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literature

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Cross-Dressing  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

Miss Roj, "dressed in striped patio pants, white go-go boots, a halter, and cat-shaped sunglasses [which she] wears as if it were high fashion," is a fierce black diva drag Snap Queen: "Snapping comes from another galaxy, as do all snap queens. That's right. I ain't just your regular oppressed American Negro. No-no-no! I am an extraterrestrial. And I ain't talkin' none of that shit you seen in the movies! I have real power." Miss Roj is a shaman, our leader against the destruction of the world from a black gay bar called "The Bottomless Pit."

Although Miss Roj slurps Rum and Cokes during her monologue, her warning is not just a drunken rant. She snaps her rage at exploitation and oppression. She snaps to indict our indifference to the inequalities of our lives.

Sponsor Message.

Despite the power of her message, however, being an "extra(gendered)terrestrial" only emphasizes Miss Roj's garish difference as exemplified by her body, a male body "degraded" to borrow Ackroyd's logic, by the desire to "become a woman." Ultimately, what Miss Roj models is her body, her "posing" as a woman, her figurative striptease.

The Lesbian Cross-Dresser

The transsexual striptease and other conventions of drag queen narratives are enforced by the normalcy of masculinity. The normalcy of masculinity is also what makes lesbian cross-dressing normal, or hard to designate as cross-dressing.

Women do "cross-dress" every day, wearing pants, suits, ties, and other traditionally male clothes, but women dressing as men is not the performance that men dressing as women is. In literature, wearing men's clothes is not the problem; the problem is what wearing them might signify, as Isabel Miller's Patience and Sarah (1969) demonstrates.

Set in 1816, Miller's novel explores the relationship between Patience White, a well-off single woman, and Sarah Dowling, infamous for her masculine appearance. Sarah first meets Patience when she delivers wood to her house "dressed just as her reputation claimed, in boots, breeches, jerkin, fur mittens, fur hat with a scarf tied over it to cover her ears." When Patience invites Sarah to dinner, her jealous sister-in-law Martha says "Then she can go home and put a dress on first . . . It's in the Bible. Not that she'd know that."

The reaction to the relationship that develops between Patience and Sarah is similar at the Dowlings. When Sarah confides her affection for Patience to her sister Rachel, Rachel retorts "I used to worry about you. That no man would have you. I never thought to worry you'd think you was a man." Sarah's father, who had reared her to work like a man around the farm, beats her to attempt to dissuade her from eloping with Patience.

But when Sarah decides to cut her hair short so that she can pass as a man, "nobody stopped me. They stood around and watched [as she cut], like watching a fist fight but not getting into it." Like Martha, they objected only to what passing as a man signifies because of her relationship with Patience.

Patience is the only one who has a problem with the way Sarah looks. When they initially plan to leave town together, Patience thinks, "Time enough later to teach her that it's better to be a real woman than an imitation man, and that when someone chooses a woman to go away with it's because a woman is what's preferred."

She does eventually teach her; when they later leave together, Sarah does not keep her hair trimmed. Yet it is as a "man" that Sarah first travels, meeting a book salesman who teaches her to read. It is as a "man" that she betters herself, preparing herself for her trip with Patience; and even though Sarah eventually becomes a "woman" for Patience, her cross-dressing is never demeaned.

Even though the lesbian cross-dresser is not "degraded" for her desire to look like a man because of the advantages in becoming a man in a patriarchal society, she is not absolved from the stigma of the medical classifications. In 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing divided lesbians into four increasingly masculine categories, the most masculine, or "mannish lesbian," representing "the extreme grade of degenerative homosexuality."

Yet the mannish lesbian's desire to cross-dress was not altogether criticized. The presumption behind Krafft-Ebing's classifications and other medical writing of the day was that being male is better.

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