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File:Glen or Glenda.jpg

Film poster for Glen or Glenda

Cross-dressing in motion pictures began in the early days of the silent films. Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel brought the tradition of female impersonation in the English music halls when they came to America with Fred Karno's comedy troupe in 1910. Both Chaplin and Laurel occasionally dressed as women in their films. Even the beefy American actor Wallace Beery appeared in a series of silent films as a Swedish woman. The Three Stooges, especially Curly (Jerry Howard), sometimes appeared in drag in their short films. The tradition has continued for many years, usually played for laughs. Only in recent years have there been dramatic films in which cross-dressing was included, possibly because of strict censorship of American films until the mid 1960s. One early exception was the murderer, a transvestite who wears particularly frilly dresses and petticoats, in Alfred Hitchcock's British thriller Murder!.

Film and video

As a central plot element

Movies that feature cross-dressing as a central plot element:

  • I Don't Want to be a Man (Ich möchte kein Mann sein) (1920)
  • Sylvia Scarlett (1935) - Katharine Hepburn dresses as a boy for most of the movie, this is her first movie with Cary Grant.
  • Glen or Glenda (1953) - Ed Wood as a troubled cross-dresser, inspired by his own experiences.
  • Das Wirtshaus im Spessart (1958) - Young countess dresses as a poor boy and joins the robbers to save her friends.
  • Some Like It Hot (1959) - Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon dress as women and join an all-girl band, in order to hide from the mob.
  • Psycho (1960) - Anthony Perkins is a killer who wears his dead mother's clothes.
  • Homicidal (1961)
  • Thunderball (1965) - a former enemy of Bond fakes his death and poses as his own widow in the prologue segment.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
  • Gunn (1967) - The killer is revealed to be a cross-dresser.
  • In Like Flint (1967)
  • The Kremlin Letter (1969) - George Sanders plays a notorious transvestite.
  • Female Trouble (1974) - Divine plays an obese criminal woman and an obese man.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) - Tim Curry plays a self-proclaimed sweet transvestite from "Transsexual" Transylvania.
  • La Cage aux Folles (1978) - Features female impersonators.
  • Dressed to Kill (1981) the killer dresses as a woman.
  • Victor/Victoria (1982) - Transvestism in various forms is included in this musical comedy.
  • Tootsie (1982) - Dustin Hoffman becomes the female star of a television soap opera.
  • A Blade in the Dark (1983)
  • Sleepaway Camp (1983)
  • Yentl (1983) - Barbra Streisand dresses as a boy so she can study the Jewish law.
  • Just One of the Guys (1985) - Joyce Hyser plays a boy so she can win a journalism contest.
  • He's My Girl (1987)
  • Mascara (1987)
  • Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
  • Nobody's Perfect (1989)
  • Nuns on the Run (1990) - Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane disguise as nuns.
  • The Crying Game (1992)
  • Just Like a Woman (1992)
  • Ladybugs (1992) - Jonathan Brandis dresses as a girl to play in the girls' soccer team.
  • Little Sister (1992)
  • The Ballad of Little Jo (1993)
  • Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) - Robin Williams dresses as a woman so he can see his children.
  • M. Butterfly (1993)
  • My Summer as a Girl (1994)
  • Ed Wood (1994) - Biopic of the famous low-budget transvestite filmmaker with Johnny Depp.
  • The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) - Transvestism and transsexuality figure in this offbeat comedy.
  • He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994)
  • Adam Barfi (The Snowman) (1995)
  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) - Female impersonators help people in a small town.
  • The Birdcage (1996)
  • Twelfth Night (1996)
  • Mr. Headmistress (1998)
  • Chachi 420 (1998)- This Bollywood film is reminiscent of Mrs. Doubtfire, in which a father gets divorced from his wife and also loses the custody of his daughter. From there he tries to get in his wife's house by disguising as a maid to be near his daughter and wife. And as he does a series of comic situations occur.
  • Mulan (1998) - Mulan is a young woman wanting to fight the Huns for her father and poses as a male to enter.
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) - Includes Shakespeare's use of female impersonators in his plays.
  • Big Momma's House (2000) - Martin Lawrence plays an FBI agent who goes undercover and dresses as a heavy-set woman.
  • Holiday Heart (2000)
  • The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2000)
  • Sordid Lives (2000)
  • All the Queen's Men (2001)
  • Baran (2001) - An Iranian boy falls in love with an Afghan girl who must dress as a boy to keep her job at a construction site.
  • Motocrossed (2001) - Alana Austin is a girl whose father won't let her race because she's a girl, so she goes undercover and poses as a male to race for her big brother.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) - John Cameron Mitchell plays a transsexual rock singer.
  • The Triumph of Love (2001)
  • Sorority Boys (2002) - Barry Watson, Michael Rosenbaum, and Harland Williams pose as girls when they're kicked out of their dorm.
  • Juwanna Mann (2002)
  • Tipping the Velvet (2002)
  • Osama (2003)
  • Party Monster (2003)
  • The Hot Chick(2003) Rob Schneider plays a girl who turns into a man overnight, and must find a way to change back.
  • The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
  • Stage Beauty (2004)
  • Connie and Carla (2004)
  • White Chicks (2004) - Shawn and Marlon Wayans play FBI agent brothers who must protect two cruise line heiresses from a kidnapping plot.
  • Kinky Boots (2005)
  • The World's Fastest Indian (2005) - Based on the true story of Burt Munro's attempt to break the motorcycle land speed record. Tina, played by Chris Williams, is a transvestite hotel clerk who helps Bert.
  • She's the Man (2006) - Amanda Bynes dresses as a man to be accepted in Illyria's boys' soccer team and get revenge in Cornwall.
  • Butch Jamie (2007) - writer/director/actor Michelle Ehlen plays a butch lesbian actress who gets cast as a man in a film.

