By Cara Kulwicki
Cross dressing is when a member of one gender chooses to wear clothing usually associated with members of the opposite gender, such as when a man wears a dress and makeup, or a woman wears a suit and fake beard. There is no set reason why people cross dress. Cross dressing is drive by a wide variety of motivations.
Some cross dressing is done flamboyantly for entertainment purposes, like with drag queens and drag kings. Drag queens and drag kings dress up for performances, take on stage names and adopt the exaggerated mannerisms of the gender whose clothes they are wearing. Some cross dressing is highly situational, temporary and done for humorous purposes, like with Halloween costumes. Other cross dressers may cross dress more regularly in normal situations simply because they enjoy the clothing or enjoy subverting gender norms. Cross dressing may also take place for more serious theatrical reasons.
Cross dressing has a long history in the theater, both dramatically and comically. Theatrical cross dressing dates back to Ancient Greece, and cross dressing was also popular in performances of Shakespeare’s plays, because women were not allowed to act. Women also have a long history of cross dressing for more serious purposes, such as the ability to join the military or compete in the Olympics when women were still banned. These women risked violence if they were found out, and today people who cross dress are often still put in danger of violence by the intolerant.
Cross dressers usually exaggerate the features of the gender they are imitating, performing femininity or masculinity in a way that is more overt than generally seen in everyday life. Further, the person cross dressing must identify primarily as the gender opposite of the performance they play while cross dressing. In other words, someone who cross dresses in women’s clothing must identify during his everyday lives as male. Transgender people are not cross dressers, but are accepting the gender identity that is opposite of the one they were assigned at birth.
Cross dressing is not an indication of a mental illness. Further, though transvestite fetishism does exist, the vast majority of cross dressing is not done for sexual arousal or pleasure. Though some people who engage in cross dressing are gay or lesbian, the desire or tendency to cross dress indicates nothing about sexual orientation, and heterosexual men and women cross dress regularly. Also, while some people who cross dress eventually come out as transgender, a tendency to cross dress is not necessarily an indication of gender identity issues.
Cross dressing takes place regularly and has become increasingly acceptable in every day life. Cross dressing has been the subject of many movies and television shows, from “Mulan” to “Sorority Girls” to the “Drew Carey Show.” Though cross dressing is still primarily treated humorously by most people, it also has great potential for defying gender norms and challenging everyday perceptions of what creates masculinity and femininity.