Recently, Rupaul Charles and the producers of Drag Race released a public statement in response to accusations of transphobia. It is worth noting that while Ru and Co. explain that they intend to tackle issues relating to transgender rights in the future of this show, they did not apologize to the transgender community for their offensive actions in the “Female or She-Male” mini-challenge.
Days after the statement from the Drag Race PR team, Carmen Carrera came forward about her stance on the “Female or She-Male” challenge and its implications for the treatment of transgender women in and out of the drag scene:
“Some of you guys asked me to make a comment so here it goes…
Although I am certain RuPaul’s Drag Race didn’t mean to be offensive, let this be a learning experience. I think the show has opened up and educated the minds of many people who were ignorant to the world of drag and has made equality and respect a possibility for those involved, not only as equal beings but as phenomenal artists. There has always been a huge presence of trans artists in the drag scene. “Shemale” is an incredibly offensive term, and this whole business about if you can tell whether a woman is biological or not is getting kind of old. We live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise. Drag Race should be a little smarter about the terms they use and comprehend the fight for respect trans people are facing every minute of today. They should use their platform to educate their viewers truthfully on all facets of drag performance art. #SheHasSpoken”
In light of these events, and of the impassioned comments /bent has received from both sides of the issue, I feel it is necessary to provide clarity about my intentions in running my opinion piece about “Female or She-Male” a couple weeks ago. There are a number of things I want to clear the air about.
1) Dialogue is important. I do want to promote a dialogue about this show and its impact on the LGBTQ2I community. If someone does not agree with the opinions of this article, I and the editors of /bent of course encourage them to share their thoughts, as silence around the issue of transgender rights will also not create social change.
2) We can love the show while still pointing out its flaws. I still love this show, and I still love Rupaul. In fact, it is because I am a die-hard fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race that I had extreme difficulty viewing the “Female or She-Male” game. I do not feel comfortable viewing a show that I enjoy even as I know it promotes dangerous cultural practices in the community I belong to. This ambivalence is a difficult thing to constantly balance, but I know I would rather not pretend the show is politically pure and instead accept that there are dire representational problems in its creation. I do not think the solution is for offended viewers to stop watching the show, as that will not change its representational choices either.
3) We can love Rupaul while still pointing out his errors. I agree that Rupaul has done more for the LGBTQ2I community than I ever have. Thank you for that reminder, I totally forgot. For one, I will always remember Rupaul as a champion of AIDS activism in the early nineties, especially as the original face of Mac Viva Glam, a makeup line that donates one hundred percent of its profits to AIDS research. I think Rupaul ought to be acknowledged for the culturally relevant work he has done, especially for the drag community. However, I do not think these achievements should absolve Rupaul of responsibility for offensive actions he has committed.
4) Impact and intent are not the same. What this means is that regardless of whether or not the producers of Drag Race had intended to create an event that was transphobic or cis-centric, and whether or not Rupaul and Co. perceive themselves as transphobic (my guess is that they identify themselves as transgender advocates), the effect of this mini-challenge has been evidently harmful to the transgender community. For this reason alone the producers of Rupaul’s Drag Race should have said in their public statement something like, “We apologize for our actions, as we had not thought ahead about who in our community we were hurting by creating a game like “Female or She-Male”. We appreciate your feedback and intend to create programming that is safer for all our brothers and sisters.”
5) It’s not all about the language. My issue was primarily not as much to do with the word “She-Male” and who it belongs to, as much as the actual activity in the mini-challenge, which encouraged viewers to take apart women’s bodies based on how authentically “woman” they were. This was not just transphobic, but misogynist as well. This said, I do think it is easy to retire the term “She-Male” from drag culture, especially for the sake of our community members who it negatively affects.