By Parker Marie Molloy and Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com May 28 2014 1:38 PM ET
Since RuPaul broke his silence last week in the controversy over whether words like "tranny" and "she-male" are off-limits for use on his eponymous reality show and in the drag community in general, transgender woman Carmen Carrera is emerging as a lighting rod attracting the most fervent criticism.
The RuPaul's Drag Race Season 3 alumna publicly challenged the historic drag queen's unyielding defense of the t-word in interviews and on Facebook, and is now engaging critics on social media. Then this weekend Carrera became the subject of a prominent fellow Drag Race alum's ire.
In the latest volley in the battle over use of transphobic slurs, recently-crowned Drag Race season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio — also known as Roy Haylock — launched into a tirade onstage against Carrera, typifying the kind of vitriol Carrera has fielded from Facebook commenters in recent weeks.
"Let’s face it, we wouldn’t know who the fuck Carmen Carrera was if she didn’t fucking get on Drag Race," Haylock said Saturday at The Manor in Wilton Manors, Fla. "Maybe she should take what’s left of her dick and stick it in her mouth and shut the fuck up."
Haylock's comments are the latest in a common criticism of Carrera: that she does not have the right to criticize RuPaul or RuPaul's Drag Race for transphobic language, since the Logo TV reality competition is the reason she has a voice to begin with. “Don’t try to attack… RuPaul in reference to the 'shemale' situation,” stated TS Madison, a trans artist, in an over-10-minute diatribe against Carrera, reasoning that RuPaul is the “reason why your stupid ass stood there on a platform, revealed to us who you are, and is able to tell your fucking story.”
Carrera, one of the most prominent Drag Race alums to come out as transgender since her season aired, has been an outspoken critic of the use of transphobic slurs, which came to light after Drag Race landed in hot water over a mini-challenge titled "Female or She-Mail" on a March 17 episode. A month after the episode first aired, the show's producers at Logo issued an apology, pulling the game from all its digital and broadcast platforms and pledging to strike the words from future episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race.
Carrera applauded that decision, but has also been forthcoming about the hateful language she's been subjected to since the show made those changes.
"This battle of respect is something very real to me," Carrera stated in a Facebook post. "I've watched my friends get called out in public for not being passable as female and hurt big time about it, I've watched my friends in the news that got murdered and never investigated, I've watched my friends believe all they can do in life for money is escort. I'm very passionate and believe that every time the LGBT community is featured in the media, people are learning about us. Now more than ever. My thing is, teach them the good of who we are that way it will cause a ripple effect and open the doors for respect and then ultimately lead to more people loving us."
Carrera has since fired off a string of Facebook and Twitter posts pushing back on those who claim that she should not "bite the hand that feeds her," making clear that while she is appreciative of RuPaul and Drag Race for the opportunity to compete during season 3, she is making things happen on her own. Since her appearance on RuPaul's Drag Race, Carrera has made strides in her visibility as a model, appearing in a print ad in W magazine and launching a widely publicized campaign to become the first transgender Victoria's Secret Angel. Having been signed by Elite Model Management, she was also photographed by David LaChapelle for a controversial poster advertising the Life Ball HIV and AIDS fundraiser in Vienna, which depicted a nude Carrera with both male and female anatomy. Moreover, VH1, which, along with Logo TV, falls under the Viacom Media Networks, announced this month that it had greenlit a show TransAmerica that would feature Carrera as a mentor to other trans women.
"My career, who I am, my achievements, and my diet are credited to my agent, my friends, my fans and my self discipline," Carrera said in a Facebook post, prefaced with the concession that while she may "love love love RuPaul as an artist, taught me a lot while I filmed the show," the extent to what she perceives as owing RuPaul ends there. "RuPaul ain't calling Steven Miesel or David LaChapelle to photograph me, RuPaul ain't calling Elite Model Management to sign me as a model, RuPaul ain't calling CNN to cover my [Victoria's Secret] petition, RuPaul ain't calling Tyra Banks and VH1 to give me my own reality show, RuPaul ain't paying for my daughters private school. RuPaul is doing what he loves to do and so am I. We have two separate ways of using our platforms and that's what we can disagree on but one thing is for sure, I'm not paying his bills and he isn't paying mine."
Many of these social media posts invite controversy. In one Twitter post, she compared the t-word to others that affect racial and sexual minorities.
Things that are NOT ok: Calling @TheEllenShow a dike Calling @AndersonCooper a fag Calling @RuPaul a nigger Calling @Carmen_Carrera a tranny
— Carmen Carrera (@carmen_carrera) May 25, 2014
In another, Carrera posted an image to Twitter, captioned "Follow the leader," portraying RuPaul, shouting the word "tranny," leading a pack of others off of a cliff.
Carrera explained her own roots in the drag community during an April interview with The Advocate. "I started in drag," she said. "That's how I learned about trans women ... Backstage at this club I used to work at … the trans woman entertainer of the evening was always seen as the goddess in the show… [Instead of] making sure their performance was the best in their genre of drag, they would crack jokes, like, 'Oh, you wish you were a woman,' or 'Oh, tranny, whatever.' It was kind of joking, but a little serious at the same time. [But] outside of that world, 'tranny' is a bully word."
"Now, I know that backstage that word wasn't being used to bully," Carrera acknowledges. "Or maybe it was — it's a little confusing. At the end of the day, it's a bully word. It's not a nice word. It's not meant to give you power. It's not meant to say, 'Yes, you're transgender and you rock, and I'm going to call you tranny for short, because transgender is too long for me.' That's absolutely not how the word started."
Monica Beverly Hillz, another trans woman and former Drag Race contestant, recalled similar instances of "tranny" being used as a way to harass and attack trans women, and said the word, like racially based slurs, should not be used.
In a recent episode of Marc Maron's WTF podcast, RuPaul Charles took on critics like Hillz and Carrera, along with LGBT media watchdog groups like GLAAD, who say that his use of words like "tranny" and "she-male" are offensive and outdated, claiming that these groups and individuals are "fringe people."
"Does the word ‘tranny’ bother me? No. I love the word ‘tranny,'" Charles said. “It’s not the transsexual community who’s saying that. These are fringe people who are looking for storylines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we are dealing with. It’s not the trans community. ’Cause most people who are trans have been through hell and high water. And they’ve looked behind the curtain at Oz and go, ‘Oh, this is all a fucking joke.’ But some people haven’t and they’ve used their victimhood to create a situation where, ‘No! You look at me! I want you to see me the way you’re supposed to see me!’”
"But don’t you dare tell me what I can do or what I can’t — say or do," Charles said later in the interview. "It’s just words, like, ‘Yeah, words hurt me!’ [Whiny inflection] Bitch, you need to get stronger. If you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think."
Charles went on to compare his critics to Orwellian villains, though some have noted that his interpretation — that the animals in Animal Farm were corrupted by a desire to assimilate — is technically incorrect, as the book is more often viewed as an allegory about how power corrupts.
Charles does have a number of trans women on his side, including Andrea James, Calpernia Addams, and Our Lady J — all three of which work with World of Wonder, which produces the show, or have recently appeared on Drag Race. World of Wonder also produces GLAAD Award-winning Big Freedia and produced a documentary on Chaz Bono, called Becoming Chaz.
For its part, Logo has disavowed Charles' statements during the podcast interview, telling BuzzFeed, "These comments did not come from Logo. We are committed to supporting the entire LGBT community and will not feature any anti-trans rhetoric on our shows.”