On March 3, The Guardian published an interview with RuPaul. Among a host of other things, the interview included a question about whether or not RuPaul would accept a transgender contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race who had transitioned. RuPaul’s response has caused a lot of controversy: “Probably not. You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. We’ve had some girls who’ve had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven’t transitioned.”
After receiving a lot of backlash from fans, Ru doubled down on his statement with an ill-advised tweet.
RuPaul’s relationship with the trans community has long been tenuous, and he has brazenly made many problematic statements regarding trans people in the past. This time seems to be different. Within 7 hours of the tweet, RuPaul issued a rare apology: “I understand and regret the hurt I have caused,” he wrote. “The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers.”
The discussion continues all over the internet. Here’s a list of 4 reasons that RuPaul owed the world that apology.
1.) Transgender women are, and have always been, major contributors to the art of drag.
Just about every drag venue in America features transgender women performing in drag, and that has always been the case. This includes RuPaul’s Drag Race! The show has featured many transgender women, and by saying that these queens should be disqualified from competition at the highest levels Ru ignores their history and contributions. Sasha Velour, the winner of Season 9 of RPDR, tweeted in response: “My drag was born in a community full of trans women, trans men, and gender non-conforming folks doing drag. That’s the real world of drag, like it or not. I think it’s fabulous and I will fight my entire life to protect and uplift it.”
2.) Rupaul’s comments reduce transwomen to their bodies.
A person’s gender identity is not determined by their body. Season 9 alumni and transgender queen, Peppermint, said in her response to this controversy that “absolutely no one has the ability or the right to define your womanhood, manhood, or transness but you . . . women should not be defined by what surgeries they have or haven’t had.” By creating largely arbitrary limitations around who can and cannot be involved with his show, Ru took the focus off of the person and the performer, and placed it squarely on their body parts. This is also inconsistent with his past casting on the show, as several past performers including fan favorites like Detox and Trinity Taylor, have had plastic surgery including injections to their hips, buttocks, lips, and even their pectorals. There seems to be no particular litmus test for which body altering surgeries are and are not allowable other than those operations that are specific to transgender queens.
3,) Ru’s attitude towards transgender performers enforces rigid, patriarchal gender stereotypes.
RuPaul has famously said on many occasions that drag should never be taken too seriously, and that there is a tension between the drag community and the trans community because “we mock identity. They take it very seriously.” He also has spoken about drag as “a big f-you to male-dominated culture” and a “real rejection of masculinity.” By enforcing rules that say that only drag performances by cisgender men are valid of recognition on the biggest stage in all of drag, Ru is creating a standard that drag is another job that a woman can’t do as well as a man.
4.) A transition is NOT an attempt to cheat on a competition reality show.
When a transgender person begins to transition, they begin to alter their presentation so that it will more closely align with their gender identity. This process may include changes in name, hair, clothing, voice, and for some individuals this includes medical procedures that may change secondary sex characteristics including breasts and genitals. Each person’s transition is different, and not all transgender people choose to or want to have surgeries to alter their bodies. But regardless of whether or not someone chooses to undergo surgery, the process of transitioning is not an attempt to cheat at a reality TV gameshow. The goal of transitioning is to authentically live in a body that a person identifies with. Ru’s commentary is dangerously close in reasoning to that of legislators trying to enact bathroom bills who say that transgender women are transitioning in attempts to gain access to restrooms to prey on women and children. It is dishonest. It is disrespectful. It is wrong.