Cross-dressing in film and television

Cross-dressing in film and television
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:

As a non-comedic element

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

  • Glen or Glenda (1953) – Inspired by his own experiences, Ed Wood wrote, directed, and starred in the movie as a troubled cross-dresser, in a sort of plea for acceptance. Originally an exploitation film about Christine Jorgensen.
  • Yentl (1983) – The title character is a young woman (Barbra Streisand), who dresses as a boy so she can study the Jewish law, and fulfill 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.
  • M. Butterfly (1993) - a French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) becomes infatuated with a Chinese opera performer, where all roles are performed by men.
  • The King of Masks (1996) – A Chinese girl poses as a boy in order to get adopted by an elderly man.
  • Boys Don't Cry (1999) - The true story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a transgender man who pursued a relationship with a young woman (Chloë Sevigny), and was beaten, raped and murdered by his male acquaintances.
  • Written in Blood, the second episode of crime drama Midsomer Murders, features a cross-dressing victim.
  • Baran (2001) – An Iranian boy falls in love with a young Afghan refugee, who must dress as a boy to keep her job at a construction site.
  • Osama (2003) – A 12-year-old Afghan girl dresses like a boy in order to get a job during the regime of the Taliban.
  • The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) – While on the run, Sarah disguises her son, Jeremiah, as a girl and passes him off as her "sister" until he is raped by her current boyfriend and is found out. (Note: In the movie adaption, Jeremiah is played by both Cole and Dylan Sprouse in different scenes, both who have had several other roles that involved crossdressing.)

As a minor plot element

Many other comedy films include instances of humorous cross-dressing, but do not feature it as a central plot element. Movies in which cross-dressing plays a minor but important role include:

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.


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 The 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.

Dame Edna Everage featured on a billboard at the Myer department store in Melbourne.

