1652: Joseph Davis of Haverhill, New Hampshire, is fined for "putting on women's apparel" and made to admit his guilt to the community. |
Colonial European Cross-dressing
Men dressing as women (and, to a lesser extent, women dressing as men) was not uncommon in European society, usually among common people in the context of celebrations of Carnival and social protests. Men who cross-dressed were more likely to be in disguise or making a political statement than expressing anything about their sexual identity in the manner of a modern-day "drag queen." Colonial laws actually made it a crime to cross-dress, usually imposing a fine and some form of public contrition for the offense. Laws about what people could wear were generally intended to preserve social order and maintain a hierarchy within society, and were not directly concerned with homosexuality. However, evidence from England in the early 1700s indicates that there was some link between cross-dressing and male homosexuality in British popular culture. In London, observers wrote about a type of man referred to as a "mollie," who enjoyed sex with other men. Some mollies wore women's clothes. The accusations of cross-dressing lodged against New York's royal governor in 1704 may have been meant to make this association in order to ruin his reputation.
Women's motives for dressing as men were also probably mixed - to lodge a protest or to be in disguise. However, the possible sexual aspects of women's cross-dressing should not be overlooked. A writer describing Deborah Sampson's career as a male soldier during the Revolutionary War took great pains to explain of Sampson's reported affairs with other women while disguised: "It must be supposed that she acted more from necessity than voluntary impulse of passion; and no doubt succeeded beyond her expectations, or desires."