RuPaul's Drag Race, Logo TV Apologize for Transphobic Slur

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com April 14 2014 11:54 AM ET

After weeks mired in controversy, reality show RuPaul's Drag Race has pulled a controversial episode, and made adjustments to the show's future content. The show will no longer use the term "she-male" in any context, and has put an end to the show's long-running "You've Got She-mail" segment.

On March 17, the popular Logo TV reality show featured a mini-challenge titled "Female or She-male," in which the show's contestants were shown a photo of a woman's body part and then asked whether the picture was a "female" — meaning a cisgender (nontrans) woman — or a "she-male" — meaning someone who was assigned male at birth but presented themselves in a feminine manner.

The following morning, a number of trans individuals who had long criticized the show's use of transphobic language voiced their concerns on Twitter. This was followed by coverage at The Advocate, along with a number of other media outlets.

Nearly two weeks after the episode first aired, the show's producers, including RuPaul Charles, Logo, and GLAAD released statements about the incident.

"We delight in celebrating every color in the LGBT rainbow," the statement from RuPaul's Drag Race producers read. "When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding."

Logo's response followed similar lines, saying, "We have heard the concerns around the segment. We are committed to sharing a diverse range of trans stories across all of our screens and look forward to featuring positive and groundbreaking stories of trans people in the future."

Notably absent from both statements was any indication of remorse, or even the words "sorry" or "apology." Some critics claimed the term "newly sensitized" seemed to be more of an abstract idea than a course of action.

As debate raged on, two beloved trans former contestants came forward to criticize the show's use of the words "she-male" and "tranny."

"'Shemale' is an incredibly offensive term, and this whole business about if you can tell whether a woman is biological or not is getting kind of old," Carmen Carrera said in a Facebook post. "We live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise. Drag Race should be a little smarter about the terms they use and comprehend the fight for respect trans people are facing every minute of today."

Monica Beverly-Hillz, another trans woman who had previously competed on Drag Race, added, "I have fought, and still am fighting, for respect from society — to be accepted as a woman and not referred to as a 'tranny' or 'she-male.'"

Earlier today, nearly a month after the offensive episode aired, Logo issued a follow-up statement, which detaled a course of action.

"We wanted to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term 'she-mail' on Drag Race," the statement begins. "Logo has pulled the episode from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again. Furthermore, we are removing the 'You've got she-mail' intro from new episodes of the series. We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We sincerely apologize."

The removal of "she-male" — and, by extension, the play on words, "she-mail" — is likely to be seen as a step forward for many transgender individuals pushing for more accurate and compassionate representation on the popular reality show that highlights and lampoons gender norms.

LGBT media watchdog organization GLAAD has maintained ongoing discussions with producers of RuPaul's Drag Race, as well as the show's production company, World of Wonder, and Logo TV and its parent company MTV, since the controversial episode first aired. In a statement Monday afternoon, the organization's president and CEO applauded the network's decision. 

"Logo has sent a powerful and affirming message to transgender women during a pivotal moment of visibility for the entire transgender community," said Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. "GLAAD is committed to continuing to shape the narrative about the lives of transgender people with fair and accurate media images."

A new episode of RuPaul's Drag Race airs tonight at 9 Eastern on Logo.

Contributor: 
Parker Marie Molloy