Eddie Izzard is about to complete a superhuman challenge of running 27 marathons in 27 days with a final double marathon on Sunday 20th March. If that wasn’t enough, he is very visibly representing the transgender community and challenging a few myths at the same time.
The past 12 months has seen a tipping point for trans people, and it is probably the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner more than any other event that has thrust trans people into the media spotlight.
Suddenly transgender is cool. However what I have noticed is that there is still a obsessive focus on the minority of trans people. The trans people who are grabbing the limelight are those who can “pass” well. It’s as if we all now have to compete with the most beautiful women of the world in order to be acceptable and trans men are largely invisible.
Let me dispel a huge myth right now. Most transgender people do not transition, do not actually change their gender. They find a way to cope. Many trans men, for example, continue to identify as women, but dress in a very masculine way, although it is important to add that not all women who dress in a masculine way are trans men.
Trans women on the other hand don’t have that luxury. Continuing to identify as a man but dressing in a very feminine way often means they are identified as gay. There is of course one global icon who is doing, in my view, more for ordinary trans folk than any other.
Eddie Izzard identifies very publicly as trans – frequently dressing in clothing most people associate with women. I love his quote from a few years back when asked why he dresses in women’s clothes he said, “they are not women’s clothes – they’re mine.
Eddie Izzard is currently running for Sport Relief in South Africa where he this morning completed marathon 24 of 27 in 27 days.
What he is achieving there in terms of human endurance is beyond belief. If you check out the pictures of the early marathons in February and compare them to do today, he looks a different person. Fitter, slimmer and still sporting brightly coloured nails.
In rural South Africa Eddie Izzard is not very well known, so it’s a bit of a shock for the locals to see a white guy with brightly painted nails running around carrying a South African flag. So not only is he honouring Nelson Mandela and raising money for Sport Relief, he is also doing a huge amount to raise awareness of LGBT and especially trans issues.
Africa is not known for it’s LGBT friendliness generally, although Cape Town itself ,where he is running, is actually one of the most LGBT friendly cities in the world and the pink capital of South Africa. Here is Eddie Izzard getting his nails refreshed earlier in the challenge.
I was prompted to write this post when a friend commented on this video that Eddie Izzard was not transgender and it made me realise that with all the publicity being focused on beautiful trans women over the past year, people were forgetting that Eddie Izzard is as much transgender as they are.
He has chosen a coping strategy that works for him. He is very open about being transgender and frequently dresses in a way that is, well neither male nor female.
Current estimates suggest that there may be as many as 600,000 trans people in the UK alone – yet today less than 20,000 have sought any form or medical intervention and just 4000 have officially changed their legal gender.
I am currently in the middle of a challenge, trying to convert my transgender training into an online programme. As a result I have been watching every programme on trans people, reading blog posts, news items, academic papers and generally immersing myself in the topic as I did 10 years ago when I was doing my masters degree dissertation.
I know now that when I release the course in April, it is going to be seen as a little controversial because some people, both transgender and cisgender, are voicing opinions that I don’t agree with.
Being born transgender is not an easy life and not something anyone would really choose. But we have had to hide in fear of being publicly shamed, discriminated against and harassed for far too long.
Finally the laws around the world are changing and now the very difficult task of changing attitudes can really get going. Thank you Eddie Izzard for winning the hearts of millions and doing so much to help us all in this battle. I for one will be supporting him every step of the way though this weekend as he shows the world just how much transgender people can contribute.