The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre

The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre

The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre

The Changing Room: Sex, Drag, and Theatre


The answers to these questions - and much, much more - are to be found in The Changing Room, which traces the origins and variations of theatrical cross-dressing through the ages and across cultures. It examines:* tribal rituals and shamanic practices in the Balkans and Chinese-Tibet* the gender-bending elements of Greek and early Christian religion* the homosexual appeal of the boy actor on the traditional stage of China, Japan and England* the origins of the dame comedian, the principal boy, the glamour drag artiste and the male impersonator* artists such as David Bowie, Boy George, Charles Ludlam, Dame Edna Everage, Lily Savage, Candy Darling, Julian Clary and the New York Dolls.Lavishly illustrated with unusual and rare pictures, this is the first ever cross-cultural study of theatrical transvestism. It is a must for anyone interested in cross-dressing, theatre, and gender.


I can quite easily think of opposites,
but it isn't men and women.

Dame Rebecca West

Clothes reading

In the first years of the French Revolution, Restif de la Bretonne, that indefatigable commentator on his own morals and would-be reformer of his compatriots', turned his attention to sartorial abuses. He fulminated against the unwarranted adoption by one sex of the accoutrements of the other, warning that the deplorable popularity of paederasty in the classical world had been due to insufficient differentiation in male and female gender markings. To prevent a similar degeneration in his own society he insisted that each sex stick to its own wardrobe.

Let us then prevent our women from wearing men's hats, as they sometimes do. Let us prevent men from wearing women's shoes, English head-stalls, corselets resembling the surcoats of women, etc…. A woman in a man's hat and trousers has a hard, imperious, unlovable, antisocial personality. A man in pointed shoes is a fop, an effeminate, a trifler (bagatellier), a pederastomaniac or, at least, one of those nonentities who slavishly imitate whatever they behold.

Restif's complaints have a familiar ring, intoned down the ages in sumptuary laws, ex cathedra anathemas, newspaper editorials, school dress codes. Boys must not wear long hair, earrings, high heels; girls must not wear short hair, trousers, or-simply fill in the blank. At the base of these injunctions lurks a primordial belief that gender tokens are magical, and to abuse them will transform and denature the abuser. It confuses signifier with signified, in its belief that the clothes . . .

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