What RuPaul’s Drag Race means to teens

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/06/28/what-rupauls-drag-race-mean.html

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I have to say, when I saw the first season of this show air originally I thought it was really entertaining, but I would have never guessed that it would have reached beyond the folks who are otherwise inclined to watch stuff on Logo. It makes me happy to see how drag performances can be seen for what they are–harmless, and intentionally ridiculous–as opposed to some kind of perversion, which is an opinion that lots of people still held back in the 90’s.


I was really into that show, and thought Ru Paul was stunningly cool. I acknowledge they are a serious pioneer with the LGBT community.

However, I lost a lot of respect a year of so ago when the transgender community kept asking Ru Paul to maybe move with the times, and shift terminology away from segments like “You’ve got SheMale” etc. I know the terminology has changed a lot since Ru Paul’s earlier days, but Ru doubled down in a way that was pretty ugly.

I haven’t watched the show since, and neither has my husband. I don’t know if Ru ever came out and sorted that out, or not.


I get where you’re coming from, but I think Patton Oswalt made a pretty decent point on this specific matter:

I’m a straight cis male. Seeing Ru Paul on TV when I was young is a big part of why I’ve never had any qualms with transgender people despite growing up in a very religious and conservative place. Ru Paul normalized that for me, and made me question the people who thought it was wrong instead of the other way around. I agree that words are important, and I despise hate speech, but I’m not going to write Ru off for some outdated terminology–it might make me cringe a bit, but it it in no way undoes any of the actual good they have done.


I agree with all that to a degree, but if it’s your community that gets slagged off, it gets harder. Plus, Patton Oswalt is hilarious, but the terminology hasn’t changed that fast. He has good points, but I’m not sure that was the real issue with Ru Paul.

Mostly it really showed the divide between gay and transgender communities. The terms that the gay community have used since god knows when, have been a problem for the transgender community for about as long. That’s what the real problem was. It highlighted that divide more than the direct terminology.

There’s a history of the gay male community at odds with the transgender community, specifically trans women. From my experience, the lesbian community isn’t as at odds with the transgender men that come out of that half as much. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I don’t know as many people that have faced it there.

When Ru doubled down, that was more about the divide between the two communities. Ru is an amazing activist, that has done a helluva lot for the LGBT community, but was still reflecting an age when gay men did not see transgender women as being worth listening to.

I think from a cis perspective, you probably don’t get the chance to see the intricacies in the LGBT movement. That umbrella has a lot of issues. There are active gay groups that feel that the T’s should be booted. B’s get kind of ignored or told they are in a phase. If you identify outside that like as an Ace, Pan, or whatever, it gets worse.


I have only recently discovered what you refer to as the intricacies in the LGBT movement. In my attempt to educate myself I came across this:


Wow. I hadn’t seen that one. It has a nice batch of documentation in it.

I get that he’s older, and has fought his battles, but your article does a great job of showing that his battles aren’t what most transgender women have to face. Hell, I’m a trans guy, and I still get those words tossed at me occasionally, and I’m a rough tattooed bearded guy. Totally different perspective.

Nice find.


You’ve actually helped me to better understand why people were upset. I knew that there was friction between gay men and trans women in particular, but I guess I hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective. Ru has done a lot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have some out-of-date ideas about things. Things were a lot different in the 70’s and 80’s compared to now, and I could see how despite being an incredible activist, Ru could still hold some outmoded ideas. I mean, for one, drag performances and trans-sexuality are not the same thing. Anybody can perform in drag, because that’s exactly what it is, a performance. Being trans is not a performance, it’s part of a person’s identity and upon reflection, I can see how big the divide there really is. (To clarify, I was always aware of that distinction, the problem was that I didn’t think about how many people aren’t and how that effects the trans community. I was operating under an assumption that people generally understood that drag performances are meant as a form of entertainment, and trans-sexuality is not.)

As for the complications, I do know something them and I suppose it’s worth bringing up since you’ve mentioned it. I openly identify as straight cis male, but the reality of the situation is that I only do so because it’s easier than explaining to people that I’m more along the lines of Ace or as some put it “grey Ace.” Sex is not repulsive to me, it’s just not especially valuable to me. I don’t seek it out, and I’m not usually interested in it when its offered. I’m not disinterested in romantic love overall, but my general disinterest in physicality has created problems for me there because most people need sex when I don’t. What can I really do about it though? I can’t really call myself LGBT, and it would feel wrong to me to try to do so because the problems that it has created for me are far less serious than the problems that LGBT people have had to face. Cis people tend to think that I should get bloodwork done because “it could be low testosterone.” Nope, was already compelled to do that by an ex, and it came back normal. I’ve got LGBT friends who at least “get” it better than straight folks tend to, but it’s still a pretty lonely place to be.


