December 5, 2022 - 11:37am

Eddie Izzard likes pink. Pink coats, pink jackets — they’re all over the website promoting his failed bid to stand as a Labour candidate at the next general election. Labour’s colour is traditionally red but pink is for girls, and Izzard has been campaigning in what he coyly calls ‘girl mode’ for months now. Alas, all his efforts came to nothing at the weekend when he was soundly beaten by a local councillor who also happens to be a woman. 

There was no pink in sight when Izzard posted a picture of himself with Abtisam Mohamed after she was selected as Labour’s candidate for Sheffield Central. For once Izzard was all in black but still in ‘girl mode’, judging by his high-heeled boots and the quilted bag slung over one shoulder. Other defeated hopefuls might have contented themselves with congratulating the winner but Izzard had to put himself front and centre. Towering over the diminutive Abtisam, he announced that he looked forward to “campaigning with her in the months and years to come”.

How did Labour members in Sheffield come to reject someone who, by his own account, has mixed with celebrities and monarchs the world over? “Throughout my career and charity work,” he boasted, “I have had the privilege of working alongside and meeting with a range of Heads of State, prime ministers, global figures, and members of the British diplomatic core [sic] around the world, including King Charles III and Nelson Mandela”.

It’s just possible that Labour members were put off by Izzard’s shameless self-promotion, which included a claim that he’s done more campaigning than anyone else in the Labour Party: ‘There isn’t a Labour activist who has done more,’ his campaign literature announced. More even than Margaret Beckett or Harriet Harman, who have been MPs for a total of almost 80 years between them? And they’ve done it without making performative gestures about being in ‘girl mode’. 

In recent years, as one institution after another capitulated to gender ideology, Izzard has got used to fawning responses to his increasingly preposterous claims about who he is. He’s gone from declaring himself “all boy, plus extra girl” in 2004 to adopting female pronouns and announcing he wants “to be based in girl mode from now on” in 2020. Newspapers and websites obediently made the switch, referring to the comedian as ‘she’ as though he had actually changed sex. ‘Eddie Izzard sports fresh platinum blonde pixie cut and pink mini dress with trainers as she arrives in Malaga’, the Daily Mail burbled earlier this year.

It may be that this craven response from the media misled Izzard into over-estimating his popularity. But while people are ready to applaud an actor and comedian who challenges gender stereotypes, they may not be so keen on a man making demands that defy the evidence of their senses. Izzard’s claim to be trans highlights the problem at the heart of self-identification, which is that it requires so little of the individual — but so much of everyone else. 

Izzard is a man who likes to wear women’s clothes, favouring garments that are a parody of what actual women choose to wear. Expecting us to refer to him as ‘she’ is an affront to the female half of the population, whose experience of being women encompasses the ever-present threat of sexual and domestic violence. The setback to Izzard’s attempt to become a Labour MP is a heartening sign of a return to sanity. After all, being a woman involves a great deal more than wearing pink.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.