Transmedia: RuPaul Just Doesn’t Get It

I have gone back and forth about whether or not I was going to wade into the quagmire that is surrounding RuPaul and his show. I have my opinions and have been following the story closely, but I was not sure if I wanted my first blog to be one which may cause heated opinions and it was an older story by this point. That all changed when RuPaul deemed it necessary to stick foot securely in mouth again.

For those who haven’t been following this, RuPaul is a cisman who performs as a drag queen and who hosts a drag competition show on Logo Network. RuPaul, who identifies as male and is not trans, has a long history of using the word “tranny”. RuPaul and his show also repeatedly use the word “shemale”, such as in his “You’ve Got Shemale” segment. Recently his show managed to bring RuPaul’s obsession with derogatory terms for trans people to new levels by including a segment called “Female or Shemale”. The outcome of which was to have those segments removed from the show and an apology issued (notably coming from Logo Network and the show’s producers, not from RuPaul himself).

RuPaul has continued to defend his use of the term and Monday made his latest defence on comedian Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast. When asked how he feels about those who are complaining about his use of the word, RuPaul responded:

These are fringe people who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we’re dealing with. It’s not the trans community, because most people who are trans have been through hell and high water and they know…You know, if your idea of happiness has to do with someone else changing what they say, what they do, you are in for a (expletive) hard-ass road.

“RuPaul continues later, saying, “It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt… You know what? … You need to get stronger.”

The moment that really pisses me off, though, comes at the beginning of the segment. When asked if he is bothered by the word tranny, he responds, “No! I love the word tranny.” This angers me because RuPaul feels that he is entitled to use this word. It’s like he’s saying he’s reclaiming the word, making it a positive. OK…that’s been done before. Queer was (and, for many older LGBT people, still is) a derogatory term, but it has been successfully reclaimed by many people.

The difference here is that RuPaul is not a trans person. He identifies as male. He performs drag, though, and this goes back to a fact that many people tend to forget or not know: trans and drag are not the same thing. Trans is an identity and drag is a performance. Trans women can perform drag; cis women can perform drag; trans men can perform drag; cis men can perform drag; and genderqueer people can perform drag. I have nothing against drag. I do have something against the ignorant conflation of transwomen with drag queens and by a cis male drag queen reclaiming a word that has been derogatorily applied to members of the trans community, and especially to trans women.

RuPaul just does not seem to get it (and the same seems to be true of some within the broader LGBT community). Our anger over his usage of the words “tranny” and “shemale” is no different from the broader LGBT community’s anger over straight people’s usage of the word “faggot”. Our identities are just as valid as theirs and we deserve the same amount of respect they expect. This is not about censorship; this is about people recognizing the history behind these words and the hurt and violence that they have caused to those to whom it has been applied.


6 thoughts on “Transmedia: RuPaul Just Doesn’t Get It

    • I think that it’s understandable that people are not aware that this word is offensive, but it is important that we speak out when somebody does use it so that more people may learn that it is offensive. RuPaul is not using it out of ignorance. He knows very well that people find it offensive but continues to use it.

  1. I think the root of the issue is having someone possibly perceived as Trans by an uneducated public reclaiming a derogatory term and appearing to make it “ok” for general use. My beef with drag in the past came from a feminist perspective – the idolization of traits and fashion that objectify and demean women and the underlying message that the “best” women are “really” men. When does “fun and campy” become unacceptable? When charged epithets are used by someone not truly a member of that group? A good place to start – and why not use these examples as a way to raise awareness and educate?

    • I probably should have phrased that sentence differently. I definitely have those same criticisms of drag. I was trying to make it clear that my issue with RuPaul was not because he is a drag performer but with what he said and with the conflation of trans identity with drag performance.
      I agree–education is where change is going to come from. I think it is vitally important to speak out and make ourselves heard so that more people can learn and hopefully become more aware that what they say matters.

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