Cross Dressing in Film and Literature

Whilst cross dressers and other individuals within the Trans community are now becoming more mainstream negative representations of such identities still out way the positive. Cross dressers are unlikely to be played as serious characters in the media. There is a tendency for a comic edge or else they are played in a sinister manner. Few seeing it will forget the sight of Ted Lavine, temporarily emasculated as he dances to Q Lazzarus in Silence of the Lambs (1991). He revels in the thought of becoming a woman by making a suit from human skin. The nature of Tim Curry’s Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975 is equally sinister in some regards, although it is played also as a humorous character.

In “What It Feels Like for A Girl” a scientific genius but bereft of morals, “Frank” creates “Rocky”, the man of his depraved dreams as a sex slave. The song “The Sword of Damocles” plays as he chases the newly birthed and infant like Rocky around his laboratory with the glee of a child at Christmas. This act and the show as a whole may tap into some hidden corner of the male psyche where the predatory homosexual lurks in the shadows to rape, an act feared as much by males as females. It is too fearsome a concept to be given thought by many, the ultimate castration and removal of power. As the act of anal penetration is hidden from thought and the angry mob tries to normalise all deviant gender positions, misinformation leads to confusion and confusion leads to distrust. It is disgraceful to dress as a woman, to be seen to want to be a woman and so to appear to wish penetration upon oneself.

Cement Garden” by Ian McEwan, the subject is spoken about as children play dress-up. Later in the novel, sexual boundaries are crossed in the form of an incestuous relationship, further muddying the waters of cross-dressing for the public and villainizing it.

These scenes are a far cry from Freddie Mercury’s plea in Queen’s” I Want To Break Free”, what would be the most acceptable vision of a transvestite in the 80’s

He calls out hoping for acceptance but even now, even today it is only truly acceptable to society play the role of the woman in humour. In 2007 the film Stardust casts Hollywood hard-man Robert De Niro in what at first appears to be a type cast role but which later shows him as a cross dresser. As a lovable rogue and in an over-the-top performance, it is possible to admire the masculinity of the outward persona without the humiliation of the character’s secret detracting too much.

Again, humiliation is the key to acceptance in The Birdcage 1996, a remake of La Cage Aux Folles 1978 where Dan Futterman’s character Val Goldman attempts to introduce his soon to be parents in law to his own family. His father, Armand owns the titular club where his partner Albert performs as the drag queen “Starina”. Their gay servant Agador Spartacus offers further farce to proceedings by his inability to walk in flat shoes after becoming accustomed to heels. (20secs into clip also see 3mins)

The examples explored show for the media often reflect the act of transvestism in a distorted, negative light which is something I want to steer well clear of. For me, such individuals are paving the way for a brighter more diverse society and identities, where the gender binary will be so far gone it will be a dot to you and I. When photographing my own subjects I will be sure to reflect the individual’s essence, not as an outsider.


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