Opulence, You Own Everything (But Words)
I lied. I wrote 2 months ago that I was going to post once a month and, of course, I haven’t published anything since. And it serves me right, because for all the time that I spent on my application to a French doctoral program, I was just as unsuccessful as with its American counterparts (Side note: maybe not juts as unsuccessful since I got through to the top 8, but still, the fact is I ain’t getting no doctoral grant on my bank account this fall.)
BUT, instead of sulking my way through summer, I’m trying to do something slightly more productive than watch porn and The Golden Girls so here I am, displaying emotions millennial-style.
Okay, so I’ll be honest, what I’m writing about today has been addressed extensively —and probably better than I could ever try to— but I’m just so torn about all this I feel I need to share the feels #metafeels. Recently, RuPaul, queen of drag and probably television, was pretty much forced by Logo to stop using trans slurs “she-male“ and “tranny” on the show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now, honestly, this didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me at the time because, yeah, those are pretty insulting terms towards trans people so, as funny as “You’ve got She-Mail” sounded, it made perfect sense that it was considered disrespectful. But, good Lord, did shit go down after that.
It all started when Parker Marie Molloy, a trans activist and journalist, tweeted about how much “[she] fucking hate[s] RuPaul” (Side note: tell us how you really feel, gurl!) and all drag performers in general, especially Carmen Carrera and Calpernia Addams who, incidentally, identify as trans women. Then Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, also a trans woman, wrote pieces (here and here) in response to the anti-RuPaul sentiment exhibited by Parker Marie Molloy and what they view as a general tendency on the part of young queer trans women to denigrate drag culture. And then, an open letter speaking out against Addams and James was signed by over 350 trans women.AND THEN RuPaul was all up in arms about how trans people need to grow thicker skin because the terms were only used in jest (which is true) and pretty much all of the gays online were talking about the rise of the PC language police and the death of humor #thatescalatedquickly
I do not know what to make of this. On the one hand, after extensive readings of works by my trans idols Julia Serrano and Janet Mock, I’m not really entitled to an opinion about whether or not it’s alright to use the words jokingly because I am not a trans woman and I can’t blame people for their feelings about something hurtful BY WHICH I CANNOT GET HURT MYSELF. On the other hand, I relate to drag culture and its sense of derision and vulgarity mixed with glam and camp and wit. Drag does not allow for tiptoeing around sensitive issues, because it is by nature offensive to the mainstream and therefore bound to rough up some feathers.
So, what to do? It’s a complex issue and I can’t say I have an answer, being neither a drag queen nor a trans person. But both sides of the argument probably need to reflect on what a wise friend of mine once said to me: pick your battles.
Gays, we get it, it’s empowering to use derogatory terms as humorous terms of address with one another, sticks and stones, blah blah blah. But, if you’re not a trans woman yourself, chances are you’re probably just insulting the trans community by using a transphobic slur instead of a homophobic one. Trans women are not mythical figures we can generalize on and appropriate —and neither are black women, by the way— so we must show some respect. When SO MANY trans women, including former contestants on RPDR, are telling us that we are hurting them by using a word that perpetuates transphobia and incredibly violent acts against them, we can’t really say we’re not being transphobic “BECAUSE IT WAS JUST A JOKE” —it reminds me of when homophobic comics say “If you can take a dick, you can take a joke.”
But we also need to keep in mind that drag used to be one of the main platforms for gender barriers to be broken and express gender identity freely. The fact that most heterosexuals didn’t understand the difference between drag performers and transgender people and just lumped the two together created a sense of kinship in the gay community —if you don’t believe me, I suggest you rewatch Paris Is Burning. The appropriation of transphobic slurs by gay people was more of a way to show comradery than erase trans identities and embracing words like “faggot” or “tranny” was as good a way as any to flip the bird to the rest of society. So the sense of ownership that older queer people such as RuPaul, Calpernia Addams and Andrea James may have is slightly justified because they have shared the trans experience, just on different ends of the spectrum. At the end of the day, this is just my cis non-drag two-cents, so go read my favorite posts on the whole story by Heklina and Justin Vivian Bond respectively. (Side note: Heklina is a drag performer, famous for creating San Francisco insitution Trannyshack, which she decided to rebrand by removing the word “tranny” from its name. Justin Vivian Bon is a trans activist who defends the use of the word “tranny” to designate vself.)
Of course, while multiple versions of gayness become more and more visible, so do those of trans identity and we clearly need to accept the fact that, on a lot of levels, we just don’t fight the same fight. But on a lot of others, we still do. There is no need for a secession of the T from LGBT and, much like the Original Girl With a Lot Feelings, I JUST WISH WE COULD ALL JUST GET ALONG AND EAT CAKES MADE OUT OF RAINBOWS.