1. A many-sided debate
It’s been almost two weeks since the publication of our open letter regarding Calpernia Addams and Andrea James, and I feel it’s had quite a useful impact. My goal in this was to present a loud, powerful, and broad-based protest against what would otherwise be unopposed transphobia by two women who are perceived as community “leaders”. And this chorus of opposition consists of none other than those most affected by this: trans women and transfeminine people ourselves.
I’m very pleased that this has helped to force a long-simmering and much-needed conversation about the continuing tensions between trans women, drag queens, and the cis people who mistakenly conflate these two groups. That conversation has since elicited a variety of reactions:
- RuPaul’s Drag Race agreed to discontinue using the word “shemale”, as previously featured in their “Female or Shemale” and “You’ve Got She-Mail” segments. RuPaul himself later made numerous references to George Orwell and Animal Farm.
- Andrea James suggested that her own attendance at the GLAAD Media Awards was more important than the dissenting views of hundreds of other trans women, promptly made friends with Cathy Brennan and praised her for “speaking up for what you believe in”, and then touted the number of Facebook likes received by an article defending the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by drag queens. (For reference, the number of signatories to our letter currently stands at 389 trans women. This is roughly 1 out of every 900 trans women living in the United States, and approximately the number of trans women you would expect to find in a city the size of Buffalo, New York – est. population 259,384. But I don’t believe it’s especially difficult to get thousands of likes from cis people who want to be told it’s okay to say “tranny”.)
- Calpernia Addams wrote an op-ed describing trans women who object to transmisogynist slurs as “conservative” and “producing nothing themselves”, while criticizing the word “cisgender” as “weaponized terminology”; she also bragged of her superior social media reach. (I should note that our letter’s signatories included politicians, attorneys, GLAAD board members, leaders of numerous trans organizations, veterans and active duty servicemembers, and authors of LGBT policies for the executive branch. I’d further add that Calpernia’s social reach isn’t much to brag about.)
- Former Drag Race contestant Alaska Thunderfuck produced a graphic video in which he appeared to shoot and kill a trans woman (caricatured as having a wig and mustache) for objecting to certain language used by drag queens. Andrea James called this “perfect”. While the Huffington Post initially publicized this video, they later took it down and acknowledged that it was “patently offensive to many people”. One trans man decided to stop writing for the Huffington Post due to their publication of the video.
2. The impact so far
If there had been any doubt that James, Addams, and many names connected to Drag Race are overtly hostile toward trans women who disagree with them, they seem to be doing their best to dispel any traces of that doubt. It was already difficult to believe that any of them truly had the interests of trans women at heart, and now it’s practically impossible.
Even as James herself seemed to take credit for reaching out to Drag Race and asking them to stop saying “shemale”, she didn’t seem particularly apologetic for attacking hundreds of trans women who sought the same thing, or for cozying up to Cathy Brennan (someone who has directly contacted trans women’s doctors and attempted to interfere with their medical treatment). And when a Drag Race contestant’s response to all this is a symbolic murder of trans women who simply dislike slurs such as “tranny”, it’s pretty clear that productive discourse isn’t what they’re going for.
I never had much hope that our letter would persuade James or Addams that they had acted inappropriately – this seemed unlikely. More than anything, I felt that this was a display for the benefit of others, primarily cis people. Cis-run major news outlets might choose to amplify the voices of one or two select trans women – I’m looking at you, Boing Boing – and in doing so, give their cis audiences the impression that these women can speak for all trans women. What they might not have realized is that beyond this handful of cis-approved big names, there are hundreds and hundreds of everyday trans women from all walks of life who find these particular individuals to be unrepresentative of their own views.
Trans women are far more numerous and diverse, more dignified and accomplished, than two “leaders” who are content to tell cis people that anti-trans slurs are really just some kind of meaningful and subversive artform. Inducing James, Addams, and Thunderfuck to escalate their aggressive prejudice to a point that almost anyone would find unacceptable, in contrast to our own humanizing and well-articulated objections, may have actually been the best thing we could’ve asked for.