Programs that feature cross-dressing

  • Along with the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus dressing up as women for comedic purposes, Monty Python featured a sketch called "The Lumberjack Song", about a lumberjack who likes to "put on women's clothing and hang around in bars."
  • Doctor Who – In the 1966 story 'The Highlanders' The second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) dresses as an old washerwoman as a ruse to try and find his companions in a crowded Tavern in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden, and in 1973 in 'The Green Death' the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) disguises himself as a cleaning lady to infiltrate Global Chemicals, where he engages in banter with the UNIT operative Mike Yates and refers to his plastic bucket as his 'handbag'. Both these interludes of 'cross dressing' were played mainly for their comic value amid serious storylines.
  • Australian male comedian Barry Humphries has appeared as Dame Edna in several shows.
  • Bosom BuddiesTom Hanks and Peter Scolari star as two single men who must regularly disguise themselves as women, in order to live in a ladies-only hotel, the only apartment they can afford.
  • 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*HKlinger regularly cross-dressed as part of a futile attempt to be dismissed from the military.
  • You Can't Do That On Television – Several comedy sketches, particularly in the early years, featured boys in the cast wearing dresses for various reasons.
  • 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 Anime 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.
  • One Piece – A Japanese Anime and a manga about pirates includes a number of cross-dressing characters, the okamas. The most notable of them are Mr. 2 (a.k.a.Bon Clay) who can change his physical appearance and Emporio Ivankov, a queen of a drag queen kingdom, who can change his sex by controlling the hormones (and strongly resembles Tim Curry's Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show).
  • 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 & StitchAgent Pleakley (voiced by Kevin McDonald) 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. In both "Sailor Moon S" and "Sailor Stars" seasons, Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) wears masculine clothes most of the time, and even chooses to wear the masculine version of her school uniform, to the point of being mistaken for a boy by other characters. In "Sailor Stars", Seiya, Taiki, and Yaten, became Sailor Starlights.
  • 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.
  • Fruits Basket – Ritsu Sohma dresses as female, because it makes him feel more confident, and comfortable. His cousins Ayame Sohma and his younger brother, Yuki occasionally cross-dress because they look good in female clothing. With the former it's voluntary, the latter less so.
  • Maid Sama! - Aoi Hyoudou, an internet celebrity, cross dresses so he won't be made fun of for liking cute, girl things.
  • 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), 15 (Hikaru, Kaoru, Tamaki, and Mori all dress in Alice costumes, and Kyoya portrays the Black Queen as well as Alice's mother in this chapter), and 20 (Hunny while going undercover with the Host Club to monitor Haruhi and Hikaru's date).
  • Pokémon – James from Team Rocket, 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 (three times!), and Jessie and Meowth of Team Rocket, have also been known to cross-dress, although not as often as James. One of Misty's older sisters dress up as a prince and Gastly also once disguised as a beautiful maiden and an old woman at a summer festival.
  • Princess Knight - Princess Sapphire wears like man to can fight in her adventures.
  • InuYasha – Jekotsu of the Band of seven always wears womans clothes and repeatedly flirts with InuYasha.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho – In The Deadly Triad episode (first season of the series), when Yusuke Urameshi fights against the Three Devils, he finds that Miyuki, one of Three Demons, is biologically a man, but in Miyuki's heart (s)he is a woman.[9] However, this "discovery" was edited out of the English version of this series.[10]
  • 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.
  • Otoboku – Mizuho Miyanokoji crossdresses to attend a girls' school as per his grandfather's wishes.
  • Fushigi Yuugi – Nuriko, one of the Suzaku Seven Celestial Warriors, dresses as a woman in memory of his dead sister. In the middle of the manga series, the Suzaku Warriors had had to dress up as women to avoid being killed in the island of Nyousei, where barbaric, cannibalistic, anti-masculinist women lived. This idea is excluded from the anime series, but revived in the omake.
  • Ramen Fighter Miki – Episode 10 Part 1 includes a scene where Kankuro is wearing Miki's outfit while trying to beat her at her own game (that being ramen delivery). Then at the end of Episode 12 Part 1, he dons the disguise of an aristocratic lady to try to get Miki to challenge him.
  • 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
  • World Wrestling Entertainment wrestler Dustin Rhodes portrayed "Goldust", a gimmick that involved crossdressing as well as former wrestler Vito LoGrasso.
  • SpongeBob SquarePantsSpongeBob 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".
  • Invader Zim – In the episode "Walk for your lives" Zim uses a fat lady disguise to get rid of an explosion that is exploding really really slowly.
  • iCarly - In the episode "iWant My Website Back", Spencer dressed as an old lady to fool Nevel into giving iCarly their URL back, but instead, he attracted an old man.
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody - Both Zack and Cody (played by real life twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) crossdress in several episodes for numerous reasons; one most notably being Cody entering a beauty pageant for young girls while Zack approves of it because the first prize is a new bike.
  • Young Americans (2000) TV series in which one of the female characters poses as a boy.
  • The Famous Five TV series.
  • Dårfinkar & dönickar[11] – The main character Simone is mistaken for a boy on her first day at a new school when she does not correct her teacher for mispronouncing her name as Simon.
Eddie Izzard performing Sexie
  • 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 Valkyrie), 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)).
  • The Riches (2007) - Sam Malloy (Aidan Mitchell), the youngest son of an Irish-American Traveller family, prefers cross-dressing. Even though under certain circumstances Sam can wear boys' clothes, he occasionally reverts to girls' clothing, much to the embarrassment of his family. (The Riches also features Eddie Izzard portraying Sam's non-transvestite dad, Wayne Malloy.)
  • Tipping the Velvet (2002) – A coming of age story about a young woman named Nan (Rachael Stirling) who falls in love with a male impersonator.
