Author: Julian Vigo

Why Do We Feel the Need to Transgender the Dead?

Earlier this month, a list of vaudeville-era “non-binary and transgender public heroes” compiled by actor Jeffrey Marsh was circulated widely on social media. The accompanying photos are fascinating, which helps explain why the list has been re-Tweeted more than 7,000 times. But notwithstanding the above-quoted title, only one of the listed entertainers are actually transgender. Nor did any of them call themselves “non-binary”—since the term didn’t exist until recently. Rather, what Marsh actually has provided is a list of people who cross-dressed—a practice that was common in the days of vaudeville and early cinema, largely because audiences found it entertaining. One of the listed figures is Marlene Dietrich, who dressed in male clothing and kissed another woman in the 1930 film Morocco. But Dietrich was not trans, even if, like many of her stage contemporaries—including Bessie Bonehill, Vesta Tilley, Ella Wesner and Gladys Bentley—she experimented with gender-bending. (The word Dietrich would have used to describe this practice, I suspect, would have been acting). Marsh’s statement that Dietrich “openly dated folks of various genders” is inaccurate …

The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities

In “The Dying Art of Disagreement,” published in The New York Times last Autumn, Bret Stephens discusses our failure to have reasoned discussions, stating: “We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate ‘facts,’ often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy.” Stephens elaborates on the ways in which the polarisation of opinion has become personal, to the extent that facts remain up for debate, weighed against feelings he claims are “purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.” He implores his readers to embrace an education model that does not seek fixed answers but instead opens up texts and ideas to interrogation. Many of us in academia have struggled with this very problem—how are we to revive a spirit of inquiry in the classroom during an era of great pressure to conform to fashionable theoretical trends and hip analyses? One interesting facet of Stephens’s text is that he calls up the 1987 Allan Bloom best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind.  Yet, Stephens has reframed the prevailing and more …