Ep 236: My Cross-Dressing Experience in La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux FollesI was recently cast as “Albin” in the musical La Cage Aux Folles and it has given me the unique opportunity to have to learn how to act more effeminate and to cross dress. As a psychologist who obsesses about the “psychology of everyday life” you can imagine how I’ve been thinking about what there is to learn from this experience. The show goes up in less than a week but I wanted to share my experiences thus far and talk about issues such as gender roles and why I think the movie (La Cage Aux Folles or the American version which is called “The Birdcage“) and the musical have been so popular.

The fascination that many cultures have with men wearing women’s clothing has a long history, stretching back to when men portrayed women in Shakespeare’s plays (though this was due to women not being allowed o the stage at that time) to more modern movies: Monty Python. Some Like It Hot (and the musical which sprung from that movie – Sugar), Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and most recently on broadway, Kinky Boots.

Why is the movie and play so popular?

  • While the movie does have a gay couple in the lead roles, these men are in their 50s and we don’t typically think of “older people” (excuse me on that one) as engaging in sex
  • The gay couple can easily be fit into typical “male and female” gender roles. The “man” in the relatioship (Georges) is not too emotional and not too effeminate while the “woman” in the relationship (Albin) fulfills a more typical female stereotype – more emotional, more effeminate, more communicative, etc.
  • The two men have a son, but he is heterosexual (which is easier for many people to accept than if he were gay).
  • The key event in the show is the “meeting of the parents”: the son wants to marry a girl he met and so the parents from both families are meeting. This is a common cultural event that most people can identify with.
  • One of the key themes in the musical is that Albin just wants to be accepted as who he is (“I Am What I Am”). We can all identify with this need.

Gender Roles

  • Most western cultures don’t allow men too much leeway in their appearance so seeing a man dressed as a woman is a unique thing. It’s fascinating in part because it is a kind of optical illusion – you see what looks like a woman but you know it’s a man so you try to “find the man in the woman”.
  • How we communicate our gender: we socialize women to be expressive with their hands and fingers. Women will often put their hands over their hearts, and in general tend to keep their hands and arms close to their bodies so as not to take up too much space. They are taught to keep their legs together, which is partly because they are often wearing dresses and this is simply modesty, but keeping your legs together also accentuates one’s bodily curves (particularly true for female models). Men tend to try to take up a lot of space as a way to establish their territory (thus, “man spreading“).
  • When heterosexuals see a gay couple they sometimes ask themselves, “Which one of them is ‘the man'”? Jean Piaget might say that we are attempting to fit a new, unfamiliar experience into our more well understood schema (Assimilation) – in this case that a “couple” typically consists of a man ad a woman.
  • Thanks to Beth Benoit from Plymouth State University who pointed out that these days, gay couples tend to have a much more “playful” attitude toward gender and gender roles and for pointing to the research of Donald McCreary (Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology) who in 1994 stated that men who appear “effeminate” are more likely to be perceived as gay, while women who have masculine traits may be less likely to be seen as gay. This is another observation on the amount of “leeway” we give men and women in the expression of their gender.

Ep 235: Want to Swap Bodies?

What if you could swap bodies with someone else? What would it be like to be someone of the opposite sex? A different race? We’re getting darn close to being able to do that with new techniques like the Rubber Hand Illusion, the Enfacement illusion, and now the Full body illusion. You can now virtually switch bodies with someone else and thanks to our mirror neurons and other brain systems, you can have a very different sense of body ownership. Come listen to me talk about the latest research on this topic and some potential intriguing applications to problems like bullying.

Resources on Body Swapping

Ep 234: Transvestism – Is It Normal? What Is Normal Anyway?

A small number of men cross dress and many movies and broadway shows feature cross dressers (transvestites), so obviously many people find it fascinating and those who cross dress typically enjoy it. Why? What does it mean about the people who do it? I was recently cast as Albin/ZaZa in the musical version of the movie “La Cage Aux Folles” so I’ve been doing a lot it recently. I decided to take a closer look at cross dressing and see what psychologists think about it. Along the way, I’ll also look at some of the ways we determine how or if a behavior, thought or feeling is “abnormal”


Here are my notes for this episode in concept map form: Transvestism

Resources on Transvestism


Sex Blogs by Experts

Ep 233: White Policemen and Young Black Men – What’s Really Going on?

In the US, we’ve experienced a number of recent incidences of white policemen shooting black men. What’s going on? Are these more examples of prejudice and discrimination or unprovoked attacks on police? How do we know what really happened? In this episode of The Psych Files we look at how key social psychological theories are on display in these incidences: false memories, attribution biases, blaming the victim and social identity theory.

the criminal justice system that, flawed as it is, still insists that indictments be based on facts instead of emotions, which are fed by long-simmering prejudices and all the cognitive biases and memory distortions that come packaged in the human mind. – Michael Shermer, What Really Happened in Ferguson?

Resources for this Episode

Ep 232: Psychologists Involved in Torture: What To Do About It?

You may have heard from the US Senate report on terrorism and the “enhanced interrogations” that a small group of psychologists were involved in the interrogations of detainees from the 9/11 incident. How could psychologists, who have a long tradition of concern and adherence to ethical standards in the treatment of others, become involved in such activities? Is it justified? More important: would YOU have become involved in these activities in the swirl of confusion and fear after the attacks? We examine these issues in this episode of The Psych Files.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Might you have become involved in the development or monitoring of questionable “enhanced interrogation” techniques if you were asked to do so by the government? Remember the context: the time is just after the 9/11 attacks (though it did continue for years afterward) when there was a great deal of fear and uncertainty over what terrorists might do next.
  2. What do the results of the Milgram and Zimbardo studies suggest about your answer to the above question?
  3. If it is found that the APA altered its ethical code in order to allow psychologists to become involved in these questionable interrogations, what should the APA do next to rectify the situation?
  4. Does the fact that these were “bad men” make what we did okay?
  5. What do you think of B.F. Skinner’s comment that knowing that someone is a “bad man” does no good in helping us to make sure that man’s actions won’t be repeated?

Psychology’s Involvement in Detainee Interrogations