3. Competing meanings of “transgender”
What did stand out among all this was a more nuanced critique by Will of Queereka, who examined the history and limits of the word “transgender”, and thankfully didn’t feel the need to express this via the visual metaphor of shooting anyone in the face. That’s definitely something I can appreciate after the past couple of weeks.
Will first explores one conception of “transgender” as a broader, umbrella-like term. He cites Susan Stryker’s definition of the word as more generally “the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place”, as well as the National Center for Transgender Equality’s definition, “people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth”.
Working from these definitions, he notes that drag performers could potentially be considered transgender, and observes that drag and transness were historically not treated as distinct categories of identity. He contrasts this with a contemporary usage of “transgender” that’s more constrained:
Another view of “transgender”—and one that seems to be a historically recent narrowing of the broad umbrella term usage—is a person who lives their everyday lives as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth. … Clearly drag queens are excluded from the category “transgender” in Jones’ usage due to the fact that most drag queens do not try to live out their daily lives presenting as women.
Finally, he frames these differing usages as a battlefield of the competing interests of assimilation or liberation, which he describes as follows:
In many ways, this divide reminds me of the same sorts of liberationist vs. assimilationist arguments in the gay and lesbian communities that were especially tense in the 1970s and 1980s. I can’t help but think that some of the more outlandish responses (such as the person calling for the “delegitimizing” of drag on Zinnia Jones’ petition) have come from people who may be classified as assimilationist, or seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of “transgender.” And some of the responses from people like Our Lady J could be seen as more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language.
4. The umbrella that lets in the rain
I’ve never really been a fan of the so-called “transgender umbrella”, and I’ve had some pretty annoying experiences with it that have helped illuminate its shortcomings. Years ago, before I considered myself to be trans at all, I was often faced with people who watched my YouTube videos and assumed that I must be trans. At the time, I made sure to clarify that I didn’t see myself as trans – not because I felt there was anything bad about being seen as trans, or because I saw this as some kind of affront to my identity, but simply because I didn’t want others to think that I could speak for trans people.
Back then, I didn’t feel that my identity or my experiences were similar enough to trans people that I could legitimately speak as one of them, rather than just doing my best to advocate on their behalf. Clearly my situation has changed since then, but if it hadn’t, I would still hold that to be true. No, really – I used to talk about “passing” with no critical analysis, utilized cliché soundbites like “comfortable in their bodies”, and generally had an oversimplified, cis-like concept of transness rather than the kind of deep understanding that comes from experience. Yet after I explained that I didn’t regard myself as trans, something interesting (and obnoxious) happened: people started telling me I was wrong.
The inclusion of those descriptions really made me question the value of such an expansive definition. Masculine women, feminine men – masculine or feminine by what metric? Are butch, female-assigned, female-identifying lesbians now transgender? How do you define “butch”? Are women who wear pants transgender, too? Can people only be considered cisgender if they adhere to the 1950s-era stereotypical gender roles and presentations of their assigned sex, with anyone else falling outside of cisness even if they identify fully and exclusively with their assigned sex?
Obviously this definition was broad enough to include me even years before I thought of myself as trans. But could it actually mean anything useful? Someone just deciding to classify me as “transgender” did nothing to persuade me-of-2011 that my experiences were anything like those of people who considered themselves a gender other than the one expected of them, or lived as another gender in everyday life, or altered their bodies to reflect this.
At that time, I wouldn’t have been comfortable walking up to such a person and saying “hey, I’m transgender too!” It would have felt incredibly presumptuous, and I’d fully expect them to tell me that I know nothing about what being trans is like for them – because, back then, I didn’t. Switching labels around isn’t the same thing as actually changing the substance of what’s being referred to. Today, my own placement within all of this may have shifted, but my assessment of the situation has not. As it turns out, now that I’m rather firmly trans, I do indeed find it presumptuous and just plain inaccurate when people such as cisgender male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside someone like me.
