Girls Will Be Boys: Cross-Dressed Women, Lesbians, and American Cinema, 1908–1934

Laura Horak. Rutgers Univ., $90 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8135-7482-0
Horak (co-editor, Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space) has produced a meticulously researched, astutely argued, and highly readable text on cross-dressing and lesbianism in early American cinema. The book first examines female cross-dressing in American films between 1908 and 1921. Horak describes how women playing male roles, often young boy characters such as Peter Pan and Little Lord Fauntleroy, were initially labeled “innocent” and “pure.” She argues that the trend of young women cross-dressing as cowboys in “Frontier Films” and as boys in chase films portrayed an active frontier girlhood as a “revitalizing” but necessarily transitory phase in women’s lives. On the other hand, in stories set during the Gold Rush, cross-dressed women “legitimized men’s same-sex desire in these sex-imbalanced places.” The book’s second part explores depictions of lesbianism in mainstream American culture and cinema between 1921 and 1934, as well as female stars such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich who wore masculine clothing. Horak concludes with the more censorious climate of the 1930s, clearly illustrating how a once-accepted practice came to signify taboo sexuality. Her use of archival materials is impeccable and her filmic and historical analyses clearly display a nuanced understanding of her topic. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/14/2015
Release date: 02/01/2016
Open Ebook - 296 pages - 978-0-8135-7485-1
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-8135-7483-7
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