Posted by: annegab | December 16, 2012

Secret Cross-Dressers and Bruce

In trying to research more about “Richard Bruce” the female cross-dresser that Munby mentions in his writing  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with anything) I stumbled upon this pop article about Bruce Jenner, husband of the Kardashian matriarch who has a fetish for cross-dressing. Apparently, his previous marriages resulted in the fact that his wives had a difficult time accepting this fetish.

Perhaps the fascination with Munby and Cullwick is the fact that cross-dressing and the passing between gender, racial and class boundaries continues to be a misunderstood and complicated. I know that I thought it was fantastic to see an example of how fluid sexuality was in the Victorian period regardless of this era being categorized as a time of sexual repression and control. Isn’t this what we learn in history and are excellent starting points for research? That if something, such as Victorian female sexuality, is considered as highly controlled,  then it must mean that there were actually many representations of “untamable” and “wild”, “undomesticated” sexuality. The issue with Munby and Cullwick of course is the fact that this was a private archive and relationship. Yet how many examples of these types of fluid or dominant-submissive relationships that struggled with multiple performances of gender, race and class do we have today that are actually public and widely disseminated?


  1. After reading about Munby and Cullwick’s relationship and looking at the photographs they produced together, I was also curious as to whether this type of relationship would have been a common in Victorian England. I read Barry Reay’s book “Watching Hannah”, and he makes some very interesting points. For example, Munby’s voyeurism and fascination with working women and performers was hardly unique. Reay makes references to Degas and Manet. I found this to be extremely interesting, because I think that it is easier for the viewer to judge Munby for his obsession. However, the work of Degas and Manet is considered to be “art”. I wonder how we draw this distinction?
    I agree with your opinion that the Victorian period is misconstrued to be a time of sexual repression, and I found Reay’s description of the Victorian attitude towards sexuality to be very helpful.
    He writes, “The victorian period also saw the emergence of recognizably modern attitudes and definitions: the fashioning and self-fashioning of homosexuality and heterosexuality, its ‘other’; the emergence of sexologist, who began to focus on sex as the centre of a person’s identity and a means of classification; the increase in practice of birth control and reduction of family sizes; the rise of pornography”.

  2. I find Reay’s references to Degas and Manet fascinating. It’s so easy to “forget” other types of art and visual representations as being voyeuristic. That just changed my whole outlook on Degas–particularly his representation of the corps de ballets. The similarity between Munby and Degas is striking in view of voyeurism, because Degas as a painter or drawer had to return to the lieu/scene of his painting numerous times (at least that’s what I would imagine) allowing for plenty of time to observe and record body types. Meanwhile Munby also returned to sites of women’s labor “inspecting” the various women and their living conditions. I would say the distinction lies in how Degas and Munby used their information; Degas as seemingly “simple art” and Munby as a fetish? There are so many ways their work can be interpreted.

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