Why I Don’t Hate RuPaul: Thoughts on the Drag Race Controversy

Trans PeopleLorelei Erisis
Photo: David Meehan
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Lorelei Erisis  Photo: David Meehan

Lorelei Erisis
Photo: David Meehan

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.

Slainte!

*Lorelei Erisis is an activist, adventurer and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at: askatranswoman@gmail.com.

5 Comments on "Why I Don’t Hate RuPaul: Thoughts on the Drag Race Controversy"

  1. My issue is why take offense at something that was meant to be light-hearted and funny? It IS a reality TV show known for zingy one-liners and hilarious puns. We need to focus on the more important issues regarding our community – gay bashing, unjust laws still existing in our govemernment, etc.

  2. I think RuPaul is totally innocent and those trannies who are upset are just whiny and oversensitive.

    ^I wonder if this comment will have as much trouble getting posted as my other one.

  3. Wow. I didn’t think that comment would actually get posted. I figured ‘well this comment uses a slur and talks down to transwomen, surely it won’t make it through moderation’, but lo and behold it did while my comment pointing out all the flaws 9in this article got trashed.

    I love how in an article lecturing us about how we need to ‘learn to listen’ they only let through comments from one side of the argument. Just typical.

    I’ve lost any respect for Lorelei Erisis.

    • TRT Editor | May 4, 2014 at 6:40 pm |

      Sami,
      According to our records, no comment of yours was trashed before. Perhaps something else happened in the process. However, we will not post flaming posts against our writers just because they are expressing their opinions. You can freely express yours without getting to that place. We appreciate and welcome a good discussion through our boards. Censoring does not have a place in what we do.

      Thank you for your comments. We appreciate them.

      Best,
      The Editor

  4. Well said, Lorelei:

    RuPaul is an entertainer, and, I think, a well-meaning one. He’s misguided and a bit crass.But the queens are part of a larger picture.

    Lorelei said it, Kate Bornstein said it, and some others have said it: gender [expression] is performance. It’s all drag of various sorts. However, for some of us it’s not a hobby or a jobby. We express ourselves in part with certain culturally accepted accoutrements. It’s one way of saying who we are without words. RuPaul and other queens do it for the stage, we do it for life. They are purposely over the top, and most of trans folk are not.

    The drag queens and trans women in the ’60s began a LONG battle that’s ended up in marriage equality, in some states having non-discrimination for trans folks, and for recognition that gender identity and gender expression are different, but part of the same larger picture, I’m happy RuPaul is visible, even if it’s just for contrast to what trans women aren’t.

    I hope the lesbian separatists wake up and realize there’s more power in unity, and in getting along with some people who mean you no harm. But that’s another story.

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