In 2011, transgender comedian Eddie Izzard was interviewed on the Australian talk show The Project. As clips from Izzard’s live shows played, one of the interviewers said, “It’s wonderful watching these highlights, it’s a journey of outfits for you. Famously, you’ve dressed up in women’s dresses.” Izzard responded, “No, I wear dresses. They’re my dresses, I buy them. It’s like when women wear trousers, they’re not cross-dressing. They’re not wearing men’s trousers, they’re wearing trousers.”
Someone liked that quote enough that they made one of those distracting animated gif sets that are all over Tumblr, and people have been reblogging it around the world. After it showed up on my dash for the third or fourth time I said, “I gotta write a post about this. Izzard is probably the trans person I admire most in the world, but I disagree with him on this.” The Transfeminist Geometer said, “Let me know if you write a post. I agree pretty strongly with Eddie Izzard, so I’d be interested to read it.” And here it is.
There is one interpretation of “they’re my dresses” that could be said by someone who identifies as a woman. It means that of course they’re women’s dresses, because I’m a woman, so there’s nothing noteworthy about me wearing them.
I don’t think Izzard is identifying as a woman here, with his beard and all (although it would be damn radical if he did). I think he’s saying it as a statement of sartorial freedom, along the lines of the people who make utilikilts, and the fashionistas who tell us every so often that this is the year when men will start wearing skirts again. It means that these dresses may have been designed for women, but once I pay for them they’re mine, so they’re men’s dresses or transvestite’s dresses or something.
I disagree with Izzard here because for me the point is that they are women’s dresses. I don’t have any particular interest in a utilikilt or a men’s skirt. In fact, last week I went out wearing leggings under a sweater and jacket, but I’m thinking I don’t feel like wearing that anymore because they looked too much like the kind of spandex pants a guy might wear.
It’s like if you imagine a society in the future where everyone wears identical jumpsuits, but the women’s jumpsuits have one button more than the men’s. The transvestites will all want that extra button. Not because they like an extra button, but because it’s a woman’s button. That’s why I have women’s dresses in my closet. My women’s dresses.
Obviously, Izzard has a right to his own feelings about his dresses. He’s not wrong for that, and neither is the dude in a utilikilt, or the transwoman who buys her women’s pants at the Men’s Wearhouse. My disagreement with them is purely that I having different feelings.
But I wonder how different Izzard’s feelings really are. It’s possible that he thought that up just because he was tired of answering the same question about “women’s dresses” for so many years and wanted to say something different, just to mix things up and be funny. Kind of like I’m pretty sure he was joking when he told Greg Kilborn that the police shot him for shoplifting a makeup kit when he was a teenager.