Hedwig and the Angry Inch boasts the best rock score to ever grace the off-Broadway and Broadway stages. In addition to this brilliantly penned score, Hedwig, in all of her wigged glory, is one of the great transgender icons. Most articles about the recent 2014 Broadway production (for which Neil Patrick Harris won a Tony Award) and its subsequent national tour take their cue from the lead character’s predominantly female presentation and refer to this glam rocker as a transgender individual. Only problem is: Hedwig is not trans.
Hedwig is on a different journey than her gender identity, she is searching for her other half. This is laid out in the parable song “Origin of Love”, that as humans we are trying to “shove ourselves back together” to recreate our previous state of being before we angered the gods and were split it two. Hedwig tries to find that first with her mother, then with deep-voiced American military officer, Luther Robinson, with the shy Tommy Speck, and finally with the long-suffering Yitzhak (who, incidentally, does appear to be transgender). For Luther, she has a botched sex-change operation (now called gender reassignment surgery) in order to travel home with him to the United States as his wife. She literally rocks this persona, even after Luther leaves her, abandoned in a trailer park. This female persona, while expressing aspects of Hedwig, is not her true self. She had tried, and failed, to make her puzzle piece match that of her lover.
Individuals who are truly transgender (technically referred to as Gender Dysphoria) experience a sense of having anatomy that mismatches their internal or cognitive gender identity for as long as they can remember. This mismatch causes significant distress in the individual, until such time that they can externally express their internal reality. When people have difficulty comprehending this, I ask them to ponder what it would feel like to have to act like the other gender, to be forced to play that role every hour of every day. Gender identity is so central to self-identity, most of us take for granted the comfort we have with our own external gender assignment. For some, the separate and distinct development of the external sex characteristics from the effect of hormones on brain development are incongruent.
Hedwig appears to have arrived at his true self at the end of the show, after an epic emotional breakdown, we see Hedwig emotionally naked and barely dressed, appearing externally as a male. In spite of Hedwig not being trans, he still represents the singular journey of transgender individuals, that of arriving at their true selves. And it is that arrival that makes this character representative and important for the transgender community.
For more information about gender identity and resources for transgender individuals, please visit www.glaad.org, www.hrc.org, or www.thetrevorproject.org