Story: Lesbian lives

Page 4. Cross-dressing women

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Some women cross-dressed and lived as men. They may be regarded by some as transgendered rather than as lesbian. Unlike early male cross-dressers, who mainly wore women’s clothing in private settings, cross-dressing women often lived as men in public. They usually came to attention if they were charged with crimes like vagrancy or false pretences.

Bertha Victor/Bert Rotciv

‘Bert Rotciv’, who was arrested in Sydney for vagrancy in December 1906, was the pseudonym used by Bertha Victor of Hokitika. Dressed in men’s clothes, she was described by Truth as ‘the she-male ex-New Zealander’.1 Victor continued to cross-dress once back in New Zealand because she wanted to do men’s work.

Media sensation

When exposed, cross-dressing women were seen as deviants whose behaviour was outside what was normally expected of women. When reporting on Deresley Morton / Peter Stratford, a New Zealander who lived as a man in the United States, NZ Truth wrote: ‘Occasionally there emerges from the ranks of humanity a rare type of freak whose idiosyncrasies find expression in a code of behaviour and outlook that outdoes anything that is attributed to the puppets of sensational fiction. No psychological freak intrigues the public imagination more than does the man-woman, that rare specimen who occasionally draws the light of publicity on to incredible escapades.’2

Mr X

In 1945 ‘Mr X’ and her wife were charged with making a false statement under the Marriage Act. Mr X lived as a man, had her breasts removed, and registered as a male under the National Service Regulations for war service. Mr X’s wife knew she was female before they married and it was reported that they were happy together. The couple was ordered by the court to remain apart as a condition of a probationary sentence, and to undergo psychiatric treatment.

Cross-dressing in the 21st century

As lesbian and gay people have become more visible in the community, public cross-dressing has become more socially acceptable. In the early 21st century it was relatively common to see women wearing men’s clothing, partly because the social restrictions on women’s clothes have eased. These women may not see themselves as cross-dressing.

  1. NZ Truth, 5 January 1907, p. 5. Back
  2. NZ Truth, 13 June 1929, p. 7. Back
How to cite this page:

Alison J. Laurie, 'Lesbian lives - Cross-dressing women', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 26 April 2018)

Story by Alison J. Laurie, published 5 May 2011