Drag Race: The 'T' Word

RuPaul and Drag Race have been controversial because of the use of two terms: “tranny” and “she-male.” (“She-male” has since been apologized for.)

Drag Race is akin to American Idol or America’s Top Model but with Drag Queens, i.e. people who cross-dress and assume an alter ego for a period of time. Generally it’s part of LGBT culture, hence its presentation on Logo TV.

A transgender person was assigned a gender at birth (e.g. M or F) and then self-actualized their true gender, often in terms of presentation to the outside world. This could involve things from hormones and surgery to simply identifying as trans or under the trans* umbrella.

LGBT is an acronym that includes T, but gender identity isn’t as related to the sexuality connotations of L, G, and B. Since roughly 0.3 percent of the population are said to identify as transgender, it’s kind of stuck onto this group.

In earlier decades, words like ‘tranny’ may have been socially acceptable in certain circles. Recently, they’ve come to be considered hateful epithets. At best, the terms minimize disproportionate rates of violence trans people endure.

So of course RuPaul casually said ‘tranny’ on a Drag Race episode! And then didn’t apologize or admit wrong-doing.

Generally, people fall into one of two camps: either defending or attacking RuPaul.

The defense calls attention to history and how cross-dressing can be part of gender exploration. People don’t want to throw Ru under the bus because mainstream acceptance of both the drag and trans communities is fragile to begin with.

The best defense could be from vlogger Wick Trick, who said: “When we censor the word ‘tranny’ without regard to intent, we may be making life more comfortable for a few, but we may also be ostracizing many who have a different history with that vocabulary.”

The opposition can be summarized: No, it’s not okay to use the terms, period.

Trans activist Zinnia Jones makes a strong case against RuPaul in a piece titled: “The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing of value.”

Jones accuses Drag Race of being “overtly hostile” towards trans women. Transphobia is promoted through the conflation of drag (which cross-dressing accurately describes) with actual trans*-ness (someone presenting as their true self).

Old vs. Young

Ru’s own defense was to say, “I’ve been a ‘tranny’ for 32 years.”

While the term may have worked at one time–perhaps in the era of the Michael Alig Club Kids in the 90s–it no longer does. Once progressive, now reactionary.

Rather than lead, RuPaul is reacting.


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