Notwithstanding its title, this Article is only somewhat about transvestites who commit bone-chilling crimes. Those fictional characters we know so well - Norman Bates in Psycho, who dons his dead mother's clothes before offing his female victims; Dr. Robert Elliott in Dressed to Kill, who shares a split personality with a razor wielding transvestite; Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, who so desperately wants to inhabit a woman's body that he literally flays his female victims for their skin, "making himself a girl suit out of real girls" - these characters make appearances in this Article, but play second stage. Ditto for real life stories of cross dressing murderers like Alice Mitchell who, in 1892, cross dressed as a man, proposed marriage to her beloved, and then proceeded to slit her beloved's throat. These fictional and non-fictional cases raise interesting criminal law issues, such as the requirement of a voluntary act, and the defenses of extreme emotional disturbance and diminished capacity, to name a few. Those issues, however, are not the focus of this Article.
Similarly, this Article is only somewhat about Lord Cornbury, Governor of the Royal Provinces of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708, who was not only a criminally corrupt politician (so they say), but also a very public cross dresser (so they say). As one observer put it, "His dressing himself in women's clothes was so unaccountable that if hundred[s] of spectators did not daily see him it would be incredible." Another critic lodged a complaint with the Secretary of State, demanding that something be done about Lord Cornbury's "dressing publicly in woman's clothes every day." Lord Cornbury is even said to have opened the Assembly in women's dress. When "some of those about him remonstrated, his reply was, 'You are very stupid not to see the propriety of it. In this place and particularly on this occasion I represent a woman [the Queen] and ought in all respects to represent her as faithfully as I can." Whether he was dressed in women's clothes when he allegedly misappropriated funds from the state coffers is, alas, not known.
Only narrowly, too, is this Article about the trial of Joan of Arc, perhaps the most famous cross dresser of all time. Joan of Arc refused to marry the man her parents had chosen for her, and instead cut her hair, threw off her feminine clothes, cross dressed as a knight, and embarked on a religious crusade for which she became famous. It was her cross dressing that riled her inquisitors to no end, not her supposed heresy. It was her cross dressing that appeared repeatedly in the charges against her: "That said [Joan] put off and entirely abandoned woman's clothes, with her hair cropped short and round in the fashion of young men, she wore shirt, breeches, doublet, with hose joined together ...."
Capers, I. Bennett
"Cross Dressing and the Criminal,"
Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 20
, Article 1.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol20/iss1/1