Through his storied career and heralded reality TV competition RuPaul’s Drag Race, RuPaul has brought drag out of the clubs and into mainstream America. But this supermodel of the world is under fire for transphobic comments made in a recent interview.
In a profile with The Guardian, RuPaul was asked if bio queens (cisgender women who perform female drag) would ever be allowed to compete on his show. He said, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”
But what about transgender women? Season nine saw openly trans Peppermint gunning for the top prize. However, RuPaul noted that was before the queen had breast implants, adding, “She was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.”
Asked if a trans woman who had transitioned would be allowed on the show, Ru said, “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.”
The comments caused outrage from some of the LGBTQA+ community who felt RuPaul was denigrating trans people’s contribution to drag. This anger is also informed by other problematic Ru behavior, including how Drag Race used to employ the phrase “She-Male” for its challenge-explanation segments.
Then, RuPaul doubled down on Twitter, suggesting that trans women who’ve transitioned would have an unfair advantage on the show, which he has referred to as “The Olympics of Drag.”
You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics. pic.twitter.com/HkJjzXzUGm— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
Notably, Peppermint is far from the only Drag Race alumni who is trans; she was the first to openly identify as trans during the show’s competition. Other trans Drag Race stars include Monica Beverly Hillz, Gia Gunn, Kenya Michaels, Jiggly Caliente, Stacy Layne Matthews, Carmen Carrera, and Sonique, while Jinx Monsoon identifies as gender non-binary.
RuPaul’s statements urged queens from the show’s long history to speak out. Here’s what they had to say:
The release of #Blend by @Cazwellnyc and I is meant to bring awareness to the harsh reality of Trans women while uplifting others into knowing they are beautiful & worthy of respect. Your light is too bright to be dimmed! Never forget that.❤️ #transpride #transisbeautiful pic.twitter.com/xkN7wbEVCa— Peppermint (@Peppermint247) March 5, 2018
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 thinks it’s fabulous and I will fight my entire life to protect and uplift it.— Sasha Velour (@sasha_velour) March 5, 2018
Sometimes I think this community will kill itself. The conservatives won't have to do it.— Bob The Drag Queen (@thatonequeen) March 6, 2018
My partner of almost three years is trans, and #bendelachrist help anyone who tries to tell him what he can and can’t do. Just sayin’.— bendelacreme (@bendelacreme) March 5, 2018
Trans women were the first entertainers I ever saw in drag & have always been a big part of the industry. To now hear such words of segregation from an icon who has created a world wide community of unity, makes me sad. Is never been LGB so let’s not forget about the T!— Gia Gunn (@GiaGunn) March 5, 2018
People still call me a drag queen. People will never quick calling me that, it’s like the first thing that pops up when I’m googled . I think if you’ve already been on the show and competed as a drag queen you should be allowed to at least come back and compete on the all-stars😋— Kylie Sonique Love (@xoSonique) March 5, 2018
There's a revolution amongst the rebels. Pay attention !!! We refuse to stay marginalized and held down while you chose who to take up with you. #blend #thotprocess #transpower @Peppermint247 kudos to your song. It's timely and very relavant to our times. #transrevolution— Jiggly Caliente (@JigglyCaliente) March 4, 2018
“I’ve always been a woman, so what I've done to my body or that I hadn't started hormones while on the show doesn't take away my identity,” Hillz told INTO. “Our bodies do not equate our identity.” Hillz said in her email that there’s a “deeper discussion” to be had about the world of drag and the pressures on many queens to make their bodies appear more womanly. “The more ‘real’ our bodies look and appear to be women, the more money we'll often make in the nightlife and drag worlds. And for many of us as trans women, we do drag as a form of survival to support our very ability to start medical transition.” Hillz added that “everybody should be given the opportunity to compete” on the show, which is one of the biggest platforms for queer people on TV, especially because so many trans women are already a part of the drag community. “I know I have a lot of trans friends who already perform and would make fierce competitors on the show,” Hillz said. “We're really missing out on the important and powerful stories of trans women who have had to fight against not only homophobia, but transphobia, even in the drag world. Now THIS would make for some good reality TV.” #getwoke #getwokeqtpoc #rupaulsdragrace #monicabeverlyhillz #lgbt #dragqueen #transgender #transisbeautiful #qtpoc #gay #girlslikeus! A huge Thanks @Intomore for This interview! Booking info :[email protected]
In the wake of all of this, RuPaul took to Twitter to respond.
Each morning I pray to set aside everything I THINK I know, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers. pic.twitter.com/80Qi2halN2— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
In the 10 years we’ve been casting Drag Race, the only thing we've ever screened for is charisma uniqueness nerve and talent. And that will never change. pic.twitter.com/0jsyt6MRvO— RuPaul (@RuPaul) March 5, 2018
Some might wonder what it matters if RuPaul chooses to limit trans and cis women from performing on Drag Race. But as a gatekeeper, Ru has an incredible power in his industry. Stars are made on that show every season. So to exclude women means to bar them from this remarkable and wildly popular route to success. Here’s hoping that in coming cycles, Ru’s tweets will prove more than a PR move to squash this scandal, and an earnest moment of shifting perspective on his definition of drag.