  • Pretty Cure (2004) – In one episode, Nagisa Misumi disguises herself as a man twice in an attempt to reclaim Mepple, who had been confiscated. In a later episode, Nagisa plays the part of Romeo in Verone Academy's school play of Romeo and Juliet.
    • HeartCatch PreCure - For the first half of the series, Itsuki Myoudouin cross-dressed as a boy because her brother was too ill to be heir of their dojo.
  • Robin Hood (2006) – Djaq (played by Anjali Jay) is a Saracen who true name is Saffiya, but she disguises herself as a boy by adopting her dead twin brother's name and appearance.
  • Crusoe (2008) – A recurring character Oliver is revealed to actually be a woman named Olivia (played by Mía Maestro). Crusoe discovered her one day when she was bathing for the first time on the island after being aboard the ship for so long. She pretends to be Oliver and helps the doctor for her personal safety from the male crew.
  • Zoey 101 In one episode of this show Lola disguises herself as a boy to prove boys can still act the same if a girl is around.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Girls Just Want to Have Sums", Lisa Simpson disguises herself as a boy named Jake Boyman in order to learn math when the school is segregated by gender. Bart has also worn girls' clothes on several occasions.
  • Something in the Air (2000–2002) – Features a cross-dressing politician, Doug Rutherford (played by Roger Oakley).
  • In Zoids: Chaotic Century episode 28 "Run, Wolf!" Prince Rudolph Zeppelin III is disguised as a girl in order to hide his identity.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Gundam pilot Judau Ashta crossdresses in the second season to free his female companions from a harem
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Gundam pilot Tieria Erde crossdresses in the second season in order to gain entrance to a party.
  • In Axis Powers: Hetalia Poland crossdresses as a hobby and has a "valley girl" accent.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation (renamed Degrassi from the tenth season) features a transgendered student in season 10, Adam Torres (portrayed by Jordan Todosey). Adam is biologically female, but he identifies as male and dresses as a guy. Adam wants to keep the fact that he's transgendered a secret, and hopes that the people he meets will see him as a guy.
  • Rich Fulcher plays as a woman named Eleanor in the season 3 episode "Eels" of the British comedy show The Mighty Boosh. Rich Fulcher continues to dress as Eleanor for stand-up comedy gigs, and refers to her as a whole separate person form himself. In the season 2 episode "Nanageddon", main characters Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) dress as nanas in order to sneak into a BINGO game and find the elusive demon, Nanatoo.
  • In the anime Genesis Climber Mospeada (also known as the New Generation segment of Robotech) the Character of Yellow Belmont/Lancer crossdressed as a means of disguise, as well as to perform in his rock singer identity (known as Yellow Dancer in Robotech.)
  • In the British TV sit-com Keeping Up Appearances Hyacinth's brother-in-law Bruce is a crossdresser which Hyacinth tries not to let people find out about. In several episodes you can see Bruce in several of his outfits.
  • Minami-ke - Makoto regularly crossdresses as Mako-chan to get close a girl he likes. Another character, Tōma is a tomboy with three older brothers that regularly wears male clothing.
  • In The Nick Cannon Show Nick dress like a women in 6 episodes
  • In season 4 of Criminal Minds Jackson Rathbone plays a janitor at a hotel with split-personlity disorder. The character, Adam, is a shy, abused, withdrawn young man. His alter-personlity, is a strong, confident, southern women named Amanda. Adam/Amanda tries to kill his/her father because of all of the abuse suffered. Afterwards 'Amanda' becomes the dominant personality. At the end of the episode 'Amanda' is shown to have undergone a transformation, complete with make-up, a long curled wig, and pink clothing.
  • RuPaul's Drag Race (2009-present) a competition reality show premised around Drag Queens, men who cross-dress professionally as a means of entertainment. The show gives a deeper side to the art of female impersonation, as well as insight into the world of a gay drag artist.
  • Various characters from Kuroshitsuji including main character Ciel Phantomhive and Grell Sutcliff crosdress in some episodes and the OVAs.
  • In Wizards of Waverly Place, Uncle Kelbo uses a spell to turn into Shakira and Max accidentally got hit with a spell turning him into a female named Maxine.
  • On the The Suite Life on Deck, Bailey pretended to be a boy so she could attend Seven Seas High on the SS Tipton because all of the girls rooms were taken. She becomes Zack's roommate and he agrees to keep it a secret. It is quickly found that Bailey is actually a girl and she ends up rooming with London.
  • Black Butler (2010) - The character Grell Sutcliff is a cross-dressing man.
  • Bucket & Skinner's Epic Adventures (2011) in the episode "Epic Girls" Bucket and Skinner disguise themselves as girls in order to sneak into a party. They are also shown trying on different dresses.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has on several occasions featured characters cross dressing. In Profit and Lace, the character Quark dresses as a woman to prevent an enemy of his to ascend to the power of Grand Nagas. In another Ferengi-related episode, Rules of Acquisition, a female Ferengi crossdresses because females are not permitted to earn profit in the Ferengi culture. Rules of Acquisition is also one of the few episodes that references how the Federation views homosexuility when the character Dax discusses that it's a normal thing for a man to be in love with another man [She doesn't know that the man she is chatting with at the time is really a woman crossdressed].
  • Blackadder has several cross-dressing incidences. In Bells, Kate (Gabrielle Glaister) dresses up as "Bob" in order to earn money working as a valet for Lord Blackadder, who finds himself attracted to this young "boy", eventually discovering Kate's identity and arranging a marriage, in which Baldrick takes the role of a bridesmaid. Lord Flashheart interrupts and steals away "Bob", but not before exchanging clothing with her. In Chains, Prince Ludwig the Indestructible (Hugh Laurie) impersonates Queenie with a perfect disguise (really Laurie overdubbing Miranda Richardson). In Amy and Amiability from Blackadder the Third, Amy Hardwood (Miranda Richardson) assumes the role of a highwayman in order to get money for her bankrupt father. Kate returns in Major Star from Blackadder Goes Forth as Bob Parkhurst, driver for General Melchett. Also, Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie in a different role) dresses in drag as "Georgina" for a music-hall show, put on to entertain the troops. He inadvertently draws the amorous attentions of Melchett. "Georgina" is only able to escape Melchett's efforts at marriage through a report from Captain Blackadder, that she wandered into no-man's land and trod on a cluster of landmines.

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