The genderfluid comedian recently announced her preference for she/her pronouns, but she has been openly interrogating the concept of gender for more than 30 years.
Update 3/12/2021: This week The Guardian featured a profile of Eddie Izzard with the quote "I'm just trying to make a space for myself." In the profile she explains why her she/her pronouns have become permanent.
Having completed her January mission of 31 marathons and 31 standup gigs in 31 days — raising over £300,000 — she's now filming a Netflix series adapting the Harlan Coben novel Stay Close. As she's playing a male role, she figured it would make sense for people to use "he/him" on set, but people stuck with "she/her."
As she put it, "What the world seems to have said to me is you can change your pronouns but you can't use he and him as well. You've just got to be she and her from now on because we've only got so much time on our hands, thank you very much," adding, "I've been promoted to 'she,' and it's a great honour."
While many continue to celebrate her journey, the generally toxic culture around trans issues, in the UK in particular, continues to be a problem. Many TERFs reacted strongly to that "promotion" line, as though she was claiming some benefit for herself — rather than putting a positive, affirmational spin on other people's approach to her pronouns.
Eddie Izzard lives her life boldly.
Whether that means putting on a dramatic solo performance of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, performing stand-up comedy in four different languages for her Wunderbar tour, or running 29 marathons in 29 days — as she did for a charity event back in February — she seems to throw herself into everything she does with a wild abandon.
You can hear that boldness in every sentence she speaks — propelling herself into a thought before it has fully finished forming and allowing it to develop and meander as it goes. She speaks quickly, making chains of association, and it's often evident that she doesn't know exactly where that rapid pace might take her, but that uncertainty doesn't slow her down.
EDDIE IZZARD - WUNDERBAR WORLD TOURwww.youtube.com
She's brave enough to keep moving forward with the belief that she'll arrive somewhere worth going. And — more often than not — that bravery pays off.
In her stand-up this approach produces a playful tone as she seems to be casually toying with ideas that amuse her — about God, art, Star Wars. But it's not just an act. When she set out to improve her French, German, and Spanish, her target for success was being able to improvise comedy in all of these languages — in addition to English.
Whether she's performing stand-up in her signature conversational style, or speaking more soberly about topics from politics to religion to human nature, she makes room for this improvisational sense of active insight and discovery in the way she talks. And her boldness, and the importance of discovery in her life, is nowhere more evident than in her relationship with gender.
Most recently that involved announcing her preferred pronouns as "she" and "her," but she has been publicly defying gendered expectations since at least 1985, when she first came out to the world at the age of 23. Assigned male at birth, she points to an experience when she was four years old — while other kids were teasing a boy for wearing a dress — as the moment she realized that she didn't conform to the role that society had assigned her.
When she first came out, the term she used was "transvestite." At other times she has referred to herself as "a lesbian trapped in a man's body" or as "a complete boy plus half girl." Despite an eagerness among many to class her chosen appearance as a performative gimmick or a fetish, she has always strived to be open and honest about what it meant for her to wear a dress, heels, and makeup, both on and off the stage.
In a conversation in Interview magazine in 2014 she said, "I don't call it drag; I don't even call it cross-dressing. It's just wearing a dress ... Sometimes I'll go around and wear makeup in the streets, turn up to the gig, take the makeup off, do the show, and then put the makeup back on. It's the inverse of drag. It's not about artifice. It's about me just expressing myself."
In a video that Izzard did for the Eden Project's Festival of Discovery in November, she discussed beginning a process of self-analysis in her 20s. She was trying to understand her role in the world, and it led to her decision to live her life as honestly as she could, even if that meant facing some frightening challenges.
Thinking about what her life would have been like had she never come out she said, "I could have had relationships and married, could've had kids and just been lying about this other side of my life ... But I felt happier going down this route, even though it sort of cuts off certain avenues for you ... it just seemed a better way to go to be open and to push for that."
Over the years she has faced a lot of intolerance and a lot of violence for that decision. But the conversation around gender expression has changed a great deal, and so has Eddie Izzard's understanding of herself.
For anyone who was confused, here is what Eddie said about her pronouns from now on. #EddieIzzard #TransIsBeautiful https://t.co/m0ZxhqtmRb— spamvicious 🦻🏻🦻🏻 (@spamvicious 🦻🏻🦻🏻) 1608483551
Since at least 2017 she has spoken about having both "boy mode" and "girl mode." She says that she has considered the option of hormone therapy treatment or other medical intervention to affirm a female identity, but decided against it "because then [she'll] just be on the other side of this kind of fence that we give ourselves."
When she speaks about society's obsession with gender, she seems to argue for the abolition of the gender binary as a concept — that we would all benefit from acknowledging that a spectrum of gender exists and that few people belong at its poles.
She dismisses the idea that we can accurately ascribe any essential qualities to one gender or the other as a strange societal obsession,and argues for simple solutions to correct the problems that obsession has created — e.g. gender neutral bathrooms with only stalls, no urinals.
On a recent episode of Portrait Artist of the Year, she discussed her decision to use "female" pronouns with an artist who was sketching her portrait, saying "it feels great." While she is still genderfluid, and is not giving up "boy mode" she says that she wants "to be based in girl mode from now on."
There seems little doubt that many of Izzard's ideas on gender and her understanding of herself will continue to evolve as science, society, and Izzard herself progress — she hasn't stopped that process of self-analysis and discovery. Her firm belief that gender identity is tied to genetics, for example, may be proven true, or it may turn out to be unlikely.
In any case, the vision she's spent decades fighting for — "to try and get transgender people knitted into society" — has remained in focus and is slowly moving closer to a reality. Whatever the future holds for her, it's a joy to see the bravery and openness with which she approaches life and self-discovery.
Eddie Izzard - A Run For Hope - Help Eddie Raise Money to Make Humanity Great Againwww.youtube.com
In January of 2021 you will have the chance to experience some of that joy live as Izzard goes on tour for A Run for Hope. In 31 days, in 31 countries, she will run 31 marathons and perform 31 stand-up shows that will stream around the world, raising money for charity in an effort to "Make Humanity Great Again."
We have our fingers crossed that she'll succeed.