“Please: Do *not* send pix. Really.”

crossdIt’s been about a week since Purim, but I am still thinking about my broad shouldered and hairy (male) neighbors who, although upstanding citizens in general, year after year insist on observing the custom of dressing up in costume (fancy dress for you Brits, who are in any case the worst offenders here) by putting on lipstick, a bra, a dress, and a wig…to rather hideous effect.

I am assured that this is universal, and not only a Jewish thing; Halloween brings similar travesties (no, I did not mean to add an “ns” and a “t”….) of back hair under evening gowns to suburban enclaves everywhere. It’s a gag that’s as old as the hills. (Excuse my need to be immature.)

My unofficial Facebook poll suggests that the reasons for consistently pursuing this particular costume rank thus: 1. laziness (Easily available raw materials – when you can’t think of anything else…just grab your wife’s maternity dress…); 2. antisocial thrill (AKA: shock value); 3. long tradition of low humor (Dude, it’s funny, relax…Shakespeare did it, too); 4. sanctioned forbidden boundary crossing (Men who are usually Very Vanilla get to Vary their Vistas and “get in touch with their feminine side,” as one sex therapist friend put it. Another friend noticed that the truly more nurturing, homebound men rarely put on a dress. Hmm. In any event, whether this is an emotional or sexual Validation of the Veiled inner self is unclear, but notice how much I am liking the letter “V” for this item; 5. attention seeking (This may be the same as #2…not sure); 6.possible repressed tendencies / early female-dominated home experiences (“These guys are just a little bit gay,” one friend wrote.).

My objection to the practice is not moral, but mainly aesthetic. As such, women gluing on facial hair to play men similarly gets under my skin. (One friend noted that this is probably the only way for women to look distinctively male, since wearing a suit evokes Annie Hall more than anything else, and probably wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow nowadays. What would be the point, then?) Another friend observed, apropos the mustaches and fake bald heads being sported by some of our (female) neighbors, “Why would I want to make myself look ugly on purpose?” I agree. That’s territory for starlets seeking an Oscar, but I’ll pass.

Which brings me to this: If men tend to go for shock value, convenience, and laughs, women have a fairly predictable habit as well: They go for slutty. Slutty cowgirls, slutty rock stars, actual hookers, slutty nurses and devils and witches and barmaids. The last 3 years, I’ve been a parochial school girl, Alice Cullen, and Jackie O. Not quite slutty, but definitely picked for the ability to put on a cute skirt and interesting footwear, instead of a beard. To me, this means that women are way into #’s 4 and 5 above, but not many of the other reasons resonate on a broad scale. (Get it? Get it? A Broad scale?)

There’s a surprise (cue the irony font): When we reach out of ourselves to be someone else – men go for easy, cheap laughs and women go for complicated, cheap attention. Both of us like to cross boundaries with gusto. (I am obviously generalizing, but then again, that is the job of bloggers.)

 Readers: Do you gender-bend on dress-up occasions? What makes you do it? Please: Do *not* send pix. Really.

About the author



  • For my part – NOT anti-gay. Pro shaving back when one puts on a dress. The gay people I know would NEVER dress like these straight guys trying to be women. Yech. I think my aesthetic sensibilities are actually pretty gay- friendly. The part about it being stupid, well, maybe. If you say so.

    • SarKe, there are a few explanations (not excuses, particularly not for back-hair in sun-dresses) where the cross-dressing on Carnival & Purim stems from… Let’s move backwards in history: the 18th century Rhineland saw Prussian as well as French occupation. Carnival has traditionally been a time when roles could be reversed and subjects could express political criticism without getting punished. As Rhineland Carnival incorporated mocking the French occupation, it took special aim at the French military, which was considered rather effeminate, with fancy uniforms & wigs etc. So the mocking military that evolved typically did pseudo-military dances with homoerotic features (it’ll come as a surprise to many, too, that many of the dancers in the Rio parades that look like females actually are males). One feature is that of a female soldier in an ultra-mini pleated skirt and ruffled lace-panties. Until 1932, when under Nazi pressure Carnival had to drop this “gay” element, that female soldier was always played by a man.
      During traditional Rhineland Carnival, also, the reigning powers are replaced by the Carnival Sovereigns (a prince, a squire and a virgin – there’s a legend in Cologne of how 11,000 virgins sacrificed themselves to save the city), and the virgin traditionally is a man as well. That’s also because women are put in charge on the Thursday preceding the main days of Carnival, a tradition that stems from the Middle Ages. On that day, gender roles are generally reversed, and it has become customary to cut off the tie of any man you see sporting one (many claim it’s a reference to castration).
      Then, during the Renaissance, there was the Elizabethan theatre in Britain and the “Commedia dell’Arte” in Italy. Female actors were believed to bring bad luck, so women were not permitted onto stages. Any female role therefore had to be played by a male actor dressing as a woman.

      As far as can be traced back, Purim picked up the dressing-up from the Commedia dell’Arte and from the Rhineland Carnival. The roots of dressing-up in general go back even farther though.

      There were costume parades during the Ancient Roman Saturnalia festivals as well as Babylonian spring festivals which both bear elements (homoerotic ones, too) that got traded on in Carnival and Purim. Those spring festivals eventually stem from fertility rites practised in Shaman cults in what we know as Siberia and predate Purim and Carnival by several millennia. The customs spread through early migration from Siberia both to the Middle East as well as to Western Europe (to the latter via the Balkan area – and to America via the Bering Strait) and took on their local “seasonings”. Dressing up as something you aren’t has been adopted in many cultures, usually with the intention to spur fertility, make for a good harvest or to confuse evil spirits.

      That’s the story in a very tiny nutshell…

  • oy gevalt aza derusho!

    can life never be simple froylein? does it always have to be researched into the distant millenia?

    by the way cross dressing is strictly forbidden in the torah and numerous responsa have been written regarding purim if it is indeed permitted on this day… there is no consensus on this.

  • Rebbele, I see you have dressed up as a … turtle?

    As for researching life into the distant millennia: YAY!!!

  • yep froylein …. took that pic myself…. call it a self portrait….. pretty slow…. but ever so sure and truly ancient, that tortoise is over 100 years old was taken back in 2005 …. so by now may even have reached 120

  • We should perhaps admire froylein for her knowledge and appreciate her sharing it with us rather than whining that it promotes anti-simplicity. In any case, Reb, it seems you are the one citing the Torah, which muffti is told DATES BACK MILLENIA!

    • Ah, I’d like to thank Muffti even though I’m aware he’s one of a few that actually enjoy anti-simplicity…

  • no.4 really “skirts”around the issue of really being a crossdresser.
    yes virginia there are nice jewish men out there who love to wear woman’s clothes.I also love and respect women so i don’t joke around and parody women. Anything showing is smooth and silky—no hairy back if I wear a sun dress!!!

    • To be precise, Purim and Carneval feature masquerading, not crossdressing as it is practised by “regular” crossdressers even though the word just implies changing dress and nothing more.

      I don’t think people that are maquerading choose their costume (a word used in Britain as well) to express disrespect.