I think Ace’s belong in belong in the community. I know Ace’s get an awful lot of shit from everyone. I think it also depends on the age range. I think younger LGBT+ folks are a lot more accepting. My closest friend is demisexual, and he doesn’t seek out partners. Unless he’s already formed a romantic attachment, he’s just not interested. He’s experienced a lot of pressure, like you have.

I’m really sorry you have had to get pressure for blood tests, and nobody respected you on how you feel. I don’t doubt it’s a lonely place. Have you seen some of the Ace spaces online? I’ve heard there are meet ups. I know when I started meeting other transgender folks, that changed my world. There’s definitely value in the whole “OMG! I’m not the only one!” experiences.

I round up as well. I’m married to man, but explaining we are both actually bi/pan blows people’s circuits. Especially since we work together. It’s just easier to be the gay guys. I keep formal identification for my own community.


The sympathy is genuinely appreciated. I have been toying with the idea of trying to make connections in the Ace community, but it’s kind of a difficult step for me to take. This something that I’ve kind of just ignored as much as possible for most of my life–initially writing the differences in my behavior and urges compared to other people my age off as a difference in maturity, then giving way eventually to just kind of being in denial about it. It’s partially responsible for the dissolution of my marriage though, and that has turned my life sort of upside down so it doesn’t seem like that kind of thing is an option anymore, not that it was a great option to begin with.

I should probably look for something online though. I’m also autistic, and just jumping into some kind of in-person meetup or something would probably not go over so great, but I do feel pretty comfortable communicating with people that I don’t know in writing, so a forum or something would be okay. It’s not like I’m in agony or anything, and there are other reasons why my marriage wasn’t going to work out in the long run, but maybe having some people to talk to about it with will be more useful to me than I presently imagine it will.


She did? How so?

Also I think your timetable may be off a tad.

The “Oooh, gurl you got she-mail!” tag has been has been gone since S7, and there have been several segments of the show which highlighted transwomen’s journey, including this year’s 2nd place contender, Peppermint.

Also it has to be noted that a lot of controversy has come from Carmen Carrera, a transwoman who put her transition on hold during S3, then used her exposure from the show to catapult her career… and then proceeded to trash Ru and the show as “not being trans-friendly” afterward.

Now that’s some shade.

Not to undermine your valid points about inclusion, but I had to throw in my two cents about where that accusation came from.


I enjoyed reading this thread. It’s encouraging to see the entire spectrum of sexualities being discussed and acknowledged.

I wonder if socially we could ever get to a place where nothing about a person’s attractions or level of desire is assumed, but instead understood as individual as anything else about a given person, and the positive effects that could have for issues like consent and healthy sexuality.


Maybe Ru is doing better. I just haven’t been interested in finding out.

I’m just curious as to what made you say she doubled-down; the only friction I’ve ever known about was the ‘she-mail’ debacle and Carmen’s manipulative drama.

No worries.

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Someone just posted an article that was written from a transgender perspective above. You might give that a try. It wasn’t just Carmen. At least where I live and breathe, it was a thing.


I plan on it once I get home; that site is blocked by the firewall at my job.

Not saying it was, just that’s all I’ve heard about.


I’ve read the article and several articles linked to it.

Unfortunately, Ru’s issues with anti-trans terms seem very similar to the situation with the word ‘nigga’ and it’s continued usage amongst some Black people (just as a simplified example; I realize the problem is much more complex than just one word.)

On the one hand, the origin of the word is rooted in negativity and institutional racism; and on the other, many Black folks have reclaimed it as an expression of familiarity within their vernacular.

And yes, many people of all colors are still offended by it.

But that hasn’t made the word go away, or stopped certain people from using it… and even if it somehow did, that doesn’t mean the problematic origin of the word has been resolved.

Then there’s a whole other school of thought that words only have as much power over us as we are willing to give them, and that context/intent matters more than verbiage, as referenced by another Transwoman, Our Lady J… but that’s a different discussion for a different day.

Long story short, there are no easy answers; other than for myself, personally, which is that I’ll respect anybody who respects me in return, period.

I personally tend to avoid using terms which have negative or offensive connotations in general; I’m like, tell me your preferred pronouns, and I’ll use them accordingly.

I endeavor not to make assumptions and to ask questions respectfully when there are aspects of someone else’s experiences that I don’t understand.


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