Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco
Problem Bodies, Nation-State
This chapter examines multiple points of convergence between cross-dressing law and the federal immigration controls that developed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. Immigration law did not target cross-dressing as a specific practice, but supporters produced political narratives of nonnormative gender to mobilize restrictions on national belonging. In particular, political campaigns for Chinese exclusion relied heavily upon cross-dressing imagery to vilify Chinese immigrants as hyperfeminine, deceptive men. Federal immigration law also ensnared people who wore clothing that “did not belong” to their sex, including Chinese women stowaways who tried to enter the nation undetected and resident immigrants who were deported following a cross-dressing arrest. By the early twentieth century the federal government was using immigration law to police problem bodies through exclusion from the nation. Together with cross-dressing laws, immigration laws positioned gender-normativity as a precondition for full belonging.