Steampunk Travesty: Cross-Dressing in Fandom

Cross-Dressing in Fandom

Cross-dressing and gender-bending are nothing new, but the realm of Steampunk seems to be especially accepting of role-reversal in dress.

As steampunk grows into an entity unto itself, we are seeing issues such as multiculturalism and erotica being addressed. This expansion of sensitivity and acceptance is welcome and healthy.

I've yet to see the issue of gender roles as applied to dress really discussed in a cohesive manner, so I thought I'd throw my wrench in the works and get the cog rolling here.

Travesty, or cross-dressing as it is also called, is nothing new. It's existed at least as long as recorded history, and probably as long as humans have been congregating.

Some people have the mistaken notion that dressing as the opposite gender is an exclusively homosexual trait, and nothing can be further from the truth. There are probably as many reasons for cross-dressing as there are people practicing it, but a few of the more common reasons are:

  • To be accepted in roles that are beyond the traditional reach of one's gender. George Sand was a French novelist and noblewoman who wore men's attire in public, which gave her notoriety, as well as entree into art and social circles that were barred to women. She was heterosexual and dressed as a woman in private.
  • To express one's perception of one's self, if one believes that one was "born into the wrong body." It's not uncommon for some people to identify more strongly with the opposite gender, rather than to the gender of one's biological body.
  • To express a fetish for the attire, and accoutrement of persons of the opposite gender, for sexual titillation.
  • For physical comfort or personal expression. When a person's anatomy, or aesthetic preferences, don't fit the parameters of mass-produced clothing, it's not unusual for said individual to incorporate items from the opposite sex into one's wardrobe. Women who like comfort, and/or who wish to look fierce, wear Dr. Martin's boots, and soldiers in Vietnam wore pantyhose to make removing jungle leeches from their bodies easier.
  • To poke fun at societal norms and mores.

There are more, but those will suffice for now. As with other areas of steampunk, cross-dressing seems mostly to be done in the spirit of fun.

There is an absolute mania for mustaches by both ladies and gents these days.

Image via

(Photo from oreowriter)

Then, of course, there's The Queen of Steam contest at Steampunk World's Fair.

In popular steampunk literature, women are present in non-traditional professions, such as inventrix Madam Le Foue, who dresses in men's attire, and performs feats of derring-do, in Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate" novels.

I am currently writing a new solo performance piece for myself in which I play both a male and a female, which I hope to premiere sometime in 2013, and if it is well-received, it is my fondest dream to perform it at steampunk convocations across the globe.

I'd like also to make mention of individuals within the steampunk community who assume the identity of a person of the opposite gender as a life decision, and not for recreational purposes. Ashley Rogers, who has assumed the identity Lucretia Dearfour as her steampunk character, is a such a person. She identifies as female, and she is a valued member of the steampunk community, as a performance artist, MC, and commentator.

Image via

Photo of Ashley Rogers as "Lucretia Dearfour" from

She has written an insightful blog about her experience for "Beyond Victoriana", which you can find by clicking here.

In conclusion, I have found steampunk to be, for the most part, comprised of open-minded individuals, and this is one of the things I have most enjoyed about my participation within this "Superculture", (a term I coined, which I believe portrays the growing dimensionality of the realm).

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What a great article! I honestly had no idea that "travesty" referred to cross-dressing, but now that you point it out, the root word is clear. I'd just never thought about it before.


Happy to share my knowledge with vous and our fellow steampunks. The word "travesty" is more commonly used in Europe, whereas "transvestite" is the term more familiar to American readers.

Surely in modern usage the word "travesty" carries with it the connotation of absurdity, exaggeration and parody, whereas the word "transvestism" (or "transvestitism") means literally cross dressing without the subtext of mockery.

Myself, I would not refer to a person dressing opposite to their physical gender as a "travesty". The word seems too loaded, too likely to offend... unless that person was obviously "doing it for laughs" such as a man acting the "dame" part in a Pantomime play.

Brigid, I won't disagree with vous. However, one of the charms of steampunk is anachronism, and in my view, since it is not a REAL historically-based genre, there is no "right" way for steampunks to use language.

Case in point, Monsieur Austin found it instructional that the word "travesty" was once used to connote transvestism<--(the correct spelling for the word).

I prefer not to allow the constraints of PC hinder my use of language. In fact, I chose the word on purpose, to be a headline-grabber, and obviously my ploy worked.

Merci for your contribution to this thread, as well as being open minded, whilst playing here, for after all, steampunk IS based on make-believe and fun, not academics.

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