The Humanist Community at Harvard, the American Humanist Association, and the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics presented their 6th Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award for Cultural Humanism on February 20 to comedian, actor, marathon runner, and aspiring mayor of London (2020) Eddie Izzard.
Following a short performance, Izzard took time for audience questions; here are some highlights:
You often use comedy to take on some pretty serious issues in the world. How do you find a balance?
Some people would say I haven’t found that balance. My gods are Monty Python. I do intelligent, stupid, stupid, intelligent, smart, stupid. That’s the edge that I play.
As I started getting into standup, I realized I needed to talk about something. I discovered history was there, and no one was going into history—I may as well dive in there. And I told everyone I was a transvestite, and got these nails, and came out when I was 23. I’m not trying to preach; I’m trying to encourage. Some people always walk out, I know that. I think you just have to try it and see what happens. In the end, I’m trying to make myself laugh. I’m trying to inform myself and see things.
Like I pointed out in the show Circle, this thing from the Catholic Church was to eat the body of Christ and then drink the blood of Christ. Now I know Christian religions were dropped on top of pagan religions. “Pagan” is a word that’s mongrel, that’s been demonized—and “pagan” sounds like “stupid religions.” But they were the religions that people had—the Greek and the Roman gods and all that. When they dropped Christianity on top, I think these things came along. I started arguing that it looks like drinking the blood could have been old vampirism, and eating the body is cannibalism.
That sounds pretty heavy duty. God would have been there saying, “Hang on there. No, don’t do that. What are you doing?” But the idea of drinking the blood of Christ and eating the body of Christ, and no one is going, isn’t that kind of vampiric and cannibalistic? So, I pointed that out.
I think transvestites are designed to find these things out. I didn’t get to a psychiatrist so in the end when I was coming out, I did a lot of self-analysis. I used that self-analysis on the rest of my life. So on one hand you have analysis, on the other hand you have instinct, and you try to go forward with a positive heart.
In an interview you said that being transgender was a gift. Could you elaborate?
When I first came out, I went to a transsexual/transgender support group, where I was talking to a transvestite lawyer. He said, “I’m looking at it as a gift.” So I thought of this as a positive way of looking at it. It is actually a gift because women talk to me in a different way. If I had more makeup on and was more girly, I think I’d be more sensitive to it, but I’m able to walk around in heels and nails and not give a monkey’s blok about it.
If you are an alternative sexuality, you have to look at it as a gift or otherwise it’s going to grind you down. In the end, I’m a much more positive person for having come out.
How old were you when you realized you were a transvestite?
Was there any particular person or specific event that inspired you to come out?
I was a student in my first year at Sheffield University. I thought I’d go to the student medical center. I told the doctor, “I’m a transvestite. Are there things you can do about that?” He said, “you get a referral to a psychiatrist,” and he was going to send me an appointment. Nothing came through. So I went back again and said, “Remember me?” He said, “Oh nothing’s come through. I’ll get right on that and make sure it happens.”
Still nothing came through. I could have been dead—not a great piece of work by this guy.
(In all the films, the transvestites hang themselves twenty minutes in. No, let’s have all the alternative sexuality people who are existing at the end of the film and all the straight people are dead—we’re in there with the feral dogs.)
Then I told an ex-girlfriend, whose brother was gay. I said it out loud, I told one person and then I felt, I’ve got to come out. So two years later I came out.