Gender Bender

by Cynthia Robbins, SF Examiner

Eddie Izzard, red-hot comedian and self-described "male tomboy,' takes a shopping stroll on Haight Street

He's not gay. He's a transvestite. He makes that distinction. Just because a guy wears a dress doesn't mean that he doesn't like hitting on women.

And British comedian Eddie Izzard, who bills himself as a "male tomboy" or a "male butch lesbian," dresses the part with open-toed slides, red-red lipstick, iridescent eyeshadow and sparkly blue nail polish that he allows to "go really tacky." Scag drag? Not really. The guy, or the more evocative "bloke" of his native patois, says "Drag is for gay guys. I'm not gay. I'm a male Emma Peel."

Sometimes, the bloke shares his wardrobe with his "birds." I've known straight, male cross-dressers who had sympathetic girlfriends. They traded outfits.

Apparently, Izzard has gotten over his full-dress thing. At 36, he says he feels free to tweak the gender line. He just doesn't feel he has to cross it all that vigorously anymore.

When you see Izzard on stage (his run at the CableCar Theatre started Wednesday night and extends until Sept. 6) he reminds you of David Johanssen and the New York Dolls, what with his black patent-leather pants, his chinoiserie cheongsam (a Size 14 to accommodate a barrel chest) and his face paint. "Blokes all look alike when they paint up," he laughs. His comedy, by the way, has nothing whatsoever to do with his appearance. He's just expressing his inner self.

Dressing, he says, "does get in the way of the act. People are more concerned with what I'm wearing. But I keep moving it around. It is my sexuality. I am a transvestite, make no bones about it. It has everything to do with my sexuality. Men's clothes have to be casual or power clothes. I get into that exotic area where it's not shades of gray, but shades of color. . . . But you can't do stand-up in a long dress."

Izzard reasons that women walked across the fashion gender line a long time ago. "Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Coco Chanel. They all wore pants and now nobody even bats an eye. So why can't blokes do it?" For this particular bloke, though, it's been easier than say, your local stockbroker who has decided to wear eyeliner and lip gloss. "People give me more room because I'm an entertainer. But that's where it has to start."

Izzard was born in Yemen where his father was with British Petroleum. His real name is Edward John Izzard, of French Huguenot extraction - "It's 500 years old," he says proudly. "Originally, it was Isard, pronounced E-sart." The Izzards moved around a lot as Eddie's father was transferred. But he grew up on the edges - Northern Ireland, Scotland, the English provinces, never in London until his teens. He did boy stuff like football, or British soccer, when he was 12 and 13, but went to university in Sheffield (where "The Full Monty" was set, he reminds) where football wasn't played. The inference of that factoid, of course, points up that beneath the the fancy female plumage, Eddie is all boy. He just feels like "a 36-year-old woman."

But without breasts.

"There is this logic that men and women have in their head - what they'd like to be and what they've been given by nature. I guess I have breasts in me."

When we meet for lunch at Cha Cha Cha on Haight Street, he orders a beer and broiled mushrooms. I give him a bag full of wildly colored nail polishes including light aqua and baby blue. "I've done with those," he says. "I used to steal them. Now Allure magazine gives me 90 lipsticks." He seems to like the Francois Nars' iridescent khaki and a Lanco^me marine blue."

Then we wander out onto the street. He is one TV who has a difficult time getting into shopping mode, but the stores he fancies the most are thrift shops and second-hand stores.

We walk by Daljeet's with its prominent display of 6-inch platform Patricia Field-type shoes. Izzard turns up his already pug nose: "Everyone assumes I'm going to wear them. And I can't. . . . I like chunky shoes," he says feeling up a pair of second-hand moc-croc boots with a stacked leather mid-heel. "These are zip-up boots. Looks like you can kick a football with them, but they're a girlie-boyie cross-over. If they get too stupid, they need a government health warning where everybody has to learn how to walk in them. Wearing high heels is definitely an art."

At Sparky's, he tries on sunglasses. At Wasteland, he is particularly taken with a bright blue brocaded jacket, a man's tuxedo coat, the same color as his nail lacquer. He turns this way and that, brushes his hand through his multicolored shag and decides against it.

"It just doesn't lay right," he says. The tag says the jacket is $25. "For that money," I tell him, "you could get it fixed."

No sale.