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As a teenager, Reahard invented boyfriends so people wouldn't bother her about not dating. She came out at 19—to herself, at least. She told her parents when she was 20, she says, and they sent her to counseling.
Over the past several years, Reahard, who lives in Missoula now and performs as drag king "Stanley Upstanding," has become progressively more comfortable with her sexuality. Being a man onstage also helped her embrace the fact that she lives somewhere in the middle of masculine and feminine, she says. "It's made me more comfortable with who I am and how I am. I'm not somebody who's offended if somebody calls me 'he.' I don't really care. I'm not really connected to either gender."
The thrill of getting on a stage, of having adoring women grope and whistle, is also a significant lure. "I get cocky...I feel super-sexy," she says. "There's something about just going full-on dude that is totally empowering and fun."
Upstanding's blond hair is distinctly boyish. Compared to many of Missoula's "baby dykes," however, he's an old-timer. The 32-year-old co-produced Missoula's first all-king show in 2005. Drag queens dominated the drag scene then, he says, and he's happy to see that changing.
Upstanding says he loves watching shy young women like Spritzer assume a king's swagger. "They get up there, and they rock it. You see a smile on their face. They're so stoked. I think it's huge, especially because all these kids are shy and they've been picked on or they've been invisible most of their lives. They get onstage and they can be out there and just be themselves and not get judged, but be applauded and get dollar bills shoved down their pants."
It really isn't new
Annie Hindle made as much as $150 a week in the late 1800s performing as Charles Ryan in New York City on the vaudeville circuit. Faded black-and-white photos show Hindle with short dark hair and wearing a suit. Originally from Britain, Hindle was the first full-time male impersonator to gain a following in the United States. As Charles Ryan, she exuded bravado and flirted with ladies. According to an 1891 article in The New York Sun, she had no shortage of paramours: "Once, she compared notes with H.J. Montague, that carelessly handsome actor at whose shrine so many women had worshipped; but Hindle's admirers far outnumbered his, and they were all women, strange as that may seem."
Hindle married three times. The first two times were with men. The third, she married her female assistant. That wedding took place in a hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich. with a Baptist minister officiating. The bride wore a gown. Hindle gave the minister her stage name and wore a suit.
Such high-profile trans-machismo was unusual in 19th century America. Yet cultures throughout history have comprehended gender diversity, or fluidity. Anthropologist Will Roscoe estimates that more than 150 North American tribes recognized gay, lesbian and gender-mixed or "two-spirited" people before Europeans arrived in North America. Colonialism and Christianity wreaked havoc on such traditional communities. And in the 1900s, Puritan values lingered in America.
The Old Testament stipulates that wearing the clothes of another gender is an abomination. During Annie Hindle's time, cross-dressing was illegal in many American communities. The cult of domesticity lingered in middle- and upper-income households: Men went to work and women tended to the home and children. The ideal female was submissive and meek. If social pressure didn't restrain her, tight corsets did. The undergarments made it tough to breathe.
Alongside the lingering stigma and laws that banned it, cross-dressing became fashionable in artistic circles in the early part of the 20th century. In New York, Gladys Bentley performed bawdy blues songs while wearing a tuxedo. Author Radclyffe Hall wore suits while mingling in Parisian salons. Bentley and Hall were considered "sexual inverts," a common term for homosexuals of the time derived from a psychological theory that homosexuality stemmed from an inborn reversal of gender traits.
Hall's best-known book, The Well of Loneliness, drew a loosely autobiographical portrait of her own life. Published in 1928, it told the story of a masculine lesbian who struggles to reconcile her identity with social expectations of sexuality and gender. Though the book was not sexually explicit, Britain banned it after finding it obscene. It was only published in the United States after a protracted court battle, whereupon it sold 20,000 copies in its first year.
Cosmopolitan subculture showed up on the big screen when Marlene Dietrich donned a tuxedo, top hat and tailcoat to serenade a nightclub crowd in the 1930 movie Morocco. The scene ends with the first on-screen kiss between women in American history. Dietrich was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
During and immediately after WWII, gender roles in the U.S. underwent significant transformations. As men went off to war, Rosie the Riveter put on her overalls and called on women to get to work. Females left the kitchen and gained relative freedoms in factories and the military. It became socially acceptable for them to wear pants—to work, at least. That shift enabled butch women, many of whom were lesbian, to forego frilly clothing without facing condemnation.
In 1955, the first lesbian social group, the Daughters of Bilitis, formed in San Francisco. The group aimed to assimilate with mainstream culture. DOB leaders asked members to keep their hair long and wear feminine clothes.