Last month as RuPaul's Drag Race Season Six was entering into its final weeks, production company World of Wonder made the unprecedented decision to listen to its fans and make changes regarding how the show discusses trans individuals. The first change was permanently excising the "You've Got She-Mail" quip made at the beginning of each episode, and the second, retroactively removing an offensive mini challenge from earlier in the season that asked the queens to identify images as either females or "shemales" (a term the show used here to describe only drag queens but which has been a pejorative of trans people for decades).
The changes were warmly welcomed by the LGBTQ community.An apology was issued by World of Wonder. And many considered the act to be a victory both for trans rights and vocalizing audience discontent. Based on comments RuPaul made yesterday, however, it seems those changes may have amounted to a "corporate executive realness" facade.
Speaking on Marc Maron's WTF podcast earlier this week, RuPaul was asked about the controversies over his language choice, both contemporary and historical.
Specifically, Maron asserted that the trans community is offended by RuPaul's use of the word "tranny." Here's his response via Instinct Magazine:
No, it is not the transsexual community. 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 — they've looked behind the curtain at Oz and went, 'Oh, this is all a f**king joke. But, some people haven't... 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 f**king hard-ass road.
The She Mail incident was brought up as well. RuPaul responded:
My 32-year career speaks for itself. I dance to the beat of a different drummer. I believe that everybody, you can be whatever the hell you wanna be. I ain't stopping you. But don't you dare tell me what I can do or say. It's just words. Yeah, words do hurt… You know what? … You need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what, if you think, if you're upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think.
This really is unfortunate.
RuPaul's show is for many people their first interaction with drag culture, and RuPaul herself is the presumptive reigning queen. Seeing images of real LGBTQ people daring to defy gender norms on a weekly basis is incredibly powerful for dismantling the homophobic and transphobic elements in our nation's culture. Even more, listening to the heartfelt stories of Trinity K Bonet, JujuBee, and the other queens living with HIV as well as to the innumerable back stories the other queens share is a mind opening experience that helps create real living examples of gay and trans people for an audience that may never step foot in a gay bar.
Dumping in the anachronistic arguments that RuPaul provides muddies these waters. Instead of continuing the trajectory of showcasing gay and trans people as worthwhile, valued human beings, RuPaul's comments suggest that in this case, the bigots, homophobes, and transphobes have the privilege to continue to demean and debase us. Why sully the message of acceptance that the show has worked so tirelessly to promote? RuPaul herself ends every episode with an edict to love oneself before contemplating loving anyone else. The season finale had a sing-along number proclaiming the same message. Yet off screen, RuPaul reverts back to these tired stances which blame the victim of an oppressive culture.
In the end, it's a shame to see that the changes made to the show were likely the result only of public pressure and not of changes of the head queen herself. Taking a page from RuPaul herself I'd argue: "If we're not going to fight for our own respect, how in the hell can we learn to love ourselves?"
Can I get an amen?
(Via Instinct Magazine)