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USA

Includes Colonial America in what would become the USA. May also be used generally for North America if sources were not specific. See also separate tag Native America for discussions of indigenous North American cultures.

LHMP entry

This chapter comes from the angle of racially-targeted immigration restrictions. Gendered dress comes into the subject, but in an oblique way. One illustration: a Chinese woman who cross-dressed to stow away on a ship to San Francisco in 1910 was charged with violating immigration law, but not with cross-dressing offences. In the context of immigration law (and especially laws targeting Asian immigrants), cross-dressing came into the rationale, not as a charge against specific individuals, but as a categorical basis for exclusion involving gendered aspects of racial stereotyping.

This section summarizes the connections and intersections of legal and social attitudes toward non-normative bodies, whether involving gender, sexuality, race, or disability. These “problem bodies” provoked a combination of fascination and hostility which was resolved by instituting legal regulations to create a “safe” public space for those fitting into normative paradigms while permitting marginal existence to others as long as it served those in power.

Transgender individuals were the group most seriously affected by both the anti-cross-dressing laws and the intense scrutiny required to enforce them. Enforcement of something as subtle as whether the clothing being worn matched an approved body wearing it required both the police and those supporting their efforts to look closely at suspects and interpret a variety of clues. The crime, after all, was “public visibility”--if a viewer couldn’t detect the transgression, in theory it didn’t exist.

This chapter surveys specific examples of prosecutions for cross-dressing from the archival record. The examples show that although there were a wide variety of contexts in which the law could have been enforced, from those living transgender lives to feminist dress reformers to young people of both sexes cross-dressing for a night on the town, in fact arrests tended to be used tactically, following their underlying purposes. Two different categorical distinctions emerge that the law was trying to address: men versus women, and typical versus atypical gender identity.

In 1857, a woman arrested for cross-dressing successfully challenged the charge on the basis that there was no law against what she had done. Six years later, that legal absence was altered. The anti-cross-dressing law was the result of three stages of logic: that cross-dressing, prostitution, and a variety of other activities constituted indecency; that indecency was a social problem that needed to be addressed; and that local laws were an appropriate solution to that problem.

This chapter lays out the historic and cultural background of cross-gender behavior in mid-19th century California, and in San Francisco in particular. The demographic effects of the Gold Rush, with its sudden and overwhelming immigration of miners (primarily male) is the most obvious, but this came hard on the heels of the forcible transfer of California from Mexico to the United States, with resulting upheavals in the balance of power between various racial, economic, and religious groups.

In the second half of the 19th century, a number of U.S. cities instituted laws against cross-dressing. Past studies have tended to investigate this topic from a context of gender transgression or sexuality, seeking to claim that piece of history variously for gays and lesbians or for transgender people, or simply for gender non-conformists in general.

This article traces the relationship, documented in letters, between two black women during the period around the end of the American Civil War. Both women were free-born and lived the earlier part of their lives in Connecticut, but one of the two spent time in the south after the war as a teacher, so a wider variety of social issues came into their lives. The two correspondents were Addie Brown, a domestic worker, and Rebecca Primus, a school teacher.

The expression of a self-realized romantic and erotic preference for women significantly predates modern language about “being out". Anne Lister in her ca. 1800 diaries expressed a clear and absolute preference for loving and being loved by women. As a literary motif, this recognition of same-sex preference and the effects it has on a character begins appearing in the later 19th century. But the context of this realization can take the story in many directions.

Lesbian sex, per se, has rarely been against the law, but in literature the forbidden nature of lesbian relationships encourages entanglement with murder (in both roles), blackmail, and other staples of crime fiction. This chapter, though, focuses more on the act of detection and the ways in which the identification of lesbians and lesbian behavior parallels the solving of mysteries or crimes. As the specific literary examples in this chapter fall after my project cut-off of 1900, I'll just summarize motifs.

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