As a minor plot element

Movies in which cross-dressing plays a minor but important role:

  • The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) - Buster Keaton appears in drag in one of the musical numbers.
  • Morocco (1930) - Marlene Dietrich wears a tuxedo.
  • Babes in Toyland (1934) - Stan Laurel masquerades as a woman in an attempt to deceive the villain.
  • The Devil Doll (1936) - Lionel Barrymore plays an evil, elderly woman.
  • Love Crazy (1941) - William Powell makes a rare appearance in drag in this screwball comedy.
  • You're in the Army Now (1941) - Jimmy Durante appears in drag in this wartime comedy.
  • Dancing Masters (1943) - Stan Laurel appears in a variety of dancing costumes, including a rather extravagant ballerina dress, in this Twentieth Century Fox film.
  • Abroad with Two Yanks (1944) - Both William Bendix and Dennis O'Keefe appear in drag in another wartime comedy.
  • I Was a Male War Bride (1949) - Cary Grant is a French officer who marries a US Army officer played by Ann Sheridan and cross-dresses to pass as a bride.
  • Stalag 17 (1953) - Harry Shapiro (played by Harvey Lembeck) dresses up as a women to dance with Animal (played by Robert Strauss) in order to cheer him up during the Christmas celebration.
  • Casanova's Big Night (1954) - Bob Hope appears in drag.
  • The Matchmaker (1958) - Anthony Perkins and Robert Morse dress in drag to escape from the Harmonia Gardens restaurant.
  • High Time (1960) Bing Crosby has to dress as a Southern belle as part of college initiation.
  • The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) - Paul Lynde dresses in drag as a disguise.
  • Robin Hood (1973) - Robin Hood and Little John dress as two elderly female fortune-tellers to rob Prince John's wagon.
  • Freebie and The Bean (1973)- Mystery hit man turns out to be a convincing transvestite.
  • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) - Jeff Bridges crossdresses to distract bank guards in a robbery.
  • Yellowbeard (1983) - Captain Hughes sneaks a woman on board ship by having her dress as a man.
  • Angel(1984) Dick Shawn plays street-smart transvestite, who is like a den-mother to the main character, child prostitute, Angel.
  • Red Sonja (1985) - Queen Gedren, played by Sandahl Bergman, cannot touch the talisman because she is not actually female.
  • Betty Blue (1986) - Zorg dresses (and passes) as a woman ("Josephine") in two crucial scenes.
  • Outrageous Fortune (1987) Bette Midler and Shelley Long disguise themselves as pre-pubescent boys to gain entry into a remote brothel in New Mexico.
  • Hairspray (1988) - Divine plays Edna Turnblad.
  • Tango & Cash (1989) - Kurt Russell as Cash cross-dresses to escape from the police.
  • Total Recall (1990) - Arnold Schwarzenegger disguises himself as a lady in an attempt to avoid Michael Ironside, who wants to capture him on his return to Mars.
  • Junior (1994) - Arnold Schwarzenegger disguises himself to hide in a women's shelter during the last few months of an experimental male pregnancy.
  • Charlie's Angels (2000) Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz are disguised as men to infiltrate a corporate headquarters.
  • Wonder Boys (2000) - Michael Cavadias's character Tony/Antonia is a part-time transvestite.
  • Sweet November (2001) - Sara's two confidantes, Chaz and Vince, are gay transvestites.
  • Camp (2003) - One of the main characters, Michael, gets beaten up for wearing a dress, fishnet stockings, and high heels to his high school prom. Later on in the film, in his birthday party at camp, all his friends dress in drag as part of the celebration. Because of this, the camp director is on a crusade to be more like a normal summer camp.
  • L'île de Black Mor (The Island of Black Mor) (2004) - In Jean-François Laguionie's motion picture, Petit Moine (Little Monk), captured by the pirates in a monastery, reveals to be a girl disguised as a boy, which leads to many arguments, since women on board are forbidden by pirate law.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004)- Éowyn dresses as a soldier to be allowed to fight with the men.
  • Seeing Other People (2004) - The female main character recalls that one of her first experiences of sexual petting was a lesbian posing as a male. She says in surprise, "You don't have a penis!"
  • Rent (2005) - One of the main characters, Angel, is a drag queen and can be considered to be "crossdressing".
  • Robots (2005) - Fender, voiced by Robin Williams, slowly unleashes his cross-dressing tendencies.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) - Elizabeth Swann dresses as a man so she can go to sea in pursuit of Will Turner.
  • The Producers (2005) - The gay director, Roger De Bris, wears a dress which he thinks makes him look like the Chrysler Building when he is supposed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.
  • Hairspray (2007) - John Travolta plays Edna Turnblad.
  • Stardust (2007) - Captain Shakespeare is a closeted cross-dresser.
  • Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007) - When he is surrounded by police motorcycles, Mr. Bean cross-dresses to trick the police.
  • La Vie en Rose (2007) - Edith Piaf played by Marion Cotillard is briefly employed at a bar alongside female impersanators

