Friday, April 8, 2016

RuPaul Diatribe

A recent interview with RuPaul has once again filled me with rage. I have tried numerous times to give her the benefit of the doubt, but her "Real Talk" interview only confirmed what I feared to be true: that her callous, loathsome attitude and behavior only serve to further marginalize the most vulnerable members of our community. The most disturbing part of the entire interview is that her hypocrisy and prejudices are cleverly disguised by her ability to speak eloquently and at length. They are embedded amongst numerous other points that actually do have some validity. The most dangerous people in this world are those charismatic enough to twist the minds of others into believing even their most wretched thoughts--who use their charm to hypnotize the masses into surrendering their ability to critically analyze behavior, language, and situations.

Before I embark on this somewhat lengthy break-down of the most problematic assertions of the interview, I must offer the following bit of advice. Language, whether we want to admit it or not, IS important. It underlies and shapes all thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. Language has the power to save lives, as well as the power to kill. As a linguist, it is hard for me to overstate the role of language in personal and societal development. There are multiple instances during this interview where RuPaul deflects questions and avoids lengthy discussion of topics that would fully expose her bigotry by asserting that language doesn't matter, and it's all about fun. She even goes so far as to say that being hurt by language is stupid and only further reinforces "trigger-happy" people's perceptions of their own victimhood. Because, you know, if a rape survivor can't laugh about being raped, then they are automatically inferior to me and undeserving of my respect or validation. Dismissal of the idea that respecting others, particularly those who have been through the trauma of fighting for their lives as transphobic slurs are hurled at them, is not advocating for your community. It is erasing the identities and lived experiences of the people that literally gave you the right to be the person you are today and to have a mainstream television show.

Ru further goes on to dismiss questions about the relationship between trans identities and drag. She calls the question "boring" and becomes defensive when the interviewer asserts that it's a bit more complicated than that. Her language becomes decidedly "us versus them" as she insinuates that people who take their identities seriously are "dumb as fuck". The further proves how out of touch with reality this queen can be. Listen, when all you have in this world is your identity because you have been denied access to equal housing, employment, medical care, and basic services based on that identity, any attempt to erase it or take it from you will have you fighting for your very life. Even more simply, we are MURDERED because of our identities, so yeah, we do kind of take that seriously. And does she not remember the trans queens that came out during the production of her show? Her assertions further erase the idea that an entertainer in the drag industry can also be trans, leading to a more beautifully complex intersection of identities that are equally legitimate.

It only gets more absurd as Ru's hypocrisy comes out. She continually reasserts the idea that she can float between femme and butch, yet she only frames this in the context of drag, somehow forgetting the lived experiences of genderqueer people. One wonders if these people would be allowed on her show, and, if they were, what does that say about her attitudes toward exclusively feminine-presenting and -identified trans individuals?

She further has the audacity to say that drag is supposed to be the antithesis of mainstream, with the goals of continually pushing boundaries and blurring lines, yet her television show and previous responses to questioning by entertainers who do not identify as cisgender males do nothing but reinforce boundaries within our own community and draw quite clear lines on what she believe qualifies as drag or worthy of the spotlight. Of course, this is television, and producers have every right to do whatever the hell they please, but rather than claim exclusivity on the basis of personal preference, Ru has continued to assert that other forms of drag are either not really drag or somehow less valid than others. I have mentioned this before, but my definition of drag is as follows: the deliberate deconstruction and reconstruction of gender. I don't think you can get more inclusive than that, and you sure as hell don't have to shit on anyone's identity or lived experience in using it. But my very identity is what will make my remarks less valid in this world.

If you only believe and pay attention to the words of those with the loudest, most accessible voices, you are missing the majority of the conversation. Ru is a celebrity who has done some wonderful things, but it has become quite clear that she is out of touch with the queer community. However, for some reason, the dominant, white cis gay male culture loves to eat up the shit that she spews out of her mouth sometimes, and problematic, oppressive, and downright violent discourse is perpetuated. Do you know what would be awesome? If queens (and even other entertainers) could stop bowing down to this bitch as if she were a deity and start thinking for themselves about what's best for the people our community so often enjoys throwing under the bus.

I think I've stopped shaking now. But am I done? I'll be done when the work is done. Until then, I fight for those whose voices are silenced, whose lives are erased, sometimes quite literally. And I will not apologize for that. I love you all, and goodnight.