Marjorie Garber
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies Harvard University

Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety

There can be no culture without the transvestite.

Beginning with this bold claim, Marjorie Garber explores the nature and significance of cross-dressing and of the West’s recurring fascination with it.

Vested Interests is a tour de force of cultural criticism; its investigations range across history, literature, film, photography, and popular and mass culture, from Shakespeare to Mark Twain, from Oscar Wilde to Peter Pan, from transsexual surgery to transvestite ‘sororities’ to Madonna and Flip Wilson, Valentino and Elvis.

What, Marjorie Garber asks, does clothing have to do with sexuality? How do dress codes contribute to the organization of society? How is passing as a man or a woman related to racial passing? Is transvestism a sign of homosexuality? What are the politics of drag? Why are cross-dressing rituals so commonly a part of the male power elite? How do transvestites appear – and disappear – in detective fiction? Is religious costume a kind of cross-dressing? Why is Peter Pan played by a woman?

Rich in anecdote and insight, Vested Interests offers a provocative argument about our ongoing obsession with dressing up – and the power of clothes.