I discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race when I was twenty-three. The competitive reality show had premiered seven years earlier but I’ve always had a habit of being late to the party. One hungover day, a Vine of one of the most beloved members of the Drag Race alumni, Alyssa Edwards, caught my attention. Alyssa was wearing a blonde, bouffant wig and rolling around on the floor holding a prop gun. The Ariana Grande song Dangerous Woman played over the five second clip. I was sold. I called in sick to work, blaming my IBS rather than the consequences of cheap wine, and watched all seven episode of the latest series, All Stars 2. Within a few short months I consumed every episode possible.
What I found in Drag Race was a sense of belonging that I had never felt before. I had never witnessed such a positive representation of gay men before. These men weren’t being stereotyped or solely used for comic relief, they were being celebrated. Watching them share their talents, stories and struggles gave me hope. Hope that maybe things do get better. I could relate to these queens. Queens like Katya who, in her own words, ‘is riddled with crippling anxiety’. Queens like Nina Bo’Nina Brown who struggles to silence her inner saboteur. Queens like Jaidynn Diore Fierce who isn’t fully accepted by her family. These queens made me feel less alone.
Inspired by the queens, I decided to lose my drag virginity. I made my drag debut at a noughties themed, fancy dress party as the ultimate noughties icon: Paris Hilton. I paid homage to her look from the first season of The Simple Life and my attention to detail was exceptional. I wore a denim corset and mini-skirt combo. All night I carried around a Beanie Baby Chihuahua to represent the heiresses’ beloved Chihuahua, Tinkerbell (rest in peace sweet pup). I even had a real Louis Vuitton handbag that I borrowed from one of my middle class friends. It was without a doubt one of the best nights of my life, made perfect by the fact that Princess Paris left two comments on my Instagram photos. The messages may have been short and sweet, “Yas” and “Loves it” (with a starry, heart emoji) but they validated me for life. I felt grateful to Drag Race, more specifically to the Queen of Queens herself, RuPaul.
RuPaul is many things: a gay icon, the most powerful man in drag and America’s untraditional sweetheart. His career has been ground-breaking and he has used his position of power to launch the careers of over one hundred other drag queens. He provides each and every queen with unconditional love and support. He isn’t just a judge to the queens, he is a mentor and mother. However, in the past week RuPaul became something that his supporters didn’t think was possible: flawed.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, RuPaul shocked the LGBT community. He announced he wouldn’t admit transgender queens onto his show if they had already started gender-affirming surgery. Understandably the outcry that followed was deafening. Former Drag Race contestants (including those who went on to transition after the show), fans and trans performers all came forward to express their disappointment in RuPaul and state how strongly the disagreed with his decision. He has since retracted and apologised for his discriminatory comments in a poorly-received tweet.
RuPaul’s apology tweet was met with valid criticism. However, while some people engaged in debate and questioned RuPaul’s stance, others decided that the conversation was over, along with his career. Tweets declaring ‘RuPaul is dead’ circulated. Anger and disagreement are worthwhile reactions, but shutting down conversation when you’re met with opinions that aren’t the same as yours is counter intuitive to progress. Despite what we would like to believe, there isn’t a single person alive that hasn’t been guilty of being ignorant. If the punishment for ignorance is death, then the entire human race would face extinction any minute now. Conversations challenging ignorance need to be informative and compassionate, especially when challenging transgender discrimination which until recently people knew very little about.
Since Caitlin Jenner’s transition, the conversation surrounding trans people has moved to the fore. The L, G and B members of the LGBT community have experienced progress in recent years, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage across all states in America. However, transgender people have not been afforded the same treatment. Under new congress trans people have seen their rights consistently threatened and retracted. As one of the most prominent figures of a marginalised group, RuPaul should be well aware of just how damaging exclusivity can be.
RuPaul was the voice telling me that who I am is good enough, louder than all of the other voices telling me that I wasn’t. Trans people desperately need to hear that voice right now. RuPaul has a responsibility to be that voice. We all have a responsibility to be that voice. We need to speak loud and clear. We need to reinforce that the T stands for so much more than truth. We need to do better.