NPH: Yeah, I'm going to be very prickly. Poor David. I'm going to have to wear long-sleeve nightshirts and pajamas to bed.
You refer to Hedwig as a woman.
NPH: I do. I don't think she always wanted to be female, but she changed her gender to marry an American soldier and escape communism, and that gender remained. To me, once the surgery happened, she lost her male identity. If revealed to be a man, she would be deported back to East Berlin, so she's stuck in a Kansas trailer park with her wigs and an identity she had to own.
There's a much brighter spotlight on transgender and gender-variant politics now compared to when Hedwig premiered. How does that affect this revival and your creation of the character?
NPH: It really doesn't. Those politics are valid and important, but the show was structured well before that, and the emotional decisions Hedwig made about her outside self were really done to escape communism. Like I said, she didn't always feel like a woman and have the surgery in order to complete herself. That sort of changes the focus and takes the show out of the transgender conversation. I once referred to her as a "tragic transgender rock star," and I actually got all these tweets from people telling me that was disrespectful and that she's not transgender at all.
Putting Hedwig into any sort of box seems to miss the point.
NPH: I completely agree. In my mind, Hedwig feels that she transcends all of that. I think of her as more omnisexual, like David Bowie or Iggy Pop. Rather than demanding to be taken seriously as a woman, she demands to be taken seriously as a superstar.
Still, the show comes at an interesting time when the media is struggling to discuss transgender issues with sensitivity and respect. Has that made you more cautious as you discuss the character in interviews?
NPH: Not especially. I mean, I always want to be respectful. Believe me, I value that if you were born a male and now live as a female, there's a lot you have to do every single day. With all of the makeup, the hair, the outfits, everything — it's a lot, so you have to be really committed to that. If someone is that passionate about who they are and who they want to be, you can't help but give them respect for that. I said "tranny" once and had to apologize for it, but once you learn you aren't supposed to say that, you don't say it. You never want to disrespect anyone's feelings, and you can't get mad at someone for being offended.
Do you see Hedwig as a tricky show to sell to mainstream audiences?
NPH: Well, I don't, but I don't really have to do much of the selling. I know that the marketing team wants to make sure everyone knows it's a very funny and legitimate show. It's not just a one-man rock show with angry lyrics, because that would turn people off. Even with the poster art we chose, we wanted to make sure people knew this wasn't just a gimmick with the guy from TV in a wig and a dress.
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