Outside his gig, supporters were worried about being labelled transphobic
In December 2020, the comedian and actor Eddie Izzard decided that he wanted to be “based in girl mode” permanently. Previously, the comedian had been happy to identify as a mere transvestite, appearing in eye-catching outfits such as thigh-high boots and whatever ‘hooker chic’ look he fancied.
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But now Izzard, who is hoping to get elected as Labour MP for Sheffield Central, is demanding we use she/her pronouns for him. When I went to see his show in Sheffield for my podcast, he was spotted coming out of the women’s toilets. How quickly men are accepted as women when they declare themselves as such. Izzard, who wasn’t in the slightest bit funny, was introduced as “she”, and sat there crossing and uncrossing his legs while shooting lipsticked pouts at the audience throughout.
I decided to ask the members of the public prior to and following the gig whether they supported Izzard’s political campaign and if they would be happy to refer to him as a “female politician”.
I chatted to a young man in his early 20s who said he was fully supportive of trans rights, and that electing a transgender MP would signify inclusion. When I pressed him on sex-based rights and the exclusion of women, he got the point, and started to row back on his argument.
One Labour-voting woman in her late 40s told me she was all for inclusion and diversity, saying that she didn’t see a problem with Izzard “being referred to as she, if that’s what she wants.”
I asked if she thought that meant being able to self-identify as a woman, even if he had not had surgery, and whether this might cause any problems in single-sex spaces. When I mentioned crisis centres and hospital wards, she changed her tune swiftly: “I wouldn’t want men in women’s refuges and the like. I grew up in a very violent household, and that would not be good.”
A number of women outside the venue on their way into the gig expressed concern about any man claiming to be a woman. They gave the simple reason that this is a threat to single-sex services, which exist to protect women and girls from male violence, but acknowledged that it is difficult to speak out, lest they be labelled bigots.
It soon became clear through my conversations that a number of people I spoke to were reluctant to criticise the Labour candidate, with a man in his 50s telling me that “to be critical of Izzard will now be seen as transphobic, whatever the issue at hand.” Others felt similarly: many checked first that they did not have to give their real name when they admitted to feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of Izzard representing them as a female MP.
We are now beginning to emerge from the Stonewall-imposed era of ‘no debate’, but the legacy of silence remains. The people of Sheffield deserve the chance to be represented by the best person for the job. If that isn’t Izzard, they must be able to say so without being labelled bigots.