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date: 03 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers cross-dressed roles in nineteenth-century music-theatrical forms in the United States, and particularly in non-narrative and semi-narrative forms such as minstrelsy, circus, variety, and burlesque. It discusses the origins of cross-dressed roles in English theatrical traditions, as well as connections to similar roles in European opera and operetta. It also considers other kinds of performances present in variety that challenged middle class gender construction of the period, and suggests that variety represented working class gender roles, and humor was found at the expense of hegemonic middle class ideals. This becomes particularly clear in the performances by male impersonators in variety of the 1860s–1880s. By the end of the century the middle class had expanded to include portions of the variety audience, and audiences no longer found the satirical treatment of middle class men funny. This, and growing mainstream recognition of homosexual populations, particularly in urban areas, caused the decline of cross-dressed performance.

Keywords: cross-dressing, humor, gender construction, middle class, working class

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