In a recent interview with The Guardian, RuPaul said that he wouldn’t necessarily allow transgender women to compete on Drag Race if they had begun any type of surgical transition, and fans were understandably upset.
In the interview, RuPaul said:
So how can a transgender woman be a drag queen? “Mmmm. It’s an interesting area. Peppermint didn’t get breast implants until after she left our show; she was identifying as a woman, but she hadn’t really transitioned.” Would he accept a contestant who had? He hesitates again. “Probably not. 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.”
As RuPaul mentioned, several contestants have had plastic surgery or botox (just take one look at Trinity Taylor or Ms. Fame), and several contestants on Drag Race have come out as trans during or after the show, like Carmen Carrera and Jiggly Caliente. So it feels odd to accept trans contestants but then draw the line at those who choose to transition through surgery. And considering Drag Race is about constantly playing with gender and not taking the boundaries of gender too seriously, you’d think there wouldn’t be such harsh rules when it comes to trans contestants.
After the interview, fans began to call out RuPaul on Twitter and he only doubled down, at one point implying that taking performance enhancing drugs as an athlete is the same as getting surgery to transition:
Other past queens from the show also joined the conversation, with most speaking out in support of trans queens:
Eventually, RuPaul seemed to realize that his comments were a mistake. He tweeted an apology, adding that “in the 10 years we’ve been casting Drag Race, the only thing we’ve ever screened for is charisma uniqueness nerve and talent. And that will never change.”
It’s clear that RuPaul is still figuring out where trans issues fit into Drag Race, even though trans contestants have been on the issue as early as season five. When my colleague Julianne Escobedo Shepherd interviewed RuPaul back in 2013 about Monica Beverly Hillz coming out as trans on the show, RuPaul understood that to be an integral part of Drag Race.
“It’s the common thread that we all want to be recognized for who we are, we all want to be loved, and we all want to be accepted,” he said. “Even the toughest, most courageous queen who’s fought the biggest battles, in their own family, in the neighborhood, with mother and father, to get on that show and say to the world, ‘Here I am. And I’m gonna be proud of who I am, I’m not gonna apologize for who I am.’ That’s why our show is so much more than men in pussycat wigs and cha-cha heels. That’s what people connect with.”