This is a topic that I will cover in greater depth in the next issue of HUBRIS: The Journal of Cultural Horror, but I wanted to address the latest controversy now. I am neither a drag queen nor transgender, but I consider myself an ally. My goal is to continually educate myself, and in turn help to educate others. This is why the comments RuPaul Charles made in an interview with The Guardian are giving me a headache.
Allow me to pause here and acknowledge that yes, RuPaul has made tremendous contributions to the LBGTQ community, and drag would not be courting mainstream popularity without the name recognition he brings. Many of the queens who have been critical of his comments would not be famous, and would not being enjoying the career success that they currently have, without him. All of that is true. That doesn’t mean he’s not wrong. It certainly doesn’t mean that we can just overlook his problematic nature.
Trans women are women. Full stop. At what point does a trans woman become a woman? When she says she is. That’s it. Whose business is it whether she’s had surgery or hormone therapy? Hers, her doctors, and those she chooses to share that information with. No one else. I’m not entertaining any “two genders” comments or “but DNA” rhetoric here, by the way, so save it. Don’t leave comments, just leave. Discussion from this point forward is predicated on the acceptance that trans women are women.
I’ve had arguments — as an ally — trying to get other people to understand that. I have had to explain the difference between doing drag and being trans from a dozen different angles, to help people get their head around it. Drag is a performance art. Trans is simply what a person is. It’s only complicated if you choose to make it so.
But here comes RuPaul saying first that bio queens — women who do hyperfemine drag — can’t compete on RuRaul’s Drag Race. That’s its own problem, for another time. Then he goes on to say that Peppermint — who is trans — was allowed to compete on the show because she had not physically transitioned. Her legal name is Agnes Moore. Her legal gender is female. She is legally a woman. This leaves me, as an ally, as a person who has been trying to help educate people that sex and gender are two different things, that biology is not the key factor in gender identity, that all trans women are women regardless of what degree, if at all, they physically transition, to now have to deal with the comeback “but RuPaul said…”
RuPaul, essentially, insinuated that trans women who have not transitioned are men in dresses. You can argue that’s not what he meant, but that’s what many people heard. You can even say that he apologized, but as of this writing, did he, really? There was a tweet. Does he run his own twitter? Given other statements he’s made over the years — and again, the article in HUBRIS will go deeper — I’m skeptical that it was him. I’m more inclined to believe that someone at VH1. the network that currently airs Drag Race, or World of Wonder, the production company, saw the interview, said “oh sh!t” and called RuPaul’s publicist, who issued the statement via whoever handles RuPaul’s social media.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of why RuPaul has become an increasingly problematic figure, but for me this is huge. It reinforces some deeply transphobic stereotypes, it puts ammunition into the hands of those who fight against trans rights, and if it makes my life hard, it has to be making the lives of trans people even harder.