RuPaul’s Drag Race has been criticized for using certain terms that are considered harmful for the transgender community. The segment “You’ve Got She-Mail” has been removed from the show, and more recently, RuPaul doubled down on the use of the word “Tranny.” Rather than dialoguing about the usage of the terms, RuPaul has descended into the tiresome “PC Fascist” argument, claiming that his critics are “Orwellian.” It’s an unfortunately defensive response.
I understand that the issue is complex. Drag Queens, for instance, actually are “she-males,” and (I can see the empowerment in co-opting a damaging term), whereas transwomen have fought long and hard for their gender identity and calling them “she-males” completely devalues their struggle. The same can be said of “tranny”: it overlaps with the term transvestite. But to victims of transphobic violence, that word takes on a dark, hate-filled meaning. In one of his tweets, RuPaul says, “It’s not the word itself, but the intention behind the word.” In other words, transfolk are just too sensitive! Intention is not magical.
This is an example of privilege is caused by a lack empathy. This lack of empathy is one of my greatest pet peeves. It reminds me of when people use the phrase, “That’s so gay” and immediately become defensive: “I don’t mean it that way! I have gay friends!” (They don’t intend to insult gay people, but saying, “That’s So gay” is so entrenched in everyday vernacular). I am immediately transported back to my 20s, when I was the victim of a physical assault motivated by hatred. “That’s So Gay” was no longer an abstract turn of phrase; the implied negativity had transformed into a life-threatening act.
I am not angry at RuPaul for not getting this point. I am deeply saddened.