As a community that has worked hard convince heterosexuals that we should be accepted for who we are, you’d think that LGBTQ+ individuals would be better about accepting differences. Also, if you’re someone that most of the community looks up to, you’d think it’d be because your views and position in the community is an overwhelmingly positive one. You’d also think that, as the face of a TV show, and unintentionally, the modern-day face of an entire art form, that you wouldn’t use your position to exclude an identity within the LGBTQ+ community from said art form.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but from what RuPaul Charles, the face of RuPaul’s Drag Race said about whether or not he would allow a trans woman to compete on the show, it may not seem like it’s all that far-fetched.
To summarize the parts of RuPaul’s interview with The Guardian that are in question, when asked about whether or not he would allow a trans woman to compete on the show, he said “probably not,” citing an example from Peppermint, a competitor in season 9 as someone who “didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.” Seeing RuPaul’s opinion on trans drag queens on her show during season 5 with Monica Beverly Hillz, which originally seemed pretty accepting, and then also seeing that Peppermint, an openly trans queen, was competing on the show, made me feel that this wouldn’t be an issue. Sure, she did have to get called out for the “She-Mail” segment of her show, and has a horrible track record of using the word “tranny,” but I guess some hopeful part of me thought that this meant her views were changing. Those thoughts all came to a crashing halt when she made an official statement on it, and now I fear that we will never be free of a problematic face of modern-day drag.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe RuPaul has definitely done good work with the show. He’s an openly gay, black drag queen on mainstream television, casting other drag queens in the community for the show, all of many different races and ethnicities. He’s created quite a stellar piece of representation with Drag Race, and it’s amazing to see this incredibly important aspect of LGBTQ+ culture on VH1. However, that doesn’t make him immune to criticism. While he’s definitely a trailblazer for representing LGBTQ+ identities in mainstream media, his recent interview showed that he still has a lot to learn, especially as the current face of drag.
I’ve seen many people say that, because it’s Ru’s show, she gets to make the rules of who gets to compete on it. While this is true, RuPaul’s Drag Race is our society’s biggest, most prominent look into what it means to be a drag queen, and to insinuate that it’s a “cis men only” club is an insult to past and present trans drag queens. Drag Race did not give birth to the art of drag, rather, it’s a vehicle to display the talent and identities behind those who are drag queens. The unapologetic femininity in the queens’ performances is one of the reasons why the show creates such an impact, and a major reason why drag is such a powerful art form to have on mainstream television. The importance of the men being cis men isn’t lost on me, because society does encourage them to stray far away from anything feminine, yet Drag Race encourages a full embrace of femininity. However, it’s also not lost on me that RuPaul did suggest that trans women don’t have a place on his show, despite a man transitioning into a woman being the biggest embrace of femininity that could truly be done.
Ru says that Drag Race “is a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” so…what does that make being a trans woman? It seems counter-intuitive to defend this viewpoint by saying that only men who aren’t actively transitioning into being a woman are allowed to be on the show. Drag has become such a massive art form, and excluding someone from a chance at showing that art across the country just because they’re actively trying to live as a woman must feel oppressive. On that same note, Ru telling trans women that they can’t be on the show is literally a man telling a woman what they can or can’t do with their talents, at least in his world, which just so happens to be aired for all of the country to learn from on Thursday nights.
As the lovely Monica Beverly Hillz said in the season 5 finale, “drag is what I do, trans is who I am.” Drag is an art form that anyone can (and should be able to) participate in, and to exclude people from the chance at competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race for not being a cis man is an incredibly low blow. The art form has progressed, and if Drag Race is meant to show the realm of modern-day drag, that means the face of its show (yes, I’m talking to you, Ru) should take a seat from making tasteless tweets defending their outdated views, and think about the values their show needs to convey.
All this being said, I admire what Ru has done for mainstream television. RuPaul’s Drag Race is a powerhouse for representing gay men in the media, as it shows a a cast full of unapologetically homosexual men displaying the talents that have given them successful careers. It shows such a deep look into what it means to be gay in today’s society, showing gay men of many different races with many different personalities, all who have unique experiences that define who they are. That alone makes it a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ media, but the “T” is that we shouldn’t deliberately exclude the T. They’re just as important (that’s why they’re in the acronym), and their drag is just as valid, so they deserve an equal shot at the crown, whether or not the person running the show personally believes they should.