EDIDI: RuPaul and Transphobia within the Cisgender Gay community


WASHINGTON, April 17, 2014 — RuPaul recently sparked controversy for transphobic language and a particularly offensive segment called Female or She-male.”

Many in the transgender community lashed out at RuPaul, but I felt sorrow, and his inability to issue an apology to the trans community for his offensive remarks while hiding behind Logo’s breaks my heart.

Being the Trans niece of an amazing drag Queen and singer Figueroa, I cheered at the appearance of RuPaul on the music scene. Not a trans woman, but blending and blurring the lines of gender; I celebrated RuPaul for his living truth and making money off it. Where so many artists were still hiding in closets and living double lives, here was a Drag Queen making waves in ways not seen since the 80s.

Then he launched RuPaul’s Drag Race, and suddenly homes all across America had a weekly visit from a drag queen.

As a mentee of the infamous DC Drag Queen Xavier Onasis Bloomingdale, I was thrilled to see a black drag queen succeeding.

My feelings changed after hearing transphobic words on the show. Even worse, instead of humbly apologizing for any offense given to a part of society that helped, and continues in many spheres help, to bless RuPaul with success, he attacks trans women further and accuse us of being too sensitive for calling him out. Following suite, many within the gay cisgender community who follow him uttered the same sentiments.

This leads me to write about something that has nagged me for some months now: trans phobia within the gay community.

As a child, I saw Trans Women and Drag Queens work in tandem; there was a common sisterhood between the two that saw trans women and drag queens fighting for one another. They both felt the pain of being marginalized and in that pain they formed a bond that assured both would look out for one another.

I understood very early on the different between Drag Queens and Trans Women. Drag queens were men who dressed as women; Trans women were women within a different body context.

My idea of the support drag queens and trans women gave one another was confirmed when I began to be mentored by the amazing Xavier Onasis Bloomingdale and saw the way she and my trans sisters, who also performed, supported and loved one another.

Then I began to hear things and see things within the cis gay community that didn’t sit well with me. I saw the way trans women and drag queens became sources of mockery instead of forms of celebration. I watched as the desire for Gay Men to be seen as men formed a certain distain for womanhood and femininity. The hyper masculine man became the ideal, and like so many marginalized people within colonized communities, that man became the thing everyone wanted to aspire to be. As a result, drag queens and feminine men became the enemy of that quest for perfect manhood.

I often find myself correcting people about the “T” word and having to defend why said word is not steeped in the positive notions around Transsexuality but in fetishization. As Trans women continue to struggle to be seen as more than simply fetish object to be loved in secret, trans culture continues to push towards shifting the vernacular that is found acceptable in describing us.  The T word and the S.M title both have been used to divest us trans women of our sexual and sensual self, take away our humanity, and somehow suppose that we are not “real” women.

In a place where gay cisgender men are now gaining more and more rights, many have forgotten the roles that trans women, drag queens, gender queer, and gender non conforming people had within the historical relevancy of LGBTQ culture and Stonewall. Often Trans women are at the fore front of helping to fight for the rights for our cisgender gay male brothers and to see the responses to the apology by logo (for RuPaul Drag Race Transphobic language and segment) has saddened my heart.

Because trans women have fought so hard for the rights of our brothers we ask now that as they gain more and more mainstream acceptance that our gay cis brothers will stand with us. That they will understand it is not their right to determine what mainstream society can call trans women but it is our choice to determine what we calls ourselves and how we are portrayed.

For so long our presence has been the hidden truth that no one wishes to acknowledge. We are simply asking our gay brothers to work with us to fight against the indignities done to us by those none marginalized.

Being an African, Cuban, Cherokee trans woman, I understand how sometimes to gain acceptance certain marginalized groups will attempt to appear as “Non Threatening” to main stream society as possible. This is normally done by allowing for mainstream society to set the rules of what is acceptable for us to be. They determine what is right and the marginalized community will sometimes punish those who mainstream society says doesn’t “fit” that criteria; often harming allies and loved ones in the process.

We forget the “It gets better” campaign and instead become the bullies so many of us had to fight against as children. We begin to beat up on our sisters and brothers who ask to be treated and spoken about with dignity instead of mockery. We scold each other for asking to be treated with humanity instead of enmity.

I did not appreciate the apology from logo because I also understand leadership. RuPaul has a huge following and huge platform. RuPaul’s life is based around imitating glamorous womanhood and instead of respecting trans women, Rupaul chooses to treat us as if we have had no hand in assuring his ascension.

RuPaul has influence and should use the influence to create awareness around trans women’s plights and our struggle for rights; not be a part of the same systems of oppression that systematically works to keep all marginalized people at each other’s throats.

