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April 14, 2024

Police Photograph of Geraldine Portica, Arrested for Violating Cross-Dressing Law in 1917

The caption on original photograph, from the scrapbooks of San Francisco Police Chief Jesse Cook, reads: “This is not a girl, but a boy, who was reared by his mother as a girl and has always dressed as a girl and went to school as a girl and has never associated with anyone else but girls and was employed as a chambermaid on 6th St. when arrested, he is a native of Mexico and speaks several languages, his English with the Spanish accent, he is now waiting to be deported to Mexico by the U.S. Gov. Dec. 27th, 1917.”

The 1917 photo of Geraldine Portica following her arrest.

Geraldine was arrested for the crime of female impersonation, the notion that it goes against God and nature to display yourself as something that your not, the notion of racial passing was at real concern to conservative Americans. They were alarmed at the thought that there would be people among them who would behave white but had mixed race heritage. The notion of pretending to be something you’re not was seen as undermining American values.

She shows that at exactly the same time that arrests for female impersonation were high (especially among the west coast). There is an interesting culture development in theatre that men dressing as women on stage becomes a highlight in economy. Theatrical cross dressing was acceptable because it was safe. It was confined on stage, people can laugh at it. Cross dressing in public was seen as unacceptable because it isn’t easy to control or understand who they are/ what is going on- difficult to identify what a real woman was. 1866 onwards cross dressing is criminalized.


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