Eighteenth-century British narratives describing female cross-dressers often attempt to explain how the cross-dresser performs maleness despite her lack of certain physical markers of masculinity. One of the elements of masculinity that these texts often focus on is facial hair. This absence of a facial beard is overcome by the cross-dresser’s appeal to other women: the desires of other women become the cross-dresser’s “beards.” At the heart of these narratives, though, is an essential contradiction: although these texts posit that only a man can elicit desires from women, the cross-dresser appeals to other women precisely due to her gender ambiguity, not necessarily due to her performance of maleness. By portraying the female cross-dresser’s act of acquiring a metaphorical beard to disguise her lack of facial hair, such narratives destabilize categories of gender and sexuality and reveal the cultural fantasies of gender fluidity that fascinated the reading public of the eighteenth century. Further, the notion of “bearding” opens up new avenues for understanding and analyzing female same-sex desire in the early modern period, as the desires of the cross-dresser’s “beards” suggest that desire is not founded on traditional gender binaries but can, and often does, exceed them.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 119-143
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.