"Woman Dressed like a Man": Gender trouble at the sapphic cabaret, Paris, 1930-1960

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Sapphic cabarets where women "dressed like men"figure among the most widely publicized symbols of lesbian desire. During the 1930s more than twenty such cabarets opened throughout the city of Paris. Many of these survived the war and operated into the 1960s and after. This article examines the unique figure of the entraîneuse, a female staff member paid to cross-dress who worked in these venues. It argues that this commercial figure played a special role in promoting a sexual schema-now called "butch/femme"-that is usually explained either as biologically determined or as an erotic choice. The gender performances fostered in the Sapphic cabaret enabled the formation of a female same-sex subculture while at the same time making what was then perceived as a contagious threat-the "mannish lesbian"-instantly recognizable and thus more easily subject to surveillance and control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-748
Number of pages38
JournalFrench Historical Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • Cabaret
  • Gender
  • Lesbian
  • Paris
  • Sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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