A brief history of drag in the military

Over at Substack, writer Cole Haddon (Psalms for the End of the World) digs into the strange relationship between hypermasculine 'Merican men and dressing up in drag. He touches briefly on the cross-dressing world of glam metal (particularly the uber-irony of Queen's existence within that oeuvre), but is much more interested in how the manliness of womanly dress manifested in the military:

Female performers were rarely allowed near the fronts [during World War II]; members of the Women's Army Corps weren't permitted to take the stage for such risqué shows either, as it was judged — rightly so, knowing men (the sexual assault rate in an integrated military is horrifying) — they might not be safe in such environment.

Instead, the role of showgirl was assigned to…men.

The Army Special Services created and distributed handbooks for just how to do this, too. They were called "Blueprint Specials", and they basically told a unit everything it needed to know to put on an approved and pre-scripted soldier show. This included dress-making patterns and tips for material procurement, a problem for any extracurricular activity on the front or on naval ships. The Blueprint Specials weren't content to let men stumble clumsily and unprepared onto stages dressed in women's clothes. "Girly show" rules were laid out to ensure GIs looked appropriately feminine and sexy in their highly choreographed routines.

Haddon's journey starts with the discovery of a photo of his manly man WW2-veteran grandfather dressed up in drag with his buddies at the VFW, and travels through the complication dress-adorned character of Klinger from M*A*S*H*, and beyond. It's a fascinating look at hypermasculine US history. Haddon is careful to point out that this manner of cross-dressing is not inherently queer, per se; soldiers in drag were largely doing it for the lulz, performing a satirical (and frequently misogynistic) version of feminity. (Hell, I remember these things happening in my Boy Scout troop, which was run by a veteran who served in the Governor's Footguard). The act of drag is truly an act, and should not be confused with, for example, the existence of actual human beings who are transgender. But Haddon does point out the irony of how, for decades, it was totally normal for Manly Men™️ to dress up in drag—and now, the people who emulate those Heroes Of The Greatest Generation are manufacturing ludicrous panic over the mere idea of that some people might not conform to a reductive version of the gender to which they were assigned at birth.

Anyway, it's a fascinating piece (especially some of the formal military documents included in it).

I Want to Break Free (From Your Lies) [Cold Haddon / 5AM StoryTalk]

Previously: All-female drag racing team from the 1950s