guilty to the murder, but her duplicity in passing herself off as a man was used as proof of her immoral nature. She was portrayed as a monster and a pervert and not surpriingly, was convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. Falleni was released from prison in 1931 after serving 11 years and died in a traffic accident in 1938. No it wasn’t a woman driver.
Camilla Lowell Lyman was a transvestite woman and a multimillionaire breeder of champion Clumber spaniels. In 1968, Camilla began to wear men’s clothing, cut her hair short, and took steroids. By 1985 she was going by the name of “Cam“. Once she completed her cosmetic transformation, her resemblance to her father was described as “spooky.” Possibly, Cam and her father had an unusual, or very close relationship, and her decision to live as a man was built around that. It was during this time that Cam began to associate with George O’Neil who became caretaker of Cam’s estate. In 1987, Cam’s relatives failed to receive the customary Christmas card from her and discovered no one had seen Cam in months. O’Neil claimed in the summer of 1987, he and Cam had a fight over the phone about the dogs and he went to Cam’s house, found the phone ripped out of the wall and the doors wide open. O’Neil claimed that he believed Cam had gone to Europe to undergo a sexual reassignment surgery. He failed to provide police any proof that Cam had gone to Europe. O’Neil failed to provide why he neglected to inform anyone of Cam’s disappearance for nearly six months.
In December 1997 Cam’s body was found in a septic tank on her estate in Hopkinton, Rhode Island by owners who had recently purchased the house.Her final will named the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog as the sole beneficiary. In 2003, George O’Neil was indicted for embezzling $15,000 from Cam Lyman’s estate. O’Neil was sentenced to one year probation and a $500 fine, a good deal for getting away with murder.
The Crank and the Cross-Dresser
On September 30, 2001, a 13-year-old boy fishing with his family near his home in Galveston, Texas, spotted something floating in the water that looked like a dead pig. It was a human torso with the head and limbs removed.That same day nearby trash bags floated in with the tide. The police found the legs and arms that belonged to the torso. Fingerprints were taken from the hands, and a match was found to a man named Morris Black. 71-year-old Morris Black was a cranky old man with a quick temper, a loner and a drifter, estranged from his family for many years.
“Dorothy Ciner” lived across the hall from Black at 2213 Avenue K. Ciner suffered a debilitating throat condition and communicated through written notes. She was five-feet, seven-inches, flat-chested, wore glasses held together with tape and a wig. She had a friend who stayed with her and introduced himself as Robert Durst but the two were never seen together. When the police went to Black’s apartment, they found a trail of blood leading to Ciner’s apartment. They searched her apartment, discovered blood-encrusted boots and a bloody knife. “Dorothy Ciner” could not be located. Nine days after Black’s body was found, Durst’s car was spotted by a Galveston patrolman. The silver Honda was pulled over, and Durst was arrested and charged with the murder of Morris Black.
The authorities were certain Durst had committed the murder, but they didn’t know why. Had the meddlesome Black been too nosy about his peculiar neighbor? Had Black threatened to expose Durst? It was later learned that at the age of 7 Durst saw his mother commit suicide by jumping from the roof of their home, a trauma that may have brought about deep anger and mental illness.The autopsy performed on Morris Black revealed a brutal murder. Black died of a heart attack brought on by a vicious beating. However Durst was granted bail, but he skipped bail and traveled to Mobile, Alabama. Durst shaved his head and eyebrows by this time to look more like a 71-year-old. Dressed as a woman, he went to Plano, Texas, to visit a friend. Durst was extradited to Texas on January 28, 2002. He entered a guilty plea in the death of Morris Black, but claimed he killed Black in self-defense, a claim that will be hard to support given the extent of Black’s injuries. Personally I think blackmail was on the table: pay up or I’ll reveal your little secret. Black ultimately was the one who paid – with his life.
DSM-IV-TR – Is CrossDressing Incurable?
The DSM lists cross-dressing as gender dysphoria, describes it as transvestic fetishism, and insists it usually causes sexual arousal. It is heterosexual men who are considered to be cross-dressers for sexual purposes, but on occasion homosexual men not for sexual arousal. Whether or not there is a “cure” for transvestic fetishism seems to be the motive of psychiatrists when referring to the DSM since it “obstruct full self-actualization.” Once I knew a 12-year-old student in a school where I taught who outwardly had the appearance and behaviour of a boy. Her hairstyle, manner of dress, posture and the way she walked convinced me she was a boy and not a girl. She wasn’t a cross-dresser in my mind, since 12 seems to be too young to label a person. Her classroom teacher described her as having “gender differences.” She was a great kid. I never did discover why a child so young displayed GD but I’ve read about possibilities:
- The child believes that his parents prefer children of the other sex.
- A parent continually puts down the parent of the same sex as the child. Sometimes parents even find fault with their own sex.
- The child might think that the other sex has better clothes or toys.
- The child does not have people of the same sex that he is close to, to copy the clothing and behaviour.
- The child has an unhappy relationship with adults of the same sex.
- Some boys are happy about being boys but they don’t like the rough play that many boys do.
- Some girls enjoy the adventurous play that they see boys doing.
- Sometimes children cross dress because they are not happy about being the sex they are. Lately this has led to transgender children receiving SRS at a very young age, as young as 12, although this has led to much controvery.