Uncertainty in the research of an indeterminate identity

Ever since Falleni’s arrest on 5 July, 1920, the story of Eugenia Falleni, (alias Harry Crawford, Nina Falleni, Jack Crawford, Jean Ford) has been the subject of sensational news stories and, more recently, films, plays, long form biographies and academic studies. In the ninety-five years since Falleni’s story first became public, various details have changed in the popular narrative, and Falleni’s role has gradually morphed from "criminal" to "victim". Falleni was first depicted in the press of the 1920s and 1930s as a "human curio", "monster" or medical case study of sexual inversion. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s Falleni resurfaced in the tabloid press as the subject of "true crime" feature articles which largely emphasised their violent domination over a vulnerable wife and step-son. It was not until Suzanne Falkiner’s biography was published in 1988 that authors sought to explain Falleni’s alleged crimes through an analysis of the social and historical contexts that Falleni existed within. In the hands of twentieth-century storytellers Falleni’s story has been a fluid narrative, and Falleni gave many different versions of their own life, all of which emphasised different truths. Research into Falleni’s lives has led me to believe Falleni did not have one "authentic" self hidden from view, waiting to be revealed. All the versions of Falleni—represented and real—appear to be authentically part of the contexts in which they were created. Falleni’s case appears to illustrate with special force that identity, gender and even sex, as Judith Butler has suggested, are not qualities assigned at birth, but are rather the culmination of many small, repeated, observed and performed acts, impossible to extricate from social experience.