Tipping point? Eddie Izzard makes me think

Eddie-Izzard-tour-datesBritish comedian Eddie Izzard brought his “Force Majeure” tour to Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater this weekend. “Force majeure” is a French term, often inserted into legal documents, that refers to an “irresistible power,” and Izzard is that — in fact, he’s amazing.

It’s hard to believe anyone has Izzard’s level of energy. He is in constant motion for two and a half hours. We saw Saturday’s performance.

I’d never seen him in person — only on TV — and he’s almost better on television,  because he demands a kind of intense intimacy that’s tough to achieve in a venue as large as the Byham. He works so quickly, bouncing from topic to topic, that you want to run things back and hear them again.

Still, by the end of the second half of the show, my cheeks hurt from laughing, and that was before what Izzard referred to as “my obligatory encore,” in which he recreated “The Lord of the Rings” movies. By himself. With a chicken in one of the lead roles, and a callback to his famous “Death Star Canteen” routine.

An action transvestite

Anyway: If you know anything about Izzard, you know that he describes himself as an “action transvestite.” He’s very open about the fact that he’s been a male-to-female crossdresser since he was a boy. Several routines in his new show pivot around his crossdressing — his two interests, he jokes, are “action movies and makeup.” (“Hasta la vista, baby … maybe it’s Maybelline.”)

And yet I should mention that he opened both halves of the show dressed as John Steed from “The Avengers” — black suit, bowler hat, umbrella — and the stage was decorated in a “spy” theme, though he discarded his umbrella and bowler hat at the beginning of each half.

This is a contrast to his earlier performances, such as his “Sexie” concerts, in which he performed while dressed in female clothing.

Candid Q-and-A

After the show, the audience was invited to meet him in the lobby and ask questions. A couple of hundred people stayed.

Eddie met us in a sharp looking pantsuit, a pink V-neck T-shirt, and wearing some light makeup. (We were within 20 feet of him, and it looked like he was wearing some foundation, eyeliner and lipstick, as well as a silver headband.)

In other words, he presented male on stage — almost hyper-masculine, if you remember “The Avengers” TV show — and was cross-dressed off stage.

Why do we care about this on an LGBTQ blog? I’m glad you asked. Because one woman asked Izzard, “Why don’t you perform in drag any more?”

And he stopped her and said (I’m quoting from memory here), “Because I don’t do ‘drag’. I mean, drag is amazing, and it’s an art form, but it’s a performance, and I’m transgender, I’m not doing ‘drag.’

“When I first came to the States, I kind of merged my off-stage and on-stage appearances, but now I take off the makeup to perform, and put it back on when I’m off stage, which I know seems a bit backwards, but that’s who I am.”

The same woman asked, “But isn’t being a transgender comedian what made your career?”

And here Eddie kind of laughed, and sighed, and said, “Really? How many other comedians are coming out as transvestites as a career move? Because what I kept hearing was” (and here he switched to a gruff-sounding voice) “I’m not spending my money to watch some weirdo in a dress for two hours.”

(Which squares with other things I’ve read, that he doesn’t perform cross-dressed any more because agents and casting directors were warning him that it was hurting his career.)

What’s it all mean?

Last week, Time magazine had a cover story, featuring actress Laverne Cox (a woman of trans history), which declared transgender issues are at a “tipping point.” And that may be true for people who go to one end of the gender binary and stay there.

But what about people who are “gender queer,” or who go back and forth, or who aren’t easily classified? And that’s more than just people who consider themselves “transgender.” It can include effeminate gay men, “butch” lesbian women or anyone who doesn’t fit the “masculine male, feminine female” binary.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding catty, yet I mean this in a nice way: Laverne Cox is gorgeous and attractive in a conventional feminine way. In other words, she “passes.” Janet Mock is also gorgeous, as are several other current trans women celebrities.

Passing judgment

Would we be at some transgender “tipping point” if the current transgender celebrities didn’t “pass”? My guess is “no.”

Ultimately, it’s a form of misogyny, isn’t it? Because trans women, like all women, are being judged on their appearance. Too fat? Too short? Too flat? Too manly? You fail.

Men face a different standard of appearance: They need to be rugged and tough and stubbly. Slobby and bald and even overweight is OK, to a point, but unmasculine? Another failure. Because for a man to be perceived as unmasculine is a sign of weakness. See how it comes back to misogyny?

What Eddie Izzard seemed to be saying to us Saturday night is that if you transgress the binary, it’s still a turnoff and a potential career killer.

We’ve made progress, but as long as we’re still deciding on whether to accept people based on whether or not they fit our stereotypes of “male handsomeness” and “female beauty,” I’m not sure we’ve reached a tipping point. The balance is still a long way from shifting.