Comedic element in documentary

  • In the documentary, Giuliani Time, there are excerpts from Rudy Giuliani's appearance in a video, which was shown for the occasion of an Inner Circle press dinner.

As a non-comedic element

Most of the above films are comedies. Many other comedy films include instances of humorous cross-dressing, but do not feature it as a central plot element.

Films in which cross-dressing is treated in a more serious manner are relatively rare, although the list does include several dramas and biopics.

  • Yentl (1983) - The title character is a young woman forced to cross-dress in order to fulfil her educational aspirations.
  • The Ballad of Little Jo (1993) - A lone woman in the Old West takes on a male role in order to survive.
  • Ed Wood (1994) - The film about the cult movie maker himself, who often cross-dressed. Directed by Tim Burton, the film stars Johnny Depp as Ed Wood.
  • Just Like a Woman (1992) - Based on the autobiographical book *Gerald/ine by Monica Jay.
  • The King of Masks (1996) - A Chinese girl poses as a boy in order to get adopted by an elderly man.
  • Mulan (1998) - A Chinese woman disguises herself as a soldier to fight in place of her father.
  • Baran (2001) - A young Afghan refugee disguises herself as a boy in order to work on a construction site in Iran.
  • Osama (2003) - A 12-year-old Afghan girl dresses like a boy in order to get a job during the regime of the Taliban.
  • Breakfast on Pluto (2005) - Patrick 'Kitten' Braden is a transvestite escort and cabaret singer.


Milton Berle was one of the most famous early cross-dressing comedians in skits and such on his NBC shows from 1948 to 1956. Harvey Korman played a hefty Jewish mother character on The Carol Burnett Show. Flip Wilson created the memorable recurring character Geraldine Jones on The Flip Wilson Show. Some other comedy sketch shows, such as Monty Python's Flying Circus, Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen, Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall routinely feature visual cross-dressing, with men dressing as women and speaking in falsetto. Not to be outdone in this regard, the (female) British team of French and Saunders have produced many sketches in which one or both of the actresses portray men. Rudy Giuliani appeared on Saturday Night Live dressed as a woman.

Kenan Thompson currently plays a range of women on Saturday Night Live.


"Rudia" Giuliani and Donald Trump in 2000.

