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

LaCageReview_webI 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 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 197: Using the Word Guys for Women, Robots Helping the Elderly and Supernormal Foods

Should we stop using “Guys” to refer to groups of women and mixed sex groups? Why do we (particularly men) refer to many objects – like cars and boats – as “she”? Are everyday foods actually “SuperNormal” foods – created to be absolutely irresistible and therefore causing us to be overweight? Is it okay to employ robots to care for our elderly? And finally, how come the ending of a movie can “ruin the whole thing” if it’s not a good ending? After all, you enjoyed most of the movie. In this episode I try to address these questions. We’ll talk about all these things in this episode of The Psych Files.

Bandit is one of a growing number of social robots designed to help humans in both hospitals and homes. There are robots that comfort lonely shut-ins, assist patients suffering from dementia, and help autistic kids learn how to interact with their human peers. – Falling in love with a bot

Disruptions: Helper Robots Are Steered, Tentatively, to Care for the Aging
Uncanny valley

Ep 196: What Men Need to Do to End Violence Against Others

Are jail time and new laws the only answers to men’s violence against women, children, and other men? Or is there something every man can do to end these tragedies? In an earlier episode of The Psych Files in which I discussed Blaming the Victim, I talked about why there’s a tendency to blame victims and to overlook the Optimism Bias that we all share (particularly younger folks). But podcast listener and psychotherapist Jackie Henry felt that I didn’t go far enough in that episode, and she was right. We – especially men – need to think carefully about the way we talk about women in our everyday lives. Was that joke really funny? Or was it one of the small ingredients that eventually adds up to – or contributes to – the ongoing violence and lack of empathy that those with power express toward those without it. We take up this important issue in this episode of The Psych files.

We say to ourselves, ‘What can I do? I’m only one person. How can we change the system?’ I think you move through that and you realize that there are small things you can do. Once we work on the individual level eventually that’s how bigger things change – Jackie Henry

Ep 179: Lipstick Effect, Stereotype Threat and other Gender Matters

photo credit: beast love via photo pin cc

Do women who work in typically male dominated jobs “play down” their femininity in order to be gain more respect from their male co-workers?

In this episode we’ll explore stereotype threat (also known as stereotype vulnerability) as well as something you may not have heard of: the lipstick effect. How do men and women change their appearance or their behavior during times of economic depression? In this all-gender episode we look at these issues as well as why the new Volkswagen Beetle has changed its appearance. Yes, the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle has become more masculine, but why? … Read more