I’m getting old. I can’t stand going to clubs anymore — the idea of being sandwiched between a sweaty bear who smells like the Marlboro Man’s mustache and a shirtless twink getting glitter all over me isn’t fun. Clubs are loud, you can’t talk, and my doctor just put me on blood pressure medicine. I can’t stop the breakdown of my body, but fear my mind deteriorating the most. That’s why I try to keep my brain occupied with news, books, and learning new things. I fear being out of touch with society more than I fear having to use a walker. That’s why watching older people these days fail so miserably to keep up and adapt to the times is so painful, especially when they used to be change leaders like RuPaul.
Poor Ru. I remember seeing him for the first time on an HBO Real Sex episode back in ’91 (Please don’t tell my parents I was watching this stuff after bedtime). There was the “Supermodel” era, a few years before the talk show on VH1, when all the magazine stories, movies, and guest appearances were starting up. RuPaul has honestly been around through my entire queer awakening and existence. Only a bitter fool or an idiot would deny the influence and (no pun intended) transgressivness he has had in our society and how much he’s helped with LGBTQ acceptance. It just amazes me that someone who can push so hard to change minds and demand acceptance can be, well, just so goddamn stubborn and stuck in their ways.
By now you’ve heard about the interview with The Guardian, where he said that he would not allow a trans woman already in transition to be on the show. I mean, sure, it’s his show, his rules, but the explanations and defenses of that stance are just so, blah. In a tweet, RuPaul compared transitioning and doing drag to being a doped-up Russian athlete, as if it’s a form of cheating. Yeah, hormones may have given me a decent rack and a pair of thick thighs, but that don’t mean I can suddenly do a death drop without breaking a hip. I mean, that’s just a stupid take, much less a sort of transphobic one. When someone suggested I do drag because I looked like Reba McEntire (about 50 pounds ago), I quipped, “I’ve seen myself in a red dress; Fancy’s gonna let you down.”
Back in 2014, when Ru got in trouble for calling people “tranny” and used the term “Shemail” in Drag Race segments, I explained it away as a generational gap. In my experiences, that word was used by everyone in the LGBTQ community — not in a derogatory way most of the time, but as a mere descriptor, as in “My friend Amanda is a tranny.” Of course, as the transgender rights movement picked up steam and a new generation of trans people stepped forward to fight for their rights, they disowned the word and saw it as derogatory. Words change all the time, and what was a common and accepted descriptor can be seen as derogatory. I grew up in Mississippi and remember lots of old people who even in the '90s would call black people “coloreds” and “Negroes,” not necessarily as an intentional slur. So I understood how RuPaul could have fallen behind the times.
Now, though, it seems like RuPaul is not merely falling out of touch with the community but is sticking to old stereotypes, and God, I really hate to say it, might be a bit transphobic. As someone who came up in the club scene of the '80s and '90s, there’s no way that he could be unaware of the role that drag played in a lot of trans women’s lives. For so many trans people, drag was the acceptable, nonsexual way to let down their masculine facade and embrace the woman they knew they were. Many unfortunately could never get through the gateway that drag was, but many did, such as Candis Cayne. The crazy thing about that fact is that Candis and RuPaul know each other from their days of playing the same New York City drag shows, and movies like Wigstock, To Wong Foo, and even RuPaul's own movie, Starrbooty, and was a judge and instructor on the short-lived Drag U. At this point they’ve worked together for almost 30 years!
Maybe RuPaul is being some sort of drag purist, because he also isn’t allowing drag kings on the show either, yet he’s fine with some of the queens on his show getting some injections and cosmetic work done, but apparently hormones, implants, and surgeries are just a bridge too far for him. There’s no performance enhancement to drag that comes from hormones and a boob job. There’s absolutely no fucking way I could dance like that; I still can’t do winged eyeliner, and my hair is about two knots and a leaf stuck in it away from being crazy cat lady hair. In that Guardian interview, he said that “once you start changing your body … it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.” No, it doesn’t. It’s never been that way in the entire history of drag, and he damn well knows it. Maybe it’s changing the concept of his show, but with his show essentially becoming the World Series of drag, a staple of LGBTQ culture, and part of its engagement with society as a whole, it needs to represent that.
With the number of Drag Race contestants who have gone on to transition, the history of drag as a gateway to transition for many, and RuPaul’s own friendships, this prohibition on trans women absolutely makes no fucking sense whatsoever. Perhaps it’s some weird obsession with a “pure” form of drag for him, which just makes him seem like the worst type of bitchy drag diva. I hope it’s not transphobia, because it would just suck that such an LGBTQ icon was prejudiced.
On Monday, RuPaul tried to apologize (while at the same time making the doping comparison) by saying he understood the hurt he caused and said he tries to set aside old convictions and learn new things. Yeah, I appreciate that sentiment, but I’ve already learned in my wizened old age that it’s not just that you keep an open mind and learn and experience new things, but to adapt to them. It keeps you relevant, engaged, and part of life. Becoming a curmudgeon by sticking to a warped nostalgia for the old days and refusing to listen to the people you mentored along the way just makes you a stubborn old fart. RuPaul should listen to the youngsters and adapt to change lest he get told by the new breed to sashay away.
AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based comedian and regular contributor to The Advocate.Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.