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.
(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.
Photo of Ashley Rogers as "Lucretia Dearfour" from templecon.org
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).