We're kind of used to the way society tolerates men dressing as women in film, television and on stage. Echoes of early Chinese and Shakespearean theatre, when only male actors were allowed to play female parts still reverberate through our sub-culture (The word drag is considered by some to have in part originated from Shakespeare's script abbreviation: DR.essed A.s G.irl). So it's perfectly acceptable to laugh at a bloke in a bra and high heels in a movie and it's not thought odd taking children to interact with a Pantomime Dame every Christmas. Safe and acceptable... from a comfortable distance!
However, the defiant leap across the footlights into public life, taking drag to the streets, if you like, is still a difficult pill for many parts of society to swallow. Although, whether you dress to perform or dress to be your true self, the meter is very slowly swinging further from tolerance towards acceptance as humanity creeps closer towards true equality and can become slightly more proud of its own evolution. It could be said that travesty in all its fabulous, colourful forms, is the branch of our LGBT community which challenges society the most. This is nothing new. History records a delicious array of rainbow sisters who took it to the streets…
Fanny and Stella / 1870
Miss Fanny Winifred Park and Lady Stella Clinton, otherwise known as Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, visited the Strand Theatre in London in full evening dress. They had also been seen in drag attending the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. A police raid on a house used by them and several of their close male friends turned up an array of glamorous frocks, wigs, undergarments and shoes. Outside the Strand, the law pounced. They were paraded in the dock the next day, still in full drag with stubble, on a charge of conspiracy to commit a felony (sodomy). Perhaps due to a lack of gay sub-culture knowledge, the jury acquitted the pair, putting it down to merely disgraceful behaviour.
A Notable House In Holborn / 1718
A campaign against immorality by self-appointed reformer Charles Hitchin, led to the arrest of a group of men returning to a molly house (gay venue) in Holborn, having wandered the streets dressed as milkmaids and shepherdesses. Arrested and sent to the Workhouse, there they remained for some time until one of them threatened to tell of Hitchin's secret liaisons with 'he-whores'. Subsequently, an application to the Lord Mayor procured their swift discharge.
Elizabeth I / 1543
A school of thought suggests that Good Queen Bess might have been a geezer! Moved out of London to avoid The Plague, legend has it that the ten-year-old girl fell ill and died the day before her father, the formidable Henry VIII, visited. Her panic-stricken guardians, Lady Kat Ashley and Thomas Perry, knew this would mean certain execution. The closest they could find to a solution to fool the King and buy time to flee was a local boy called Neville. Surprisingly, the deception is said to have worked. Virgin Elizabeth never married, despite the importance of continuing the Tudor dynasty. Many had their suspicions, though the secret remained close to Elizabeth's (false) bosom. Her tutor noticed and the skeleton of a young girl in bejewelled royal clothing was later dug up. The shaved eyebrows, heavy makeup, wigs and stylised portraits are perhaps clues. No autopsy, no state funeral, she was instead interred with her sister Mary at Westminster Abbey. Maybe her quote, "I have the heart and stomach of a king" was accurate.