Trigger warnings: Misgendering, transphobia, transphobic language
RuPaul is arguably one of the most famous drag queens in the history of the art. This is in part due to his television series RuPaul’s Drag Race, in which up incoming drag queens compete for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar. He has appeared in movies, hosted talk shows and produced albums. In 2017, RuPaul was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time 100. But how relevant is RuPaul to the trans community? Since drag artists are not necessarily transgender or non-binary (although they can identify as such), surely, he cannot be that involved in the community, despite their close ties?
I argue that RuPaul is a detrimental force for the trans community. When asked if he would allow cis women to compete, RuPaul was firmly against it. This alienates an entire branch of drag queens, known as ‘bio-queens’ which I view as fundamentally discriminatory. In the same interview, he was asked about transgender women competing in his show, specifically regarding Peppermint (the runner-up of the ninth season. “Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show,” he said. “She was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.” This undermines the identities of thousands of transwomen across America and beyond. A vast percentage of trans people have not yet transitioned and struggle to do so due to financial issues, age constraints or a lack of acceptance. “You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” he continued. “It changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.” So how does this affect transmasculine people? I argue that is such a prominent figure such as RuPaul can get away with saying these things about transwomen, then those who simply do not have other sources and are ignorant of these issues will come to believe what he says to be true. You are not transgender until you’ve transitioned. I am allowed to misgender you until after you have medically transitioned. This is such an issue because it is fundamentally false and harmful to the community. There are those among us that do not wish to transition, and some non-binary people may not wish to transition at all. But they all still deserve to have their pronouns respected and their identities accepted. After these comments sparked outrage, RuPaul offered only an apology for the hurt caused and equated HRT to athletes taking performing enhancing drugs, not the lifesaving medication that a lot of trans-people rely on. A contradiction to his view is that many of the contestants on his show have had plastic surgery to ‘feminise’ the body, yet he allows this? Surely to allow one and not the other is evident of a transphobic attitude and a weak defence which seeks only to alienate one group. The show still groups together identities and uses male pronouns for contestants regardless of identity. This, in my opinion, proves that RuPaul is not intent on changing his ways or his views, instead he attempts to simply appease the masses by appearing regretful.
The show also features a lot of transphobic words. To name a few, the Emmy Award winning show uses language such as tranny and she-male. RuPaul argues that these words are used in regard to transvestites rather than transgender people, but he fails to understand the historical and social implications of the language used. Those words have historically been used against trans-people to invalidate their identities and belittle them into submission to the cis-normative system. If it is accepted that RuPaul’s language refers to transvestites and not transgender people, then we must also accept that children really do mean to call you happy when they shout ‘gay’ at you. It is a childish defence and completely disregards decades of struggles faced by the trans community, which founded the LGBT+ Pride Movement 50 years ago.
While this issue evidently affects transwomen to a greater extent, the acceptance of their identities also reflects the acceptance of ours. If they are not women until they full transition, then we are not men until we fully transition too. Our identities would be equated to merely playing ‘dress-up’ should RuPaul’s views be at the forefront of society. As a community, we must stand strong with our trans-sisters and work together to eradicate these ignorant opinions through education. Every marginalised group affected here, transwomen, men, non-binary people and even ciswomen, need to come together to teach RuPaul that defending one’s actions when an entire community is telling you that it is wrong is not the way to go. You accept that you were wrong and vow to change, then you actually have to change. We will not accept apologies; we will only accept change.