In RuPaul’s recent interview with The Guardian, “RuPaul: ‘Drag is a big f-you to male-dominated culture,” he claims that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it, because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f-you to male-dominated culture.” He goes on to say, “so for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.” The media platform INTO, actually launched by Grindr, reported on his commentary from this interview, as did The Independent. In more words, both platforms basically said that RuPaul was pretty wrong for this.
The platforms were most concerned with RuPaul’s exclusion of trans women. In an article entitled, “No, Rupaul, the drag queen world does not only belong to men — everyone can explore femininity,” Amrou Al-Kadhi with The Independent remarks that RuPaul’s Drag Race has “limited conceptions on what drag can be” and that cisgender men should not be the only ones able to parody and explore their gender using drag. The author of this piece, Al-Kadhi, is a British-Iraqi drag performer who finds RuPaul’s commentary and Decca Aitkenhead’s coverage in The Guardian “enraging.” They argue, “the idea that the social critique of male patriarchy can only really work when it is enacted by men is nonsensical and offensive. Does RuPaul believe that counter-culture, as well as mass-culture, should privilege male voices?”
Al-Kadhi makes a strong point here. It is immensely narrow to claim that cisgender men should be privileged in spaces that center acts of gender transgression. As Al-Khadi asserts, drag performance and culture exists as a critique of mainstream binary gender under patriarchy. So, the notion that cisgender men, people who occupy a status of utmost privilege in that structure, should be the only ones ‘allowed’ to do drag in RuPaul’s Drag Race while trans people transgress gender in their lived realities everyday is trans-antagonistic. It undermines the violence that trans feminine people face everyday to argue that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it.”
Al-Kadhi observes that RuPaul creates a dichotomy between “trans and drag identities…effectively arguing that whilst drag is gender-subversive, trans is gender-conforming.” They go on to critique RuPaul, asserting that “whilst trans women are women, who’s to say that they couldn’t also be involved in the parodying and exploration of femininity?” In this piece, Al-Kadhi acknowledges the variance in trans identities and trans people’s, more specifically trans women’s, centrism in doing gender transgression.
Instead of insisting on this trans exclusion, RuPaul needs to reevaluate his understanding of gender altogether. However, a large part of me knows that his trans exclusionary attitude is rooted deeply in his own investment in the gender binary and gay cis-ness. Al-Kadhi’s recognition of the centrism of trans people in matters that most disproportionately impact them is vital in the media, and really anywhere. Trans people of color, especially, often do not have the power or resources to represent themselves or host their own cultural spaces in the mainstream. So, I’m glad that one trans person of color, who is also a drag performer, spoke up about it.