“You’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” That’s one of the most ubiquitous quotes from legendary drag queen RuPaul, who arguably ushered drag culture into the mainstream with his Emmy-winning show RuPaul’s Drag Race, now on VH1. It’s a quote that many of RuPaul’s devout fans live by, and it feels inherently inclusive. The implication is that drag is paint for a blank canvas; anyone can do it, so long as they have the drive—or, in RuPaul’s words, the “charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.”
But something RuPaul recently said seemed to contradict this mantra. In a new interview with The Guardian, RuPaul essentially implied drag queens who identify as trans and are transitioning wouldn’t be allowed to compete in Drag Race.
“Probably not,” he said. “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.”
When asked how a transgender person could be a drag queen, RuPaul harped on physical body parts. “Mmmm. It’s an interesting area,” he said. “Peppermint [a former RPDR contestant] didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.”
These quotes feel reductive, to say the least. They suggest that drag queens aren’t actually drag queens unless they’re cisgender men who’re performing as females—in RuPaul’s eyes, at least. This, as a result, invalidates all the drag performers whose gender identity falls somewhere in the middle. If you’re born naked and the rest is drag, why does your gender matter? Isn’t everyone a blank canvas regardless?
That’s exactly what critics said in light of RuPaul’s comments. Social media erupted, with hundreds of people—including former RuPaul’s Drag Racecontestants—calling out the star for knocking trans and gender-nonconforming drag queens.
“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 worldwide community of unity, makes me sad. Is never been LGB so let’s not forget about the T,” Gia Gunn, a transgender queen from Drag Race season six, tweeted.
“We work with trans women every night side by side and for them to be denied the opportunities because of someone’s narrowminded view on what they call ‘drag’ is fucked,” Willam, from season four, wrote on Instagram.
And the fans and drag queens Glamour spoke to expressed similar sentiments. “It’s disappointing to know that RuPaul, a queer icon with such an incredible platform, seems to think that a transgender person’s journey somehow lessens the validity of their art as a drag performer,” James Teague, a RuPaul’s Drag Race super-fan from New York City, said.
“It was a very jarring statement to hear coming from someone like him, someone we have come to recognize as arguably the foremost representative of the queer community,” Joe Bissell, another big RPDR fan from San Francisco, said.
Some fans defended RuPaul, though—specifically his power to decide who is and isn’t allowed to perform on his show. “I think there’s no problem with Ru having specific parameters for the competition he created, but there was a way to state those parameters and not devalue other types of drag,” fan and queer writer Mikelle Street said.
Pat Patterson, a teacher from South Carolina whose drag persona, Patti O’Furniture, is one of the most in-demand performers in the Southeast, echoed similar sentiments. “I think that as the creator of the show, it’s his right to determine what he’d like to be featured on his program.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s against seeing more types of drag in pop culture. In fact, Patterson thinks there should be more TV shows about drag to highlight the different forms.
“RuPaul has shown us that drag is, obviously, something the public is interested in and wants to watch,” he said. “It’s like comparing The Voice and American Idol and America’s Got Talent. AGT features singers but also welcomes other entertainment. Maybe we have a show like that that welcomes all types of drag, regardless of gender identity and regardless of label.”
That’s something Caleb Coker, a genderqueer person from South Carolina who does drag, thinks too—but they also want to see more diversity on RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Showcasing one form of drag is awesome and great, but as the show keeps going, are they just going to keep showing the same kind of pretty, conventional drag queens? Or are they going to start shocking us?”
To his credit, RuPaul did walk back his original comments—slightly. “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 the heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers,” he tweeted. “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.”
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
Hopefully, however, these statements translate to more types of drag queens appearing on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“I think the best thing Ru could do is to put his money where his mouth is,” superfan Joe Bissell also said. “Include a transitioning queen. Include a bio queen. Hell, include a drag king. Show that he’s not just trying to do damage control. Show us that it isn’t just RuPaul’s Male-Presenting Female Impersonation Race. Because right now the world is watching him with a microscope.”
Taken from GLAMOUR US. Click here to read the original.
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