THE TRADITION OF FEMALE TRANSVESTISM IN EARLY MODE by Rudolf M. Dekker

THE TRADITION OF FEMALE TRANSVESTISM IN EARLY MODE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unusual and fascinating work: Dekker and van de Pol, lecturers at Erasmus Univ. in Holland, examine the phenomenon of female cross-dressing in 17th- and 18th-century Europe, basing their speculations on 119 documented Dutch cases. In 1769, Maria van Antwerpen was condemned by the Dutch city of Gouda for "gross and excessive fraud in changing her name and quality." Van Antwerpen had not only enlisted in the army as "Jan van Ant" but married a woman under false pretenses. Unbowed by her sentence of exile, van Antwerpen sneaked back into Gouda and began to live as a man again--persuaded by a woman who was pregnant and in desperate need of a husband. The authors show how wrenchingly class-bound cross-dressing was during this era of glorious wealth for Holland; most of the surprisingly many women who lived like van Antwerpen did so to escape prostitution or starvation. Naturally, there were lesbians who dressed like men in order to marry the women they loved; the authors include almost inconceivable tales of women who deceived their "wives" with appliances made of leather and horn (these "tribades" could be condemned to death while lesbian love went unpunished because male lawmakers couldn't imagine how sex was possible without a penis). Many cross-dressers were heterosexuals, though, risking punishment for a crack at the riches promised by sailing with the Dutch East Indies Company. Citing example after example, the authors paint a picture of a hard era for poor women, an era when the expression of femininity meant degradation and punishing restriction--and when women often felt it was better to risk ridicule and exile for living "unnaturally" than to live and die a natural but bitter life and death. Dekker and van de Pol forge a seemingly marginal subject into an engrossing work of social history, challenging us to see the social component in gender and identity.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1989
ISBN: 312-02367-7
Publisher: St. Martin's
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