Irish Gazette

RuPaul and Transphobia

Emil Otteson

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Drag has been a large part of the LGBT community for many years. It’s an act that often involves dressing in a hyperfeminine (for drag queens) or hypermasculine (for drag kings) manner. It dates back to the 1800’s, however its ties to the LGBT community date back to the early to mid-1900’s. In a time when cross-dressing was illegal, many trans individuals used drag as a way to present themselves how they wanted to be seen, and often make a living as their authentic selves.

Before 2009, most people outside of the LGBT community probably didn’t know what drag was, but that changed when RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered. It was, for many people, the first introduction they had to drag in mainstream culture. Since then, RuPaul and his show have become a staple in the average view of the LGBT community.

So, RuPaul’s recent comments to the Guardian may come as a shock to many. When asked about the transgender community he stated that if Peppermint, a previous contestant on his show who came out as a trans woman during the season, had started to undergo physical transition, she would not have been allowed on.

“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” he said. “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”

Many, inside and outside of the community took affront to this statement. With many early pioneers in the LGBT community, such as Marsha P. Johnson, being both trans women and drag queens it’s easy to see why.

These comments are especially baffling for anyone who watches the show. Many challenges on RuPaul focus less on the believability of the drag or how well they pass for female and more on the skills of the competitor. Often the challenges on the show revolve around your ability to sew or perform. Reoccuring challenges like “Snatch Game” revolve around, not the ability to look like a woman, but the ability to look like a celebrity. Others like “Lip Sync For Your Life” and “Ball Challenge” require a mixture of skills that include dancing, designing, or lip syncing. All of these are things that transition would not affect, as they are skills, not inborn qualities that can be altered with hormones or surgery.

He soon apologized for his actions tweeting “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.” Attached to the tweet was an image of the trans flag. Or, well, what RuPaul likely believed to be the trans flag. What he tweeted was a square image with three horizontal stripes, lime green, green, and yellow, and it did look a bit like many LGBT flags do. However, what he tweeted was a 1953 abstract painting called “Train Landscape”. The commonly accepted trans flag on the other hand, created in 1999 by Monica Helms, is a rectangle with five horizontal stripes, a light blue, pink, white, pink, and then light blue again, looking nothing like what was tweeted.

All of this was likely fairly shocking for many outside of the community. For many RuPaul appears to be a figurehead of the LGBT community, a mainstream icon. However, for many in the community, it came as no shock. RuPaul has a history of transphobia, using the word “shemale” regularly in his show as well as describing himself as a “tr*nny” despite not being transgender. Many trans women have expressed discomfort with this as both are slurs that in the past have been used to perpetrate violence against them. After the fact there was no apology, RuPaul defended his use of the words, even after the network made him change the name of a challenge on his show called “Female or Shemale”.


RuPaul’s attitude is one that isn’t uncommon among male drag queens. Many see the trans identity directly opposite to that of drag queens, seeing the two as mutually exclusive. Some have claimed this is because, while they see the trans community’s view of gender as very serious, they mock identity. One trans man, Leon, didn’t quite agree with this assessment. “I personally don’t have a problem with drag as long as people realize drag isn’t the same thing as being trans.” He explained. “Which [is the problem with] RuPaul. He’s using drag to tear down the identities of trans women. In my opinion, it’s kinda unwarranted and very hurtful.” This tearing down of trans women is evident in our society as well. Often they are called “traps”, a derogatory term used to imply that trans women are “trapping” straight men and that they are secretly gay men.


In the end, it is fairly clear that RuPaul’s comment regarding trans people are not only hurtful, but indicative of a long past of transphobia. It is necessary that we stop looking to him as a spokesperson for a community he is not even part of, and stop looking to him for all information regarding it.

About the Writer
Emil Otteson, Editor

Emil Otteson is one of the editors of the Irish Gazette. Emil has been working for the paper for four years and have been an Editor for two. Emil is...

RuPaul and Transphobia