Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender

Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender

Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender

Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender


In any society, the perception of femininity and masculinity is not necessarily dependent on female or male genitalia. Cross dressing, gender impersonation, and long-term masquerades of the opposite sex are commonplace throughout history.

In contemporary American culture, the behavior occurs most often among male heterosexuals and homosexuals, sometimes for erotic pleasure, sometimes not. In the past, however, cross dressing was for the most part practiced more often by women than men. Although males often burlesqued women and gave comic impersonations of them, they rarely attempted a change of public gender until the twentieth century. This phenomenon, according to Vern L. Bullough and Bonnie Bullough, has implications for any understanding of the changing relationships between the sexes in the twentieth century.

In most Western societies, being a man and demonstrating masculinity is more highly prized than being a woman and displaying femininity. Some non-Western societies, however, are more tolerant and even encourage men to behave like women and women to act like men. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender not only surveys cross dressing and gender impersonation throughout history and in a variety of cultures but also examines the medical, biological, psychological, and sociological findings that have been presented in the modern scientific literature. This volume offers the results of the authors' research into contemporary gender issues and the search for explanations. After examining the various current theories regarding cross dressing and gender impersonation, the Bulloughs offer their own theory.

This book, widely deemed a classic in its field, is the culmination of thirty years of research by the Bulloughs into gender impersonation and cross dressing. Their groundbreaking findings will be of interest to anyone involved in the debate over nature versus nurture, and have implications not only for scholars in the various social sciences and sex and gender studies, but for educators, nurses, physicians, feminists, gays, lesbians, and general readers. This work will be of more personal interest to anyone who identifies as a transvestite or transsexual or who has been classified by medical and psychiatric professionals as suffering from gender dysphoria.

Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender covers a wide range of cultures and periods. As the first comprehensive attempt to examine the phenomenon of cross dressing, it will be of interest to students and scholars of social history, sociology, nursing, and women's studies.


Cross dressing is a simple term for a complex set of phenomena. It ranges from simply wearing one or two items of clothing to a full-scale burlesque, from a comic impersonation to a serious attempt to pass as the opposite gender, from an occasional desire to experiment with gender identity to attempting to live most of one's life as a member of the opposite sex. Early researchers, most of them physicians or psychiatrists, tended to utilize a medical model that conceptualized variations from the norms of sexual behavior as an illness or, in more recent years, as a behavior problem. Such definitions have been emphasized in an effort to arrive at the causes of a "disease" or "problem" and, once having achieved this, to take steps to "cure" the patient or client.

One of the first steps in this process was to name and label the phenomenon. The term transvestism (Latin for "cross dressing") was coined by Magnus Hirschfeld in 19 10. Havelock Ellis, his contemporary, felt that the term was much too literal, and that it overemphasized the importance of clothing while failing to include the "feminine" identity factors present in male cross dressers. More or less ignoring the possibility of female cross dressers, Ellis coined the term eonism based on a historical personage, the Chevalier d'Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810), who spent much of his life living as a woman. Since that time other terms have been advanced, including gynemimesis (literally, "woman mime") and its counterpart andromimesis, gender dysphoria, female or male impersonation, transgenderist, femmiphile, androphile, femme mimic, fetishist, crossing, transsexual (both preoperative and postoperative), and many others. Some of these terms are used in this book, particularly in the later chapters where we discuss the phenomenon from a more scientific point of view. Since these terms, however, tend to imply more than simple cross dressing, and the reasons for cross dressing in the past are not always clear, we generally have used the term cross dressing.

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