By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
By the time you read this, I really hope that the controversy around RuPaul’s use of the word “She-Male” (a term almost universally considered to be offensive by the transgender community) in his show RuPaul’s Drag Race will have slipped out of my news feeds, along with the heated exchanges it has inspired. However, I still think it’s important to address.
The thing is, I really do think that RuPaul messed up. Not only that, but he handled it very poorly.
Let me make a confession here: RuPaul, despite not being a transgender woman, was an early inspiration for me. It’s easy to forget in this still very young age of YouTube and Tumblr that not so long ago it was really tough for a trans woman to find many visible inspirations. For this showbiz oriented, 6-foot-4-inch young trans woman trying to find examples to encourage her, RuPaul was a beacon. Not only was he fabulous and outspoken, but he was taller than I am and still sexy and femme-y. For me, that was huge.
Most importantly though, RuPaul introduced me to the idea that it’s all drag, not just the glittering gowns drag queens wear, but all the various “costumes” that we wear in our daily lives. That idea changed my whole world. It made me think about the messages we send by our appearances and how deeply that can influence people.
Given that, I don’t think RuPaul is quite as unaware of the messages he sends than he would have us think. He’s clearly a sharp enough character to have been able to make himself a household name even in small town America. Even so, I was ready to give him a pass the first couple times he said insensitive or ignorant things about the trans community. I felt it was a case of the media giving his pronouncements about us more weight than they probably should have. After all, he’s made it clear enough that he is not us. He is not a trans woman. He is a drag queen, which is related perhaps, but not the same thing. [pullquote]Hate does nothing more than breed more hate and awfulness. Nazis hated the Jews. The KKK hates Black people. Many people in the world hate gay people and trans people. They hate us, and they don’t care one bit if we disagree about RuPaul using a word. They hate him too.[/pullquote]
Still, for better or worse, RuPaul has a responsibility. Whether you and I like it or not, he is the leading edge into people’s living rooms. He is many people’s first encounter with gender variance of any kind. He is visible and people listen to what he has to say, and so, by now, he really should have known better. I don’t even think it was such an awful thing that he used the word “She-Male” during a segment of the show in the first place. It’s hardly the worst or most offensive thing to come out of reality TV, what with all the Honey-Boo-Boos and Duck Dynasties filling our airwaves. It was a relative blip of offensiveness.
Still, it was offensive and some folks were hurt. What RuPaul needed to do was listen for a second and then address this himself. He should have acknowledged just how much more influence he holds than the average drag queen with a show at the local gay bar, but he didn’t. Instead, what we’ve gotten are hurt feelings and raised hackles.
That said, we’re not helping matters, and no one on either side of this issue has clean hands. In what world does it help things for a journalist to come out and say “I f#@$king hate RuPaul” in a public forum?
“Hate” never helps anything. It was the only word my grandmother would not allow me to use in her presence. I might not like something. I might very strongly disagree, but hate is a strong word and an even stronger emotion and not to be used lightly. Hate does nothing more than breed more hate and awfulness. Nazis hated the Jews. The KKK hates Black people. Many people in the world hate gay people and trans people. They hate us, and they don’t care one bit if we disagree about RuPaul using a word. They hate him too. [pullquote]We need to learn how to disagree without calling each other names. We need to respect our differences of opinion and use love and logic instead of hate and fear. All of us, including RuPaul, need to learn how to listen, how to apologize occasionally, and realize that hate never, ever, ever does anything but breed more hate.[/pullquote]
That’s who you’re lumping yourself in with when you say you “hate” RuPaul, or anyone else for that matter. It’s not a crowd with which I want to associate myself or with which I want to see people I otherwise like and respect associating themselves. However, as much as I disagree with the word “hate,” I do understand the strong emotions behind it. I know the frustration and pain that can drive a person to make such emotionally charged statements.
On the other side of this issue—and probably what has been adding the most fuel to the fire—is not RuPaul. It’s been the people standing up for him, folks trying to tell trans women how we are supposed to feel about not just RuPaul’s use of the slur “she-male,” but about the slur itself, and doing so in the most belittling way possible. Let me assure you, it really doesn’t help matters to tell us we are overreacting, to dismiss our strong feelings about this.
We need to learn how to disagree without calling each other names. We need to respect our differences of opinion and use love and logic instead of hate and fear. All of us, including RuPaul, need to learn how to listen, how to apologize occasionally, and realize that hate never, ever, ever does anything but breed more hate.
*Lorelei Erisis is an activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.