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September 15, 2017

When Cross-Dressing Was Criminal: Photographs of Men Arrested for Cross-Dressing in New York in the Late 1930s and Early 1940s

Cross-dressing laws are rarely, if ever, enforced in American cities today. However, between 1848 and World War I, 45 cities in the United States passed laws against cross-dressing defined as “wearing the apparel of the other sex”.

In effect, the anti-cross-dressing laws became a flexible tool for police to enforce normative gender on multiple gender identities, including masculine women and people identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming. But as time progressed and fashion evolved, it was increasingly difficult to even define what “cross-dressing” entailed from a law-enforcement perspective.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation organization defines cross-dressers specifically as heterosexual men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup and accessories culturally associated with women.

“By the time the counterculture was in full bloom, cross-dressing arrests were routinely getting thrown out of court,” Susan Stryker, an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona, told PBS. “Arresting cross-dressing people was mainly just a form of police harassment.”











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