I woke up Saturday morning to a trans woman in tears onmy Facebook timeline. That woman was Chicago-based trans drag performer Sara Andrews. I first came across Andrews on YouTubemany moons ago when I was a performer myself, instantly falling in love with her Katy Perry impersonations and infectious presence. I have long since left the showgirl stage, but even though I no longer twirl on the weekends, I have remained an avid fan of the art of drag and, by extension, RuPaul’s reality competition phenomenon.
Andrews explained her tears had been caused by RuPaul’s just-published interview with The Guardian. In that interview, Ru begins by laying out her ideology on how she disrobes those threatened by her blackness: “First of all, let’s talk about the black rage one of the ways that I’ve been able to dilute that perception is to dress as a character that says, ‘Look I’m fun, I can have a sense of humor about life because I’m in drag.’” She goes on to say, “My gift has been having the clarity to hear the universe’s stage directions and to take advantage of that.”
From that perspective, Ru is in a sense evoking centuries-old black minstrel performances, coddling her white audiences into consuming her existence only through the gaze of humor. We know this is true because her legion of followers can often be viciously racist in the comment sections regarding past and present cast members on the show. The show often edits in Ru’s zany cackling sound bite to signal her approval, sometimes fittingly and other times not. It’s clear humor is paramount to Ru, but is everything really a laughing matter?
We live in an age where blackness and transness are finally being recognized as more than props for situational humor. We also know humor is often a shield for uncomfortability and ugly truth. Ru has a right to wield humor in her life however she chooses, and it is her show, her universe, and her particular brand of drag. But in today’s climate of intersectional and fluid identities, is clinging to a ’90s version of rebelliousness becoming tone-deaf?
RuPaul is very aware that her power doesn’t come purely by donning a dress and wig; it comes from her sharp, incisive, and hilarious personality, which developed through both challenging times and spectacular achievements. That has worked for her. Ru is a success story of defying labels and using all the crayons in the box, as she might say. But does she really believe her unique perspective on gender and the popularity she has garnered thereby grant her authorship over the entire concept of drag and drag performance?
“Mmmm, it’s an interesting area,” Ru says of trans women competing on her show. “Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.  You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. 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 hasbeen an inspiration and icon for almost my whole life, but based on these remarks, the time has come for her to lip sync for herlife.
Yes, it’s her show and her rules, but under no circumstance does RuPaulhave the right to determine someone else’s gender status based on whatever criteria she may have settled on in her own mind. She owes Peppermint an apology for openly discussing details about her body and transition to the worldand for grossly misunderstanding transness in general. As long as I have known of Peppermint, she has always been a woman. She is one of the sweetest people that I have ever encountered, and I was elated to hear of her casting on the show as I felt it was a long overdue signal of Ru evolving with the times.
But now with these latest remarks, RuPaul in a sense disqualifies and erases each of the girls who has transitioned after being on Drag Race: Carmen Carrera, Sonique, Kenya Michaels, Monica Beverly Hills, Gia Gunn, Stacy Layne Matthews, and Jiggy Caliente. Seven girls, Ru, in 10 seasons. Each year we know we are going to see a fierce look queen from New York, a dancing diva, a big girl, a Latina, a comedy queen, someone from Chicago, a well-seasoned vet, and someone straight out the gate. Each represents wildly different interpretations of drag and femininity. Why exclude transgender queens?
This is a moment for Ru to reflect on being on the right side of history. This kind of ideology that refuses to expand our notion of progressiveness is something I expect from the Trump administration, not from you, Ru. By the way, for the record, transitioning has nothing to do with surgery. It is different for every trans person. Some individuals take hormones, some individuals have surgery, and some choose not to change their body at all. Transitioning is not one set state of being. It’s the same as drag.
She clearly understands that concept: Just look atthe diversity of her casting. Wearing a mustache or not wearing a wig doesn’t make anyone any less of a drag queen. She should know more than anyone that it’s all about writing your own formula. The same is true for trans people: What happened to the Ru who during the Season 5 reunionproclaimed the only requirement to audition for Drag Race was charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent?
Ru goes on to say in this latest interview, “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big fuck you to male-dominated culture. So for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”
I find it repulsive that Ru thinks drag doesn’t have power if it’s not performed through a vessel of maleness. Her vision of drag performance is entrenched in misogyny and reinforces the sentiment of why many feminists have disdain for the art of “female impersonation.” You would think as an effeminate black gay male, she would identify with the struggle that so many individuals who are femme-of-center, trans, and gender nonconforming face. I believe it is actually trans folks who serve the fuck you to society every day by existing openly, not just at night under blurring disco lights, but at 7am in a Starbucks, giving a presentation in a boardroom, or shopping at the mall. These are the new transgressions that are reshaping our world.
I will not deny Ru’s Scorpio presence, her momentous contribution to queer herstory, her staying power, the fact that the platform for which she stands inspires so many to “sissy that walk,” and how she so often uses the spiritual teachings of Osho, Eckhart Tolle, and Diana Ross to reminds us all that life should be based in loving yourself first. Ru is a divine and beautiful light on this earth. But even the gods can err.
Many years before I had words to evoke how I felt on the inside, I saw a towering diva strut down the runway on The Ricki Lake Show, give a twirl and a shimmy, and I knew whatever that was, so was I. But there comes a moment in all of our lives when we look into the face of the previous generation, thank them for what they have shown us, and now take our turn in bearing the mantle. The arc bends and bends, always a little bit closer to justice.
Many a Ru girl travel from town to town and share dressing rooms with countless trans performers who dream of the opportunity of the world being exposed to their talent. Mimi Marks, the late Erica Andrews, Sara Andrews, Sasha Colby, Aurora Sexton (who can all sew, mind you!) are just a handful of trans performers who defined an entire industry long before drag race catapulted into the American consciousness.
Ru, the time has come to catch up with the rest of the movement. Comedy is powerful and irony is effective, but opportunity is life-changing. Please, take this moment to reconsider your position, and use the fabulous platform you have created to allow trans queens to fight for the crown they want and deserve.