Story: Gender diversity

Page 4. Cross-dressers, drag queens and kings

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Cross-dressers choose to dress in the clothes of the opposite sex. They tend not to use the term ‘transvestite’, as they feel it suggests that their behaviour results from a psychological problem. Cross-dressing is often an occasional behaviour for recreation, self-expression or sexual fantasy. It is not necessarily an indication of sexuality – many heterosexual men and women enjoy cross-dressing.

Drag queens and drag kings

Some of the most highly visible cross-dressers are drag queens (men who dress as women) and drag kings (women dressed as men). These terms are generally applied to female- or male-impersonating performers, whether amateur or professional, since wearing ‘drag’ is theatrical and a form of entertainment. Drag queens and kings do not usually identify with, or attempt to pass as, the gender they adopt for performance. Instead their characters are deliberately unreal, flamboyant and highly coloured.

Gay cross-dressing

The tradition of drag queens and kings is strongest in the gay male and lesbian communities. Public events such as Wellington’s annual Gay and Lesbian Fair feature spectacular cross-dressed performers such as the male singing group the Glamazons, women in male-parody costumes, and takatāpui (gay, lesbian and transgender) kapa haka group Tiwhanawhana.

Well-known New Zealand cross-dressers

  • Amy Bock was a confidence trickster who sometimes dressed as a man to commit fraud. Posing as a wealthy sheep farmer named Percival Redwood, she married the daughter of her Otago landlady in 1909.
  • Lawyer Rob Moodie, a former police officer, university lecturer and secretary of the Police Association, has worn caftans and other unconventional clothes in public since the 1970s. In the early 2000s he changed his name by deed poll to Miss Alice and wore an Alice in wonderland dress. Moodie is heterosexual and married.
  • Country-singing lesbian sisters the Topp Twins (Jools and Lynda) perform part of their comedy routine dressed as men – Ken Moller, a sheep farmer, and his mate Ken Smythe, a ‘townie’.
  • Gareth Farr is an internationally known musician and composer who sometimes performs in drag as Lilith.
  • Timaru-born gay cabaret artist and drag queen Mika has developed an urban dance style combining Māori, Polynesian and European traditions.
How to cite this page:

Johanna Schmidt, 'Gender diversity - Cross-dressers, drag queens and kings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 7 March 2021)

Story by Johanna Schmidt, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jul 2015