Culture

Junk Explained: Why Is Everyone Really Mad At RuPaul Right Now?

You'd think a guy who built his career on subverting gender might support trans people?

People are extremely mad at iconic drag queen RuPaul right now. But if you don’t follow the minute-by-minute developments of the drag world in great detail, you might have missed it, and that’s a shame, because this one matters.

It has to do with trans contestants, and whether they belong on RuPaul’s Drag Race (or in drag more broadly). And if you were counting on a guy who’s built his entire career on his skill at passing as other genders to be open to and respectful of the needs of transgender people, we’ve got bad news.

Here’s what you should know:

Uh Oh, What Did Ru Do?

In an interview with The Guardian this week, the host of wildly successful drag competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race, was asked about the relationship between drag culture and transgender people, and about whether a transgender woman who had begun to take physical steps to transition would be allowed on the show.

His answer was…not great. He began by describing his feeling that drag is only radical when it’s men doing it.

“Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it,” he said. “Because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

That statement, for Ru, justified barring cisgender women from the show. When he was asked how it applied to trans women, he faltered, because there have already been trans and nonbinary women on the show — most famously trans queen Peppermint from last season.

Ru’s response to that was to draw a weird line between trans people who have and haven’t sufficiently transitioned for him — Peppermint, he said, was fine to go on the show because she didn’t have breast implants yet, but a contestant who had undergone more physical transition probably wouldn’t be accepted.

“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” he said. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing. 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.”

Ru then made it worse with a later tweet comparing transitioning to taking performance enhancing drugs, or somehow cheating. Because trans people aren’t stigmatised enough, apparently.

But Does He Have A Point?

Honestly, no.

And here’s why: it’s totally unfair for anyone to draw lines about what is or isn’t “trans” enough. It’s also totally unfair to try to exclude trans people from an artform that is premised on messing with gender — drag culture should be one of the safest spaces for trans people, not the least. If you’re talking about what makes the artform “radical”, its ability to include and support marginalised parts of the LGBTQI+ community should be top of the list.

And at the end of the day, when you’re talking about whether people who aren’t starting from a cis male body are equally capable of participating in drag, the answer is absolutely: so much of drag is about exaggerated femininity that goes well and beyond the everyday femininity some women have, and it requires pretty much the same skill to get good at it regardless of the body you start with.

Has He Apologised Yet?

He has, in a series of tweets posted today. And while some people aren’t super happy with it, it’s a start.

And What Are Those Coloured Stripes Tweeted With Ru’s Apology?

I’m glad you asked, because no one seems to know.

It’s easy to assume that a picture of three coloured stripes tweeted alongside a statement of affirmation for the LGBTQIA+ community is one of the community’s many pride flags, but this one actually isn’t. In fact, it’s an abstract painting of fields as seen from a train, by artist Ellsworth Kelly.

The somewhat baffling presence of this artwork has caused some people to wonder whether Ru somehow tried to google “trans flag” and managed instead to google “trains flag” instead.

Surely there’s another explanation here (I mean, Train Landscape doesn’t even come up when you google “trains flag”, and Ru has demonstrated an appreciation for Kelly’s work before. But I have personally been chuckling at the idea of the “trains flag” all afternoon. All aboard.