Gender Confusion in the 1980s

By Eric Cruet

The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult film in the 80s that celebrated the confusion of sexual identity. Tim Currie, the star, played a female with strangely seductive characteristics. In fact, most of the female temptresses were played by males. Our propensity for gender-blending gained a wider acceptance in the 1980’s as many films played with this theme of sex role reversal. Victor-Victoria, Tootsie, and Yentle were three additional film products of popular culture which addressed the inequities of socially imposed gender roles from the perspective of the victims of cultural stereotyping. Movie producers attempted to make “gender blending” humane and less threatening through these artistic comedies. As people became familiar with androgyny they also become de-sensitized to its transgressions of cultural norms. It became an acceptable, if an alternate, norm to a large portion of modern culture. And on stage, the 60’s fascination with sex in general, with productions like Hair and O Calcutta, became in the 80’s a fascination with homosexuality in particular, with La Cage Aux Folles competing for a Tony Award in 1984.

In 1983, I went to see David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” Tour at the Norfolk Scope Arena.  Although previously exposed to androgyny, I had never been hypnotized by it like I was by Mssr. Bowie.  To quote the lyrics to his hit “Rebel, Rebel”, I could not tell if ” he was a boy or a girl”.  I am not ashamed to admit there was something strangely fascinating about his aura, movements, and persona.  To this day I remain a big fan. 

It is my opinion that human sexuality has myriad manifestations.  Katherine Hayles’ description of “virtualized, embodied” sexual identities is too programmatic and IMO unrealistic.  Focault’s attempt at deconstructiing sexual mores in the Victorian area seems biased in the fact that he faults religion as the cause of repression in sexual activity.  Statistics show that The population of England almost doubled from 16.8 million in 1851 to 30.5 million in 1901.  Finally, the manifestation of prostitution as a social concern in England began around the 1850’s.