The self-proclaimed Supermodel of the World, RuPaul, can sometimes be quite the controversial figure. With a career that has spanned nearly three decades and a journey that started well before that, she is often considered one of the strongest voices and one of the most recognizable names in LGBTQ entertainment. She is currently riding the wave of a stellar year. Her latest album, Born Naked, is receiving high acclaim in a long-standing discography. Her reality TV series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, just ended its sixth season. However, the latest comments from RuPaul on a continuing issue for the show has caused worry that she may be stirring a controversial pot that goes well past the original problem the show had.
Early in season 6, there was a mini-challenge on an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race called Female or She-Male? The contestants had to figure out if a pictured body part belonged to a “biological woman” (female) or as RuPaul called it, a “psychological woman” (she-male). It added to an ongoing issue from the trans* community. They feel the show and the view of Ru (as she is sometimes called) were less than accepting of their lives and personal issues with terms like “tranny” and “she-male”. The terms have been used repeatedly by contestants and RuPaul herself.
Weeks following the airing of the episode, it was pulled from the LOGO TV website, as well as other viewing mediums. Following the take down, a notice from the producers of the show stated that they would also no longer use the You’ve Got She-Mail intro. It was a section of the show where RuPaul would give clues to what the main challenge of the episode was. Voices were mixed on the decision, with some feeling that it was weird for the show to suddenly take action more than six years after it began airing. Others believed that the change was a long time coming and pushed forth that it was needed.
Although many people, including past contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race, had an opinion on the matter, RuPaul herself chose not to speak on the issue at the time. However, that all changed on Thursday with an interview released by Instinct Magazine. The 53-year-old icon was asked directly about the controversial moments displayed on her hit television show. The reply she gave had a “no holds barred” feel to it, with Ru expressing that she felt everyone was taking things way too seriously. She proclaimed that the trans* community were not the ones who had an issue with the controversial terms being used.
“These are fringe people,” she explained, “who are looking for story lines to strengthen their identities as victims.”
She added that people should not be so quick to look for offensive moments and that if their happiness depended on the opinions of someone else, they were in for a “f****** hard-a** road”.
When further questioned about the She-Mail segment being removed from all future episodes, she took an even stronger stance and shared that she would not stop being who she was because people were bothered by what she considers “just words”.
“You need to get stronger,” she explained. “If you’re upset by something I said, then you have bigger problems than you think.”
RuPaul does have a few points. Namely, she does indeed have the right to express herself in any way she chooses. As a human being and especially as a human being who has seemingly fought twice as hard to be accepted as equal against those who will never understand her struggles, it is almost like a consolation prize; the world may unfortunately have some control over how she lives her life, but they cannot control how she chooses to express herself. With that being said, RuPaul has unintentionally brought an already hot pot to boil with another added layer of controversy; she does not have the right to tell other people how they should feel.
The trans* community have the definitive claim over what is offensive and what is not offensive to them, which include what power certain terms have to their lives. From a fuller scope of the human view, the comments that Ru shared with Instinct come off as being uncaring due to the fact that she has managed to offend people. She often expresses that the culture of drag can sometimes be offensive, due to its extremely strong nature. During the final episode of season 6, RuPaul explained in a voice-over just what drag means to her.
Drag is underground and over the top. Drag is political and politically incorrect. Drag is camp and couture. Drag is punk and mainstream. Drag is a laugh riot and it can start a revolution. Drag is never having to say you’re sorry because drag is all about being whoever the hell you want to be. Drag brings people together and the most important thing of all, drag never takes itself too seriously.
Drag may not take itself seriously, but what about the human race as a whole? One thing that RuPaul has expressed just as greatly is that she considers herself the most understanding person when it comes to her fellow man (or woman, queen, etc.). We may not be able to express what is right and wrong when it comes to a certain sect of the human race, especially if we are not a part of that sect. We do, however, have the right to call out someone on how they choose to treat the person standing next to us.
If we hurt someone, even unintentionally, we should apologize. It is just good manners; nothing more, nothing less. It has nothing to do with having a thick skin or being stronger or weaker than anyone else. Part of growth as human beings mean we show compassion. RuPaul has seemingly forgotten that on her rise to the top. She would probably not have the same amount of fame without that factor of the human condition. People had to understand her journey and give her compassion to ultimately obtain the respect she now demands to have.
If nothing else is taken from this entire mess, here is another angle: we live in a world where it does not take much to offend someone. Whether or not the issue is genuine or just one that a single person does not seem to like, someone will eventually be bothered by our actions. If that person who is bothered has enough power or even has a voice louder than most, there can be consequences for the person who has caused the offense.
Stirring a controversial pot as heavy as this issue, it is only a matter of time before actions like these will cause problems in the way RuPaul is received by others. Stronger still, it causes infighting in a community that already has so much to struggle with day in and day out. People need to come together and not tear themselves apart from the inside out.
When you are at the top of your game, others can and will come for you before anyone else. With RuPaul having so much power and respect in the LGBTQ community, moments like these show that she already has to defend her actions more than most. If she is not careful, the fall can be significant and long-lasting. The truth is there are bigger issues out there to be fighting for. Instead of RuPaul stirring this controversial pot, maybe simply saying “I’m sorry” and moving on is the better option. It does not show weakness to express compassion. In fact, it is probably the strongest trait a person can have.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown