So, this week I make my way to Wrexham to appear in pantomime. I'm playing the Genie in Aladdin and it's really exciting for me. I'm working with a talented bunch of actors and singers and so pleased to be part of such a very British tradition, the laughter, cheering on the heroes, booing at the villains and the fantastic audience participation and it made me think.
We spend a couple of hours, as an audience, fully accepting that the 'principal boy' may well be played by a woman and the dame always played by a larger than life male character, covered in make up and invariably large fat suit with outrageous wig and boobs to match and we completely accept it. We don't look at the actor as weird or odd. We don't demonise the actor for embracing their character. We laugh with them, we support them, we love them for it.
Yet take that same actor, tone down the make up and costume and put him on the streets to walk around the shops. Would we feel the same way then?
Invariably not. He would be laughed at, pointed at, potentially even face anger and aggression. Why?
We would label him. Weirdo. Oddball. Disgusting. Even dangerous to our children's fragile sensibility.
How am I labelled? Alex Reid? Cage fighter? Cross dresser? Actor?
You may think I am being over-sensitive based on my experiences but think about it, really think about it. You may well have seen a transgender man walking around your town and therefore would have seen the jibes, the staring and general sense of confusion directed towards him. All because this man has chosen to listen to his heart and what he needs to do to fulfil his own sense of self. This brave, courageous person has chosen to make himself happy, to ignore what society tells him about how he should feel and act. Why do we feel so threatened, so insecure about how others choose to live their life or simply be who they are?
We have moved on so much as a society in what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to labelling others. The top comedians of the 80s for example filled their set with jokes based on fat people, disabled people, different ethnic minorities, gay people and it was okay to laugh with them. We then passed on those jokes to our friends, our colleagues, spreading the word on how it was ok to poke fun at these groups of people. Nowadays, of course, we understand that this sort of humour is not acceptable and is widely frowned upon as we are so much more aware of social correctness. But we still have a very long way to go.
When my ex-wife chose to reveal intimate moments of our married life to the world she opened the way for me to become a comedic figure. The Cross Dressing Cage Fighter. Funny right? I was subjected to the full panel of Celebrity Juice's ridicule for weeks following her revelations. A nationally critically acclaimed show made fun of me. Not because of my life, my fighting career, my acting. No. The fact that in private moments I had dressed as a woman for my own pleasure.
And we as a society laughed with them.
When is it going to become okay to be yourself? When is it going to be okay to choose to live your life how you wish to without fear of being labelled for it?
Don't get me wrong, as an ex paratrooper there is camaraderie amongst brothers. We are tough, we take the mickey out of each other endlessly for all of the above yet we stand soldier to soldier, shoulder to shoulder and we are unbreakable. We are a unit, we have earned the circle of trust and every man is equal and all taken the p*ss out of in equal measure. I'm not being hypocritical I just believe we can be overly precious. Take Prince Harry, he made a video whilst waiting to board a plane at Brize Norton. He referred to one of his men as his p*ki friend, said friend waving to the camera and laughing. The video was leaked and Harry branded a racist. Of course he's not a racist. The friend in question defended him to the hilt and Harry apologised. We as a society jumped on Harry for offending the Asian community. Did he? Was he aiming that comment at the entire Asian population? No. He was having banter with his friend, a friend who more than likely gave him just as much of a hard time for all manner of things.
But Harry has a responsibility as a Royal Prince, a public figure to never say or do anything judged morally or socially reprehensible. As do we all. Public figures have a huge influence on how their followers see the world. By me writing this post, although only my opinion, it may well influence the thinking of someone else. Yet Keith Lemon and crew can say and do what they like because it's comedy? So could Jim Davidson or other famous comedians still make racist jokes as part of their set and get away with it? Absolutely not. It's because the subject of transgender and cross dressing is still very misunderstood and when we as a society don't understand something we ridicule it.
It's not just public figures who make a difference. It's the parents, the colleagues, you. While we accept that labelling people and ostracising them is normal we condone it. We accept that gay marriage is now legal, yet we still call it gay marriage? Surely it's just marriage. Two people who love each other, committing to each other forever. It's as simple as that.
Leave out the labels and support each other.