One of the voices I rarely get a chance to feature on this blog is non-fiction, especially academic writing. Now, this isn’t everyone’s cuppa, and it certainly doesn’t scream “beach read.” However, it does cast some legitimization on whatever part of the subculture is examined and is worthwhile even if that part is small. In the case of Gillian M. Rodger’s textbook, it’s male impersonators close to the turn of the century.
Rodger does a great job in hitting the well-known performers of the day (Annie Hindle, Minnie Hall, Maggie Weston and Ella Wesner–pictured on the cover) as well as the secondary ones. Though much research material has been lost, Rodger uses what’s available to bring these women to life. We come to know their work, their private lives–as much, again, as we can–their public personas and what their fans are like.
For male impersonators had an important role on the variety stage (the forerunner of vaudeville), reflecting and sometimes redirecting the men in the audience. I found the fact they had a place in that society at all fascinating, so Rodger really won me over when she took these women and started placing their work in a larger context, professionally as well as socially.
And no detail is too small to capture her attention. I thought hearing about the sorts of numbers these women did as well as reading some of their reviews was particularly interesting, both giving a good deal of insight into the social conventions of the times. And her knowledge of booking and touring practices gave yet another dimension to the subject.
Just One of the Boys, then, is a smart, erudite exploration of female-to-male cross dressers for the time period in question, rescuing some marvelous bits of queer history from the dusty archives.
© 2018 Jerry L. Wheeler