What Eddie Izzard means to me
Author: Stephen Ashurst
These days you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know who Eddie Izzard is. Even if you don’t follow her recent political achievements and significant work for charity, or her many roles in TV shows and feature films, you will more than likely be familiar with her unique approach to stand-up comedy, but more importantly for being one of the most well-know transgender personalities around today.
I first heard about Eddie back in 1996 when I saw her perform ‘Definite Article’ at the Ipswich Regent Theatre; a stand-up comedy show that completely blew me away. Not only was it one of the funniest shows I’d ever seen, but I was so impressed back in the 90s, that someone could display openly transgender traits – wearing makeup, feminine clothes and heels – and seem to be not only accepted by the audience but that they were genuinely taken with her. Reviews that I saw all seemed to rave about how amazing and funny she was, no negative connotations about being transgender (or transvestite as was the term back then).
Eddie appeared to have taken the issue of being transgender – something that been difficult early on in life – and dealt with it head on. Not only admitting to it but embracing it and turning it into an integral part of the comedy routine. Describing herself as a ‘professional transvestite’, ‘a complete boy plus half a girl’ and ‘a lesbian trapped in a man’s body’ were statements that got a laugh from audiences, but were also a real insight into her mind and gender identity. Certainly something that I’d never heard anyone deal with before. Regarding her fashion Eddie has been quoted saying “They’re not women’s clothes. They’re my clothes. I bought them.” This was something I felt showed that she wouldn’t accept a stereotyped image of a transvestite being something to be ashamed of, but instead something to embrace and be proud of.
It’s interesting that back when Eddie was performing in the 90s and even in the early 00s, she used the term ‘transvestite’ as a label for herself. At the time it was probably the closest thing to pigeon hole herself as. People seem to need a label or box to put things in to be able to understand them. Thankfully now we have many more labels and boxes. It might seem overkill to have all these terms, the definitions of which may overlap, but then it could be questioned why there is a need for labels and boxes at all; surely everyone is unique anyway. In recent years Eddie began to refer to herself as being transgender, an identity term that many feel is less derogatory and more descriptive.
Reading about her earlier life, it was clear how nervous and uncomfortable she was with anyone finding out about her feminine side. She had been going to a TV/TS help group for a couple of months before building the confidence to leave her flat wearing makeup and a dress. She had to carefully time when she left so that none of the flat mates saw, but coming back again was more difficult and she had to change in a public toilet – with the intention of slipping out again unnoticed. However, it was a ladies’ toilet and there were three teenage girls who had seen Eddie and began calling “Hey mister, why are you wearing makeup? Why are you dressed as a woman?” They followed, shouting, but it wasn’t until Eddie turned and said “You want to know why I’m wearing a dress? I’ll tell you why.” When the girls screamed and ran off. Although not an ideal outcome, it perhaps showed that maybe things didn’t have to be as difficult as they seemed.
‘Izzard’s openness would have an impactStonewall
on transgender communities across the globe’
More recently Eddie made news headlines when she asked to be referred to with exclusively she/her pronouns. Having had girl modes and boy modes in the past she now wanted ‘to be based in girl mode from now on’. Stonewall have since said that ‘Izzard’s openness would have an impact on transgender communities across the globe’.
I have a huge amount of respect for what I believe Eddie Izzard did for the transgender community. To me Eddie stands out as an icon of transgender representation, someone who is funny, intelligent and seemingly so confident and self-assured. I appreciate that whilst she had the guts to get up and perform stand-up comedy in front of millions, wearing a dress, heels and make-up, the confidence more than likely didn’t come as easily as it looked. For me, I used to think that if she could go out in public breaking gender conventions then there was always the possibility that I could too. Although I definitely didn’t have the same confidence at the time, I was very much aware of her. She has remained a figure of inspiration for me and I would like to think she has inspired me in my recent embracing of gender fluidity.
The fact that a bold and charismatic personality such as Eddie has struggled with gender identity, and that she has only recently made a significant change later on in life, goes to show that the issue of gender is not as black and white, or blue and pink, as it might seem. Gender is a complex concept with multiple components such as:
- Bodily sex – the combination of reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones and physical characteristics that make up sex. Note that when a baby is born a sex will be assigned based only on their external genitalia.
- Gender identity – a personal sense of the gender we feel on the inside, which may or may not align with the expected norms of the sex assigned at birth.
- Gender expression – the way a person expresses themselves on the externally through clothing, hairstyles and mannerisms.
With this in mind it might be worth taking a moment to look at the gender identity spectrum below and consider where your own gender identity sits. There is no right or wrong with something like this, only a matter of how well we know, understand and accept ourselves.
When we realise that being more masculine is not the same as being less feminine and that we are in-fact a complex mixture of both, it can allow us to think more freely and create possibilities for each of us. And perhaps like Eddie Izzard we may find that the way we think, feel and talk about our gender can change over the course of our lives.
“Eddie Izzard Canadian Tour 2010” by Eric Eggertson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“15.04.04 Eddie Izzard 2” by labour_party_uk is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“eddie izzard in cleveland, oct2003” by soozums is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
LGBT+ Staff network blog
Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff network