In Ancient Greek theater all the actors were men. In Roman theater a yellow robe meant the character was a woman. For hundreds of years English mummers and traveling morality players were only men. Shakespeare’s Desdemona and Juliet took to the original boards with a todger stashed in their tights. It was only after the Restoration in 1660 that Charles II brought an innovative addition to the English theater and women were finally allowed to take the stage as actresses.
By then, cross-dressing was inherent in British culture. Going to the Christmas pantomime at the Birmingham Hippodrome when I was nine years old, I could see young women with strapped down chests and green tights leaping around pretending to be Peter Pan, as well as fading, flabby, male comedians plastered in pancake make-up, waddling around behind enormous fake bosoms as Widow Twankey. Often on the same stage.
But here in America I get the impression that make-up on men (who aren’t news anchors) and cross-dressing in public, is often viewed as Satan posturing and capering before turning all good, right wing Christians into raging queers, and bringing on the apocalypse.
Whereas in Britain it’s all just a bit of a laugh. Mick Jagger, who wore a dress at the Hyde Park Rolling Stones memorial concert for Brian Jones, is famously quoted as saying: “It’s just something that you do. You’re a bit bored of a Friday night, so you and your mates dress up like women and go down the pub”.
While Kurt Cobain leaping around in a dress in the video for In Bloom still manages to shock a culture that willfully clings to Happy Days,
Having said that, I was beaten up in the gents toilet by car workers before a gig with my band Fáshiön in Birmingham in 1978 for wearing make-up. So it obviously isn’t ALL THAT embedded in the sodding culture! Still those bruises, if nothing else, did prove that my band was at the cutting edge of transitioning punk into new wave. (Sorry about that by the way!)
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Doctors Without Borders