RuPaul’s Transphobic Comments Remind Us That He is Not the Future of Drag

RuPaul has done a lot for the queer community in more ways than I can probably describe, and I do not mean for this post to in any way take away from all the good he has done.  But, in the last week (but really, this has happened prior to then), Ru has been saying some problematic shit recently that is transphobic and just plain wrong.

I haven’t spoken up yet partially because, since the initial interview with the Guardian, Ru has continued to speak and try to “grow” (apologize? not sure it’s working, but she is trying, I think) from the reaction.  It’s been hard to find a stopping point to address what’s been happening.  But, a friend recently remarked I hadn’t said anything and I figured I probably should, since I’m a vocal fan of the show and its queens.

I also delayed responding because, although I am affected by Ru’s comments because I am a trans man, but I occupy a position of privilege in the trans community because I’m perceived male and I’m white.  I am also just a drag fan– I don’t know a lot about the deep history of the art (something I’m working on) and I don’t do drag myself.  So, although I had personal reactions, I felt like it would be better for me to sit and listen from those who are far more affected by Ru’s comments, rather than rush to take up space myself.  How Ru’s comments make me feel is ultimately less important than how those most affected feel.

After reading what folx have said, I have decided to summarize my thoughts on the matter by directing you toward the words of others, who said it better than I could.

Peppermint, a trans queen who competed and placed in top 3 in Season 9, wrote a great piece for Billboard where she acknowledges that Ru’s association between transness and physical/medical transition is archaic and sad.  It feels like she’s calling Ru to the Principal’s office and it’s great.  She ultimately arrives at the place that she leans to push Ru to essentially act based on her own words, “Drag is a big f-you to male dominated culture and I believe people of all gender expressions and bodies can contribute to challenging that culture,” and I agree with her on that point.

Monica Beverly Hillz, a trans queen who competed in Season 5 and who, like Peppermint, came out on the show, summed up some of her feelings (and mine) this way:

I don’t agree with RuPaul’s policy. I think there’s so much more to the illusion of drag than how someone identifies. There are already “girls” on the show who are fierce competitors who are overweight and, no shade, have breasts. Others have extensions or fake lips or silicone hips — but they still identify as men. Trans women come in all beautiful shapes and sizes, and can be experiencing different stages of transition. Some don’t want to medically transition at all. I’m very proud of so many amazing trans woman I know who can be their authentic selves, including the small handful of us who have been on the show and shared our identities as women somewhere along their journey.

Monica makes an excellent point about the arbitrariness of drawing “biological” lines in the art of drag, when the bodies of drag performers are so diverse for so many reasons having nothing to do with gender identity.  Indeed, some queens in more recent seasons have made it part of their act to brag about all the plastic surgery they’ve had in order to create their aesthetic.

If the rule against physical alterations to the body doesn’t apply to all queens, regardless of their gender, it can only be discrimination to say modifications are only bad if they’re associated with being trans.  If you’re cisgender, go ahead. That makes zero sense, Mama Ru.  I also agree 100% with Monica’s point where she asks to be compensated for her time and emotional labor, which is what needs to happen when you’re benefiting from our work.

Charlene Incarnate, a trans queen from Brooklyn, confessed that, despite being trans, she auditioned for Drag Race

“just because it’s the only way to make a real, viable career out of drag anymore. Those are the only girls getting paid and it’s the only way to have your art reach that many people. I just wanted to perform and have an audience. And trans queens more than meet RuPaul’s requirements for the show, of being ‘men who reject masculinity.’ It’s a full-time rejection! RuPaul is just being a transphobe because, by his own logic, trans women are the real heroes.” 

Charlene sums up my fears about what future performers we may lose if we (to borrow a metaphor from Bob the Drag Queen, a cis man who believes drag is not only for cis men) burn the Queen Mother to the ground in the process of hashing this conflict out.  Ru is basically the Oprah of gay media, and without him and his show, we would lose a pretty substantial platform, ultimately potentially depriving us all of the queens we seek.

I ultimately think rather than turning off, we should push in on the sore spots, where we want to see something change.  Especially as Drag Race gains a younger and younger fan base, the adherence to the ways of the roots of drag become less stringent and more a theory.  With the ever-increasing reach of social media, drag performers are coming to fame through more diverse media than the club scene of days of yore.  Further, as the actions of Ben DeLaCreme have shown this season, performers are not afraid to break Mama Ru’s rules.

I will end this where I started it– sort of.  There is no doubt that Ru’s Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent, along with an entrepreneurial spirit, has made drag what it is today.  But Mama can’t be both the history and the future of drag at the same time.  Ultimately, Drag Race will evolve because it is still very much dependent on the support of its fans.  Ru’s behavior over the last few days alone shows this is true–he may not get it yet, but I think he’s working on it.  Drag Race will not resist evolution for long.