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Monday, 21 April 2008

Crossdressing: a Brief Cultural History...

A question I’m often asked is, “Bob; are you really a cross dresser?” Well, there’s an obvious answer to that: “Cross? I’m bloody livid!” Unfortunately, I can never think of it at the time though - must be all that cocaine - so I usually respond with something like; “What’s it to you, you short-arsed, homophobic Nazi bonehead?!”, or “does Liv Ullman have to put up with shite like this? Or Barry Took??” and other equally puerile and ultimately evasive responses.

Of course, in these enlightened times, there’s no shame in attached to a hairy, big boned man, built like a brick shithouse wanting to feel the delicate sheen of satin camisole on nipple. Is there? In fact, the history of gender transformation is long and noble. As far back as 1822, French artist Marcel Duchamp was parading the streets of Paris in the guise of his female alter-ego, Rrose Selavy. Borrowing the hands of a likeminded Fraulein and the legs from an antique chaisse longue, he was regularly to be seen at flea markets and in pharmacies, haggling over the price of a three-pack stocking and garter set. (This was year’s before Boots’ three for two range, obviously - although a few years after the Franco-Prussian war…) Sadly, his friend and collaborator Man Ray was less progressive in his views on cross-dressing, pronouncing the act of dressing as a lady as being "poovey to the point of perversity", so history was denied the opportunity to gaze longingly upon the well turned ankles of Woman Ray (or Man Rayleen?)

Rose Selavy: Eros C'est la vie? Rose se lavee??

Indeed, Duchamp’s behaviour was astonishingly brave for the time - particularly as he wasn’t officially born until 1887. But he’s just one of many illustrious historical figures to have clad themselves in the garb of a lady. Winston Churchill, Paul Newman, D.H. Lawrence, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Glenn Campbell, Archimedes, Basil Brush, Derek and the Dominoes, Arthur Scargill, John McEnroe, Ferenc Puskas, Brenda Blethyn; they’ve all at some point known blokes who get a kick out of dressing up as a saucy tart in camiknickers and suspenders. Crucially, many momentous historical moments and the making of important political decisions have involved men dressing up as women. Britain was *run* by a man dressed up as a woman between 1979-1990. Not very *well*, but you can't say the lad didn't look stunning in a powder blue twin set, pearls and court shoes.

So, let’s have less of the antagonism for those of us who want to sashay around with our beer bellies spilling out from underneath a tightly pulled blood red corset. If Ricky Gervais or Ian Botham want to go out on the town in a spangly boob tube, 10 denier hold ups and wrap-around satin mini skirt, surely it's their lookout? Such an outstanding contribution to cricket and comedy must count for something, surely? And I'm sure Ricky Gervais has also done something that justifies him slopping around the house in a pair of kitten heeled mules and a feather boa if the fancy takes him that way too...

L.U.V. on y'all,