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  • Erick Thomasin

    “RuPaul’s life is based around imitating glamorous womanhood and instead of respecting trans women, Rupaul chooses to treat us as if we have had no hand in assuring his ascension.”

    That statement just felt like it ruined the article. You don’t speak for all trans people, so don’t say the he is offending Trans people. Yes Ru said something that was insensitive, but mocking him like that will only detract away from your message.

    Also him taking out part of his show(you’ve got she-mail) that’s been on for 6 seasons shows that he is willing to listen to his audience.

    Let me say I’m not defending him for saying the word, I’m saying he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and he did something about it.

  • Dane Edidi

    Erick. Thank you for your comment and taking the time to read my article.

    Let me just say my article is written with love and understanding of drag culture, mainstream gay media and from the perspective of being a trans woman. As a trans woman who surrounds myself with, teach, and are mentored by and support trans women (especially of color) I have the right and the privilege (finally) to write this statement. And as far as mockery; I am not mocking Rupaul that would be counter productive and hypocritical to the very thing I said in paragraphs early, but I am stating a fact. Is Rupaul’s celebrity life based around imitating glamorous womanhood? Yes. Does a comment that is disrespectful means the person who said it is being disrespectful? Yes. Have many of us been great supporters of RuPaul and his work? Yes. Trans women are women. In this statement what I am saying is, is (Rupaul) respect and love the vestments you adorn/imitate/glorify etc because we have supported you.

    The last part of my article said I understand leadership. When you are the leader of people’s minds, thoughts, or are a face of a movement (whether you choose it or not) you have a responsibility to personally say something. If you read in articles about the matter it never really says that RuPaul said “sorry for offending…”. This is not the first time RuPaul has come under fire from the trans community or has said something truly offensive. This is about words at the end of the day for me; ways that words hurt and ways that words can heal.

    And lastly, what I am asking in this article is for The Cis Gay Male Community to be true allies to the Trans movement; to partner with us as we have with the movement of our cis gay male brothers and fight to assure we are respected within media outlets.

  • donna

    Being a woman, I find the term “BIG FURRY PINK BOX” offensive but, I dont hear nobody crying about that!

    • Dane Edidi

      Donna. Thank you so much for taking time to read my article and for giving voice to your frustrations.

      My article asks for people to look at language (words or titles) that have been used to offend and used against trans women in a war to continue to oppress us and attempt to divest us of our humanity.

      As a woman, I encourage all women to stand in solidarity with one another. If the phrase you mentioned is offensive to you. First, I will not use that phrase in referring to you; this is the beginning of my show of support. Second, I ask what platform would be best for you to use to speak about how this word is offensive and used in the oppression of your person? Sometimes a movement requires one voice to say what others feel they could not and encouraging them to stand up in the face of oppression.

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  • Canadian

    Sorry, I guess that I think that being offended by the term “She Mail” is just being way too sensitive. I see that trans people are certainly marginalized but how politically correct does our society need to become?

    • Concerned

      It needs to be PC to the point where we stop using transphobic slurs as fun “play things” to throw around. Just because you are part of the LGBT+ community does not make it okay to use slurs against trans people, or apply them to yourself if you are not transgender. For example, the black community often uses the n word as a term of endearment with friends despite the treacherous history associated with it; when someone outside of the black community, such as a white male, uses it, it takes on a whole different connotation. When a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth (cis gender) uses transphobic slurs, they are using it in a position of power as a tool of oppression regardless of intent.

      Privilege is when you have a position of power regardless of whether you realize it or not. A person may be a gay male in the community, and may think he is the bottom of the barrel in terms of social power, when in fact he has cis privileged, male privileged, and may even have white privilege (depending on his race).

      If we truly want to honor our lgbt ancestors, we need to have solidarity. We can not have solidarity if cis LGBT people keep on oppression and silencing trans people. Every micro-aggression counts, be it as small as saying tranny when referring to drag queens, or as blatant as calling a trans woman a freak. With each slur tossed around, trans people are dehumanized and demoralized more and more. After 40 years, LGB people need to stop pretending they are the lowest of the low and realize they are in a position of power, standing on the throats of transgender people.
      We are not being overly sensitive, we are tired, we are worn out, we don’t want to be killed, we want to be heard!

      Other problems in the LGBT community I will mention but won’t go into detail: misogyny (gay men especially guilty), racism (white people are more visible than people of color), and internalized homophobia.

      • Addendum

        Also: bi-phobia (distrust of bisexuals), and transmisogyny by trans-exclusive feminists (you need to support your sisters, not just your cis-ters), asexual erasure in favor of allies. I think that covers most of it.