Gendered clothing is an age-old concept, but thanks to the global phenomenon of RuPaul's Drag Race - and an overall increase in LGBTQ cultural visibility - the notion of subverting those clothing norms has rapidly expanded within the mainstream like never before. Impersonating another gender is a key cornerstone of queer culture - drag is not only a high art form but is also a valuable tool for dismantling the gender binary. Outside of these circles, however, drag and gender-bending attire have never been taken particularly seriously.
From Some Like It Hot to Tootsie to She's the Man, gender-bending is a frequent trope in romantic comedies because it often harvests an easy laugh from those unfamiliar with the practice. Similarly, cartoons and children's entertainment have done the same for decades. From The Simpsons to SpongeBob SquarePants, there's a very high chance that many of your favorite childhood characters have dressed outside the typical gender norms at least once, and for a lot of LGBTQ kids, this slim glimmer of representation may have been a formative experience.
Disney's history is bursting with queer subtext and campy characters, and 1973's Robin Hood is no exception. The titular hero and his loyal friend, Little John, offer up a memorable moment of gender-swapping fun early into the film when they trick Prince John into parting with some of his treasure.
After slipping into the garb of female fortune-tellers, the duo sweet talks their way onto the Prince's carriage to give him a reading. Robin dons a falsetto voice to further sell the act, and Little John uses his bodice to smuggle out the Prince's gold. The film implies that this is hardly their first attempt at such a ruse.
Almost every one of Pinky and the Brain's plans for world domination involves disguises. Naturally, many of these wardrobe choices are of the feminine variety. Perhaps the most notable example occurrs in the episode "Whatever Happened to Baby Brain?" - a spoof on the queer classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In the episode, Brain poses as a female child star and Pinky portrays her mother.
The cartoon's heavy use of gender-swapped attire seems to fall in line with the show's little-known queer origins. Speaking on the gay men's culture podcast The Sewers of Paris in 2016, drag performer Mark Finley revealed how his friendship with Pinky and the Brain's director and producer Rusty Mills permeated the show:
Rusty... spent a lot of time down by the pool and... never got tan. He just got pink, and [so] I called him "Pinky." And he called me "Brain" because I wore these... big black government-issued glasses. He [would joke that] gays were going to take over the world, and so when I would see him he'd say, "What are you up to today, Brain?" And I'd say, "Same thing I'm up to every day: trying to take over the world."
- Photo: SpongeBob SquarePants/Viacom
With his sweet and campy nature, SpongeBob SquarePants is already a bonafide gay icon - even without his penchant for gender-bending dress-up. SpongeBob never does anything halfway, so when he slips into drag, he naturally gives it his all.
In "Can You Spare a Dime?" for instance, SpongeBob welcomes an unemployed Squidward to stay at his home, eventually culminating in SpongeBob - dressed as a French maid - waiting hand and foot on his grouchy neighbor. In "The Slumber Party," SpongeBob, acting on Mr. Krabs's orders, attempts to infiltrate Pearl's sleepover party in full teen-girl garb, though his distinct voice betrays him all too quickly.
- Photo: Aladdin/Walt Disney Studios
As soon as Aladdin's Genie is freed from his "itty bitty living space," he wastes no time morphing into as many different characters as possible. Quite a few of these are women, from Mrs. Doubtfire to a sarcastic cheerleader to a singing harem member.
Fittingly, all of them are accompanied by Robin Williams's stellar voice modulation.