a lesbian trapped in a man's body"
Eddie Izzard is a brilliant comedian, charming company and he looks fantastic in women's clothes.
Is this man for real?
Photographs by Wolfgang Mustain | Interview by Adrian Deevoy | Cosmo Sept. 1996 | thanks Teri!
"Don't turn around now, but..." They try not to stare, but even the cool customers in this chic, west London eatery can't help it when he sashays in. Some are familiar with the cherubic comedian and crack warm smiles of recognition. But even those who can't quite place him find their chatter evaporating and their glasses hovering in mid-air as they pause to drink in the full vision that is Eddie Izzard dressed for a dinner date.
From the top: we have sunglasses perched on short, blond-streaked hair; ice-blue eyeshadow; kohll foundation; silver, hoop earings; magenta lipstick, metalic turquoise nail varnish a white, long-sleeved T-shirt; wide black trousers; and strappy, spangly high-heels. Eddie Izzard is dressed as a woman, and he looks fantastic. Seemingly unaware of the dropped-jaw devistation in his wake, he shrugs off his red leather jacket and tosses a candy-stripped bag onto the seat.
Celebrity came late to Eddie Izzard although, as a self-confessed "strategist", this was how he'd planned it. He was brought up in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex by his father (his mother died of cancer when he was six). He studied accounting and financial management at Sheffield University and, while the majority of his contemporaries went on to work in the City, he opted for street performance - riding on a unicycle around London's Covent Garden and "talking rubbish".
A devout student of comedy, he honed his stand-up skills and, although he was packing theatres for month-long runs by the early Nineties, he refused to appear on TV, saying he found the format "limiting". Eventually, though, he succumbed to the lure of the box and, inevitably, mainstream fame beckoned.
It soon becomes apparent that Izzard is a delightful dinner companion. He is not remotely camp. He does not mince, but walks like any man would wearing three-inch heels. He is able to talk the hind legs, the forelegs and possibly the tail off a donkey but, unlike other compulsive talkers and persons of celebrity status, he listens to what you say, laughs, asks quirky questions and enthrals you with his bizarre flights of fancy.
Within ten minutes he has charmed the staff into a table upgrade and has our waitress in fits. Her eyes are moist with laughter and she is dancing in attendance. In fact, she seems to quite fancy him. "Acutally," says Izzard, "I've got quite a large female following. And, remarkable though it might seem, some of them do seem to fancy me."
This isn't as strange as it sounds because, while Eddie Izzard is a fully "out" transvestite, he isn't gay. He is secure in his heterosexuality - it is only gender that is on his agenda. "That's half the problem," he says, taking a gulp of white wine. "I fancy women, I don't fancy men. I'd be very happy to be gay, but I'm just not. It would make life a lot easier, but it isn't what I am. I assume it's genetic, because I have no choice in the matter. I've been harangues by drag queens for not being gay, but what can I do? Even if I was bisexual it would make perfect sense, but I'm a heterosexual who happens to be TV [transvestite]."
Izzard, 34, has a girlfriend, about whom he politely refuses to talk, and any questions about borrowing her clothes are met with gentle, but firm, rebuffs.
He orders a salad and chicken, as he's recently been trying, successfully, to lose weight ("I've cracked this dieting lark. Eat less bloody food!"), and happily agrees to talk about his transvestism.
"When I was young, I blocked it," he says. "I remember thinking girls wore dresses and that would be right up my street, but I sensed it wasn't the accepted thing for a boy to do. I came out [as a TV] when I was 23. Prior to that I cross-dressed in private, but I don't call it cross-dressing any more. Now, I'm just wearing clothes."
Can he remember the first time he went out wearing women's clothes? "It was very frightening," he says. "I thought everyone was looking at me. I was totally hyper-sensitive. Then I analysed it and realised if you're out in regular jeans and a T-shirt everyone looks at you anyway. So, I had to deal with this fear."
Is transvestism something you have to learn? "Oh, definitely," he says. "You have to learn and fail and fail and fail before you get it right for you. There's a curve where as a man you look fine, then you put on a dress and look terrible. You have no idea about what look you want, and eventually, you work those things out and start to look better."
What did your father say when he found out you were a transvestite? "I told him after a football match," he smiles. "It was 1992 and I'd come out six years before. He just said, 'Fine, that's OK.; He was incredibly cool and then sent me a letter saying if my mum was alive, she would have been happy about it. I still haven't been to a football match wearing make-up yet, but I will."
So, what is the fundamental attraction of wearing women's clothes? "It's almost impossible to explain," he sighs. "It's like, why do you fancy the people you fancy? It's built-in, pre-programmed. Women's clothes are just a lot more interesting and exciting and sexy. And I mean sexy in a positive and confidence-giving sense. If we were to take transvestism to it's bluntest form, you could say, 'Obviously, you wear women's clothes because you derive some sort of sexual gratification from it,' I'm trying to pull away from that idea. I wear these clothes a lot and if I was to feel sexually excited every time I wore them, I'd be walking around in a permanent state of sexual arousal, which isn't the case."
Where does he buy the clothes? "Well, the trousers are from Warehouse and this top is from Gap. You'd think shopping would be intimidating, but most assistants are very helpful. I'm there to buy clothes and they want to sell them."
What size is he? "I'm a 12," he laughs. "A 14 on top and a six and a half for shoes. I can get everything off the shelf."
After a few glasses of wine and two post-prandial coffees, Izzard is sufficiently squiffy to start philosophising about women's clothing. "Women can wear anything they want," he declares. "Men can, but they don't, because socially it isn't the thing to do. I'm aiming for subtle transvestism. To wear minimal make-up and a simple suit from a women's shop. That's the key, just to blend in. It's even more subversive."
Does he get hassled when he goes out in full war paint and frock? "If people give me hassle, I give them hassle back," he says evenly. "So, I get into huge verbal fights on the street, but luckily I haven't got into a fist fight yet, which is handy because I'm not a fighter. A big black guy came up to me in the tube station recently and said, 'You gay c***!' And he came right up to me, nose to nose, and we had this stand-off and I finally said, 'Point of order. I'm not a gay c***. I'm a transvestite c***. Get your terms of abuse right.' Luckily, he backed down.
"I could end up having my head beaten in and dying because of this, but I will not live in fear. I'll wear what I want and go where I want to and I refuse to be intimidated.
"I used to be ashamed and scared of what I was and now I'm not. They are the ones who are wrong. I'm not. Even if I have to believe the whole world is wrong, then that's what I'll do."
Impassioned rant over, Eddie Izzard relaxes into the evening. It is here the conversation begins to resemble one of his surreal stage performances. Despite reminding himself he "must not go off on tangents", he plainly finds it impossible not to . Hence we discuss: the history of the tea cosy, whether elephants can ski, the best way to break a chair, the Moorish dynasty, The Sullivans, pure mathematics, medieval work clothing and Dick Turpin's gin problem.
As it's just about midnight and Izzard shows no signs of flagging, we take a cab to into the West End. En Route, he concludes our discussion on transvestism by saying, "I've started to use the word 'tomboy' to explain my look now. When you say 'tomboy', people know what you mean. It's a woman who likes to play football, but can also be girly if she wants. And I'm like that. Except I'm a bloke." He gazes out of the car window and summons his final thoughts on the matter. "Basically," he laughs, minting a neat catch-phrase, "I'm a lesbian trapped in a man's body."
He hops out of the cab near Leicester Square, where he intends to visit his old stomping ground The Comedy Store. He says his goodbyes, apologises for having talked so much, then checks his lippy, swings the candy-striped bag over his shoulder and totters away on his spangly heels. A beautiful man.