Americans have long cherished romantic images of the frontier and its colorful cast of characters, where the cowboys are always rugged and the ladies always fragile. But in this book, Peter Boag opens an extraordinary window onto the real Old West. Delving into countless primary sources and surveying sexological and literary sources, Boag paints a vivid picture of a West where cross-dressing—for both men and women—was pervasive, and where easterners as well as Mexicans and even Indians could redefine their gender and sexual identities. Boag asks, why has this history been forgotten and erased? Citing a cultural moment at the turn of the twentieth century—when the frontier ended, the United States entered the modern era, and homosexuality was created as a category—Boag shows how the American people, and thus the American nation, were bequeathed an unambiguous heterosexual identity.
List of Illustrations
Introduction. A Trip Along the Pike's Peak Express: Cross-Dressers and America's Frontier Past
PART ONE. "Females in Male Attire, and Males in Petticoats": Remembering Cross-Dressers in Western American and Frontier History
1. "Known to All Police West of the Mississippi": Disrobing the Female-to-Male Cross-Dresser
2. "I Have Done My Part in the Winning of the West": Unveiling the Male-to-Female Cross-Dresser
PART TWO. "The Story of the Perverted Life Is Not Attractive": Making the American West and the Frontier Heteronormative
3. "And Love Is a Vision and Life Is a Lie": The Daughters of Calamity Jane
4. "He Was a Mexican": Race and the Marginalization of Male-to-Female Cross-Dressers in Western History
5. "Death of a Modern Diana": Sexologists, Cross- Dressers, and the Heteronormalization of the American Frontier
Conclusion. Sierra Flats and Haunted Valleys: Cross-Dressers and the Contested Terrain of America's Frontier Past
Peter Boag holds the Columbia Chair in the History of the American West at Washington State University. He is the author of Environment and Experience: Settlement Culture in Nineteenth-Century Oregon and Same Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest, both from UC Press.
“An important, persuasive, and fascinating intervention in the literature on the American frontier." —Lisa Duggan, author of The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy
“Peter Boag's Re-dressing America's Frontier Past does just that: it re-imagines the American West as a place where cross-dressing is abundant and its meanings are as varied as the individuals themselves. Vividly written and broad in scope, Boag's compelling narrative debunks the gendered myths of the west and writes hundreds of stories back into history.”
—Nan Alamilla Boyd, author of Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965
“Peter Boag’s Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past invites readers to reimagine fundamental ideas about sex, gender, and the history of the American West. Brilliant and perceptive, Boag rediscovers a past that once existed but that was forgotten as new ideas about sexuality emerged in the early twentieth century. Boag makes the lives of the West’s many cross-dressers central to his narrative, and the world they reveal gives us an opportunity to understand history in ways that are more comprehensive and humane. Boag's book sheds new light on the American frontier as well as the history of sex and gender.” —Albert Hurtado, author of Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California
“Peter Boag uncovers the rich and heretofore hidden history of cross dressers with wit and wisdom, humor and humanity. He adds another crucial layer to our understanding of the West's complicated gendered past and in the process demolishes the region's mythical identity as a virile, white, masculine, heterosexual frontier. The book illuminates the sources of that limited view and liberates us from it.” —Sherry L. Smith, author of Reimaging Indians: Native Americans Through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940
“A fascinating excursion into a side of western life rarely acknowledged today but surprisingly open and remarked upon at the time. Boag's thoughts on the reasons for the historical blurring are as provocative as his stories are intriguing and often poignant.” —Elliott West, author of The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story
“This book by the foremost historian of sexuality in the American West is a classic before its time. The history of Westerns cross-dressing is placed within numerous historical contexts, deeply researched, and presented with multiple nuances and thorough analysis. At the same time, we learn of the personal, of the many people who might never have had their significant stories. A stellar and stunning work!” —John R. Wunder, author of “Writing of Race, Class, Gender, and Power in the American West” in North America: Tensions and (Re)Solutions
“Original and provocative—Boag finds ample evidence of women and men in western towns and cities who challenged familiar binaries of heteronormative manhood and womanhood through cross-dressing, same-sex intimacy, and trans-gendered identities. But the real story is how communities made meaning of these identities. Boag links sexologists’ promotion of heteronormativity with notions of a redemptive frontier, anti-modernism, and national identity. The results are entirely new perspectives on the imagined West and its place in American history.” —Dee Garceau-Hagen, editor of Across the Great Divide: Cultures of Manhood in the American West
Ray Allen Billington Prize, Organization of American Historians
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