Thursday, May 22, 2014

On RuPaul And The Use Of Language

I've seriously tried to stay away from the fracas that has developed around RuPaul's use of the word "Tranny" (and a couple of other terms which I think are both denigrating and offensive to transitioning transsexuals that I will not repeat here because they are straight out of the fantasy world of pornography).

However, after his latest outburst, I cannot remain silent on the subject any longer.

RuPaul is giving the entire drag community a bad name as far as the rest of the Trans* community is concerned.

Here's why.  Drag is seen as performance art first and foremost.  In that context, I can respect the fact that the use of certain slang in that community is going to be over the top.  Heck, in the context of his show, I don't even get terribly upset about it.

The problem is that the term "tranny" is seen by many who are transition bound as an epithet.  Most MtF transsexuals view themselves as women, or possibly "trans-women" for those who acknowledge their past.  Terms like "tranny" come out of the pornography world and promote objectification of trans women and their bodies.

Women have fought for years against being treated as objects.  Transsexual women fight a dual battle on this front.  Not only do they face the casual objectification that most women experience in their daily lives, but they also find themselves subjected to a great deal of sexual objectification as a result of their personal history.  It should come as no surprise that the Trans* women are up in arms over RuPaul's repeated outbursts.

The irritation arises from a perceived disrespect.  The community has been clear many times in the past that it does not like the language of "Tranny" (or other words), and RuPaul in particular keeps on using it in very public contexts.  Perhaps in the land of Drag the language used is perfectly acceptable.  That doesn't mean in a public context the terms are understood as having the same meaning or that they don't apply to other parts of the "transgender community".

RuPaul's "take a chill pill" response to the trans* community is unfortunately the wrong response.  It just serves to inflame tensions.  I've seen a lot of trans women point out that Drag Queens don't live it 24/7, and therefore don't have any right to use language that is so offensive to them.  To some degree they are right - RuPaul seems to have lost sight of the fact that his language is reflecting on more than just his show.

I'm not at all sure how RuPaul would react to the use of the racist "n-word" by a bunch of white people, or the "f-word" by straight people.  There are certainly parallels to be considered.  Out of respect, people of caucasian descent don't use the "n-word", especially not in public settings.  It would be nice if RuPaul would apply the same rule to his own choice of language where it overlaps with other populations in the trans* community who object to it.

[Update 28/5/14]
... and the poison spills forth from the participants of RuPaul's show.

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