Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eddie Izzard Is My Hero(ine)!

Never underestimate the power of comedy to illuminate. The “NY Times” published an intriguing piece with “lost Python” (John Cleese’s words) and actor Eddie Izzard who still happens to be happily cross-dressing despite masculine appearances to the contrary. Caryn James’ interview excerpted below:

“(Izzard) said he is clueless about Broadway shows because “I’m a straight transvestite; I know nothing about musicals.”

He doesn’t always mention being a transvestite in his shows, he said. But he did in the two I saw, and it worked as a disarming strategy: acknowledge it for fans who are wondering what happened, then move on. “I am a transvestite; I’m just off-duty at the moment,” he told the audience, and immediately went on, “I never was a transvestite; it was a tax thing.”

As he explained later: “Some people would heckle me and say ‘Where’s the dress?’ and I’d say ‘Don’t oppress me, you Nazi’ — tends to shut them up. Because I have fought for the right to be able to wear a dress, not that I have to wear a dress. I didn’t jump out of a not-wearing-dress box into a have-to-wear-dress box.”

But isn’t he now in a have-to-wear-pants box for career purposes?

“Slightly,” he acknowledged. “Socially, politically, the number of out transvestites in the public eye are few.” And in American-accented voices he imagined one studio executive trying to persuade another to hire him:

“ ‘Yeah, he’s a transvestite — but he hasn’t been wearing a dress for a while.’ ”

“ ‘Yeah, I suppose that’s O.K.’ ”

Being a transvestite is “still not part of the establishment,” he said. “ ‘Twelve transvestite senators turned up today’ — it hasn’t been said yet. You’re always sort of outside the loop.”

When he started performing in England, he wore ordinary men’s clothes but worried that the press would learn of his transvestism and run with the news in a lurid way. He told reporters that he was a transvestite; they thought it was a joke. “So I thought, I’ll wear a dress and wear makeup,” he said, “and they wrote, ‘O.K., he is a transvestite, but he looks a mess.’ ”

“By the time I got to America in ’96, I thought, I’m going to bring it to America so I don’t have to do a two-step here,” he said. Eventually people saw him only as the cross-dressing stand-up, though, so he veered again, and here he is as Doug Rich.

Sort of. In the poster art for “Stripped” he is wearing an open lacy shirt, suit and jeweled collar pin, an image he described as rock ’n’ roll. He may be wearing a bit of eye makeup — more than most men but less than Keith Richards. It’s a dandyish, Beau Brummel look that hints at the balance he has to find at this stage of his career.”

And life, I might add. In fact, Izzard is just going through what every one of us whose gender and/or sexuality don’t match society’s “norm” eventually face. How do you come out without having that part of yourself define you completely? It’s really no different from what any minority throughout history has had to deal with. How does Spike Lee go from being a “black filmmaker” to being just a filmmaker who happens to be black? In the same way Izzard is attempting to become a comic and actor who “happens to be” a transvestite. You start out by acknowledging the thing that defines you – and then move beyond it, others’ reactions be damned. It’s the only way for one to grow both as an artist and as a human being. “She’s Gotta Have It” Spike Lee is no less black for having directed the conventional crime thriller “Inside Man.” Likewise, Eddie Izzard will always be a transvestite whether he’s wearing sequins or suits (or both). (In fact, “straight” Izzard in pants is more a true transvestite than gay Divine – who only did drag onstage as part of his shtick, and indeed was gearing up to play a male role on “Married With Children” when he died – ever was.) “Lost Python,” dramatic actor and trailblazing pioneer. That’s Eddie Izzard defined.

No comments: