On Saturday, RuPaul’s Drag Race host RuPaul stirred controversy when he told the Guardian that contestants who were in the process of a physical transition would “probably not” be allowed on his VH1 reality competition.
“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul told the Guardian. “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.”
RuPaul spoke specifically about season nine contestant Peppermint, who was on the show while being out as a trans woman.
“Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned,” RuPaul said.
In an email to INTO, Monica Beverly Hillz, a contestant on Drag Race’s fifth season who was the first contestant to share her trans status during the show’s filming weighed in on RuPaul’s comments while preparing for a show at the University of Iowa.
“I’ve always been a woman, so what I’ve done to my body or that I hadn’t started hormones while on the show doesn’t take away my identity,” Hillz told INTO. “Our bodies do not equate our identity.”
Hillz said in her email that there’s a “deeper discussion” to be had about the world of drag and the pressures on many queens to make their bodies appear more womanly.
“The more ‘real’ our bodies look and appear to be women, the more money we’ll often make in the nightlife and drag worlds. And for many of us as trans women, we do drag as a form of survival to support our very ability to start medical transition.”
Hillz added that “everybody should be given the opportunity to compete” on the show, which is one of the biggest platforms for queer people on TV, especially because so many trans women are already a part of the drag community.
“I know I have a lot of trans friends who already perform and would make fierce competitors on the show,” Hillz said. “We’re really missing out on the important and powerful stories of trans women who have had to fight against not only homophobia, but transphobia, even in the drag world. Now THIS would make for some good reality TV.”
Hillz has spoken up about transphobia on Drag Race before, but it did not go so well. Though Hillz said she was “honored and blessed” to compete on the show, she has gotten social media backlash for speaking up about transphobia before. According to Hillz, when she shared her thoughts about the “female or shemale” segment on the show, the amount of hate and violent threats she received was “astounding.”
“The first trans woman I knew in a town I lived in – they burned her house down and killed her – for just being brave enough to live her authentic self,” Hillz said. “So when I shared that I didn’t agree with the term ‘shemale’ and felt it was transphobic, I received emails and messages from fans telling me I was ‘ghetto’ or ‘ungrateful’ or calling me racist names, unfriending me, even sending me death threats.”
Hillz added that, at the time, people called her a “stunt queen” and an “ugly man.”
However, Hillz said a lot has changed regarding awareness of trans issues in the years since the segment first aired and that she’s now able to speak about trans issues on college campuses.
“I’m staying grateful and booked while getting my jush,” she said.