In an interview with the Guardian on March 3, RuPaul made it obvious that he does not want to let trans and cis women compete on Drag Race anytime soon. Rupaul’s Drag Race, which has been airing for nearly a decade, is a reality TV competition in which drag queens compete to become America’s next “Drag Superstar,” and are judged based on their charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent. His reasoning was glaringly superficial, transphobic, and misogynistic, revealing a lot about RuPaul’s biases, and even more about the prevalent discrimination in the queer community.
When asked if he would accept a transgender woman who has altered her experience with feminizing surgeries as a contender, RuPaul responded with a, “probably not,” saying that “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,” referring to season 9 runner-up Peppermint’s breast implants, which she got after she left the show.
This statement not only displays RuPaul’s outdated conception of trans identity, but also reduces trans identity to whether or not an individual has undergone surgeries. As the face of drag culture internationally, it’s appalling to hear RuPaul belittle the trans community, who have had a foundational influence on drag, like Angie Xtravaganza, a trans founding member of the House of Xtravaganza in New York City in the 1980s. These transphobic comments destroy the image of Drag Race as the safe haven that we all knew and loved, revealing RuPaul’s questionable motives for creating the show in the first place.
As for RuPaul’s comments on cis women competing on the show, he answered, “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 big f-you to male-dominated culture.”
“Male-dominated” would be an equally apt descriptor for RuPaul’s show. These comments fail to give a voice to the female artists, the female performers, the female fans, and the female drag queens, ignoring non-cis male drag queens including Creme Fatale, Tayla Macdonald, and Victoria Sin.
RuPaul’s Drag Race routinely appropriates aspects of women’s history, such as the “Baddest B*tches of Herstory” routine, in which each competing drag queen represented a famous female historical figure like Princess Diana or Annie Oakley. This is hypocritical since women are excluded from celebrating their own history on the show, because RuPaul thinks that it is only an ironic political statement if men perform. Women taking charge of their history and femininity by reclaiming their sexist experiences is a potentially strong and powerful political statement, and cisgender men like RuPaul should not be allowed to undermine their art.
Besides making a grossly inaccurate assumption, RuPaul is excluding competitors based solely on arbitrary body standards. He had no problem with competitors like Detox (Season 5) or Trinity Taylor (Season 9) who have had physical enhancements like glute and chest enlargements. RuPaul does not really have an issue with stereotypically feminine bodies, but a larger problem with women. This is part of a bigger issue of the misogyny in the LGBTQ+ spaces because queer culture is dominated by cisgender men.
RuPaul tweeted an apology two days after the interview was published. However, he only apologized to the trans community, neglecting to comment on his discrimination of cis women. Many of the reactions to his tweet were shocking, with some saying that RuPaul had no reason to apologize in the first place. “His show, his rules, right?” Other comments included that gay men should have something for themselves without trans people taking it from them.
Drag Race is the most prominent gateway to drag culture and, for drag queens, the easiest road to worldwide fame. It’s sickening that RuPaul is taking away the chance from trans and cis female drag queens from sharing their art, solely on the basis that drag isn’t as scandalous when it isn’t men doing it. RuPaul and the show’s producers know exactly how influential they are—the show drew nearly one million viewers for its Season 9 premiere. Thus, they are actively marginalizing the voices of trans and cis women who are trying to share their art form on an international stage.
Fans should not accept RuPaul’s apology until trans and cis women are equal contenders for the Drag Race crown and share LGBTQ+ spaces without discrimination. Embracing trans and cis women on Drag Race strengthens the danger and irony of drag—it doesn’t hinder it. Women are taking control of their own femininity, and sending a huge middle finger to all the men who continue to enforce unrealistic restrictions on women in our male-dominated culture—RuPaul included. Now that’s totally “punk-rock.”