Do trans women have a place in drag culture? And is RuPaul out of touch?
RuPaul is old.
Just a couple of weeks ago, RuPaul — drag queen icon and producer/host of the reality series “RuPaul's Drag Race” — came under fire for making comments comparing trans women to performance-enhancing athletes. The comment struck a nerve in the queer and trans community nationwide and opened up a dialog centered around gender identity and presentation.
“You can identify as a woman and say you're transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul said. “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.”
What RuPaul neglects to mention is that trans women have been performing in drag since the Harlem drag scene arose in the 1920s.
At one time, living as a trans person was unheard of. Surgeries were not common because the medical community considered gay people certifiably insane and sometimes punished them with lobotomies or sent them to psychiatric wards. It was unsafe for people who identified as trans to even exist. Drag was one of the main avenues in which a trans person could present themselves.
Fast forward to the present day and drag is on our televisions, in our movies and in our clubs. It's not the form of vice it was considered to be in the early days of queer history. So we have to ask ourselves, what are the politics of drag? If a person hasn't fully transitioned, does that mean they can't perform alongside gay men? Or if a person has transitioned, does that disqualify them from drag completely?
And who actually owns drag? Is it the men who dress up and put on shows? What about the cisgender women known as “bioqueens,” who have taken to drag performance as a form of self-expression? The spectrum is wide. Drag means different things to different people, and the transitioning process does not have a timeline; it can last for months or years. Does being in this position disqualify a person from performing in drag altogether? I would like to think it doesn't. Not at all.
Drag should be a place for artistic and personal expression, not gender politics. Transitioning shouldn't disqualify a person from doing drag, and as we develop a new understanding of gender norms, RuPaul should keep this in mind. As a mogul and queer pioneer, Ru must remain current. Disqualifying someone, especially a fellow queer person, on the basis of gender politics makes RuPaul a participant in transphobia, and as a torch bearer for the culture, she should keep in mind that acceptance is vital to her TV show's success.