Notable television programs that have featured recurrent cross-dressing

  • Bosom Buddies - Two men (Tom Hanks & Peter Scolari) regularly disguised themselves as women in order to live in a women-only hotel because of the dirt cheap rent.
  • Are You Being Served? often features John Inman taking on female roles. Some of the other cast members such as Frank Thornton occasionally appear in drag as well.
  • M*A*S*H - Klinger regularly cross-dressed as part of a futile attempt to be dismissed from the military.
  • Golden Girls - Dorothy Zbronak's (Beatrice Arthur) brother Phil Petrillo, who was never seen on air, is a cross-dresser. When he died in the episode Ebbtide's Revenge, Phil's widow Angela had him buried in a teddy, to which Dorothy said to her roommates "it looks like he died in a Benny Hill sketch!".
  • Ranma 1/2 - A Japanese Cartoon about a martial artist called Ranma who can transform into a girl. His gender is easily changed through means not under his control, so a costume which works on one gender often suddenly and comically becomes inappropriate cross-dressing. Also appearing in the anime and manga are Tsubasa Kurenai and Konatsu, who are male crossdressers, and Ukyo Kuonji, a female crossdresser and potential love interest of the gender-changing Ranma.
  • The Drew Carey Show - Drew's brother, Steve Carey, is a cross dresser.
  • Friends - Chandler's father (played by Kathleen Turner) is a cross dresser.
  • Arrested Development - Tobias Fünke (played by David Cross) disguises himself as a British nanny named Mrs. Featherbottom in order to maintain a relationship with his estranged family. (This is a direct reference to the film Mrs. Doubtfire). This development is an outcropping of the fact that, throughout the series, Tobias exhibits signs of being a latent homosexual.
  • Saved by the Bell - Zach and Screech occasionally dress as women either to disguise themselves or for comic effect.
  • Lilo & Stitch - Agent Pleakley (voiced by Kevin McDonald, a Kids in the Hall veteran) dresses in female clothing because he misunderstands human gender roles.[citation needed]
  • Dexter's Laboratory - Many episodes feature Dexter in drag. Examples being Dimwit Dexter, Remember Me?, Tribe Called Girl, and The Big Sister.
  • Sailor Moon - In one episode of the first season, Zoisite (one of the villains) disguises himself as Sailor Moon. In the "Sailor Moon Super S" season, Fish-Eye always dresses like a woman.
  • Megaman NT Warrior (Rockman EXE) - Villain Magnus Gauss (Gauss Magnets) cross-dresses as a woman and is obsessed with Dr. Wily. In one episode (unaired in the dub), three of the main characters cross-dress as idol singer Aki-chan to rescue a group of kidnapped girls.
  • He's a Lady - The 2004 reality television series involves male contestants competing with each other to act as effeminately as possible, including cross-dressing.
  • You Rang, M'Lord? - Cissy is a lesbian cross-dresser, complete with monocle, cravat and short hair.
  • Ouran High School Host Club - Main character Haruhi Fujioka crossdresses regularly and is initially mistaken as male by the members of the Host Club. Also, various Host Club members crossdress on occasion, including manga episodes 10 (Hikaru, Kaoru, and Hunny as part of a plan to keep Haruhi away from Saint Lobelia's Zuka Club, and in the anime adaptation, Tamaki and Kyoya also crossdress for the same reason), 11 (Hikaru and Kaoru take turns dressing as the witch of the central wing), and 15 (Hikaru, Kaoru, Tamaki, and Mori all dress in Alice costumes, and Kyoya portrays an evil queen in this chapter).
  • Pokémon - James from Team Rocket (anime), often appears in a dress or skirt, and in one of the banned episodes, he is even seen in a bikini complete with inflatables. A partial list of characters including Ash Ketchum, and Jessie and Meowth of Team Rocket, have also been known to cross-dress, although not as often as James. A Gastly also once disguised as a beautiful maiden and an old woman at a summer festival.
  • InuYasha - Jekotsu of the Band of seven always wears womans clothes and repeatedly flirts with InuYasha.
  • Boy Meets World - Different Characters cross dress in later episodes.
  • I My Me! Strawberry Eggs-Main character Hibiki Amawa disguises himself as a woman to obtain a job as a teacher at school that will only hire women.
  • El Hazard - Makoto Mizuhara impersonates Princess Fatora of Roshtaria who is kidnapped by the Phantom Tribe because of his uncanny resemblance to the princess.
  • Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru - Mihuzho Miyanokoji crossdresses to attend a girls' school as per his grandfather's wishes.
  • Fushigi Yuugi - Nuriko, one of the Suzaku seven star warriors, dresses as a woman in memory of his dead sister.
  • Gravitation - The main character, Shuichi Shindou, wears his sister's schoolgirl uniform and dons a maid outfit to try to get the attention of Eiri Yuki.
  • Princess Princess - Three students in an all-male school dress as girls to raise the spirits of the other students.
  • Hollyoaks character, Kris Fisher is a cross dresser
  • Former World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Dustin Rhodes portrayed "Goldust", a gimmick that involved crossdressing.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants - SpongeBob has dressed like a woman in several episodes. His best friend Patrick Star cross dresses in order to protect himself from an assassin in the episode: "That's No Lady".

British stand-up comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, who describes himself as an 'executive' or 'action' transvestite and regularly cross-dresses both on and off stage, has acted in several films (including most recently Ocean's Twelve), as well as releasing his stand-up work on video and DVD (Live at the Ambassadors (1993), Unrepeatable (1994), Definite Article (1996), Glorious (1997), Dress to Kill (1999), Circle (2002), and Sexie (2003).

See also

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