Dame Edna Everage, the drag persona of 84-year-old Australian comedian Barry Humphries, has popped up in a handful of stage productions, TV shows and movies, including the 2016 film version of Absolutely Fabulous. But now Humphries himself has popped up in media for a bad reason: In a recent interview with The Spectator he called trans people’s offense at transphobia “terrible ratbaggery” and referred to trans identity “a fashion” and “evil” — yeesh. Now folks are accusing him of peddling a form of anti-trans drag.
When asked if trans activists have ever taken offense to his Dame Edna schtick, considering it transphobic, Humphries calls trans identity “a fashion,” adding, “How many different kinds of lavatory can you have? And it’s pretty evil when it’s preached to children by crazy teachers.”
Barry Humphries then speaks about a time when he angered trans people by using the word “mutilation” to describe gender confirmation surgery, more commonly referred to as “transition.”
“They had their genitalia chopped off and tucked in and whatever they had to do,” Humphries says. “And that aroused a lot of indignation — probably among the people who’d spent a lot of money having it done. But I don’t think I’m right to pontificate. I’m really an actor.”
Naturally, these comments are hurtful because they further anti-trans stigma by treating trans identity as just “dressing up” or as a means of indoctrinating children, which is ridiculous.
Anti-trans drag or just a joke?
Barry Humphries and Dame Edna both dabble in blunt satirical commentary, so his transphobic comments might reflect his desire to seem provocative and unconcerned. But it could also reflect his deeper conservatism, despite his being a drag queen.
For instance, at another point in the interview, he says he “was for [Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union], then against it, then for it, then against it,” before flippantly listing his trivial biases against Brussels and Italy. Later on, Humphries said, “I’m grateful to Trump for stirring up politics. And I won’t be joining any marches against him.”
This also isn’t the first time Dame Edna or Barry Humphries has ever caused offense. In a humorous advice column for Vanity Fair magazine, Dame Edna once discouraged an advice seeker from learning Spanish, saying, “Forget Spanish. There’s nothing in that language worth reading except Don Quixote, and a quick listen to the CD of Man of La Mancha will take care of that. … Who speaks it that you are really desperate to talk to? The help? Your leaf blower?”
Following angry reader reactions (including a letter from Salma Hayek who had graced the issue’s cover), Vanity Fair‘s editor published a full-page apology. In Edna’s defense, gay Latinx author Richard Rodriguez wrote, “In America these days … we can’t tell the difference between a joke and the deadly serious.”
Edna on the other hand joked that Hayek was just jealous the 2002 film role of Frida Kahlo had been offered to him first instead of her.