Anyone is free to cobble together such umbrella definitions in whatever combinations they like, but that doesn’t mean these definitions will provide clarity rather than just more confusion. Insisting on clumping such disparate groups together, and referring to them with the same term, means emphasizing their similarities while also disregarding their differences. When those differences are substantial and relevant, and have widely varying implications for the everyday lives of these distinct groups, glossing over this can be a disservice to everyone – both the many groups who are now seen as fused into a single mass, and the people on the outside who are trying to understand who and what we are.
5. What is gender expression?
“Gender identity, expression or behavior”, as used by the National Center for Transgender Equality, is an ambiguous concept. A gender-related expression, such as dressing in drag for the purpose of a performance, is not necessarily the same as an expression of a person’s gender. Choosing to enact a gendered expression, especially when this is temporary and for entertainment, doesn’t mean that this expression actually reflects some facet of their gender. It may not be an instance of their gender expressing itself at all.
When Jared Leto played the transgender character Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, or when Lee Pace played Calpernia Addams in Soldier’s Girl, these were certainly a kind of gender expression. But that doesn’t make this an expression of Jared Leto’s or Lee Pace’s gender. Identifying as female is not a part of Leto’s or Pace’s gender – they appear to identify as male, consistently and exclusively.
One might respond that they are actors, and that they represent a special case, as it is their job to play a variety of roles that do not at all reflect on who they are. I would agree with that, and I would further argue that this also encompasses cisgender male drag queens. They likewise devote themselves to playing a role, and regardless of the visibly gendered and exaggeratedly feminine aspects of that role, this does not necessarily mean that their gender must be anything other than male. Drag may be a “gender expression”, but that doesn’t make it an expression of that person’s gender.
I’ve had some experience with this general concept, although I’ve never been involved in any sort of drag culture or performance. When I was 9, I volunteered to be dressed up in a wig, makeup, and a girly shirt with balloons stuffed in it, because some organizers wanted this to be a part of a school pep rally. Sure, this was a gendered expression, but was it an expression of my own gender? I didn’t think so – afterward, I was content to go back to my regular outfit for the next decade or so. (I never really gave much thought to the subject of my gender until my 20s.)
Later, on YouTube, I’d sometimes wear a full-length red leather coat and feather boa for my videos – or for surprise interviews of Westboro protesters. Was that an expression of my gender? Not really, it was more of an expression of wanting to irritate homophobes and fundamentalists. Now that I’ve transitioned, I think I have a pretty good idea of how I express my gender as a woman – and it’s not like that.
Will does have a point when he notes that some trans women initially discover their gender through participation in drag. (To clarify, the reference to cis male drag queens in the open letter was not intended to imply that all drag queens are cis men, but only to specify those drag queens who are cis men.) My own creative explorations of gender expression certainly helped me learn more about myself, and cleared a path to my eventual decision to transition. But performing as a drag queen, and simply existing as a trans woman, are still very different things. For example, here’s a drag queen, Courtney Act from Drag Race, in and out of drag:
And here’s a trans woman, in and out of her everyday attire:
Can you think of any reasons why trans women might not want to be confused with drag queens?
6. This confusion is intentional, and harmful by design
If a cis person is told that drag queens are “transgender”, what are they going to think of me when I tell them I’m transgender? This is a situation where collapsing these very different phenomena into one word directly affects me in a way that’s more than just theoretical or philosophical. Will they take this as meaning that the entirety of my appearance is just an elaborate artifice – a fragile shell that falls away the moment my clothes come off? That, underneath, I’m still just another cis guy like Courtney Act?
This is a common misconception, and it’s been exploited by conservatives and other transphobes in their campaigns against basic nondiscrimination protections for trans women. Their strategy is to depict us as dangerous, predatory “men in dresses”.
- The Family Institute of Connecticut, in opposing one such bill, described trans women as “men that dress as women” and “men – sexually attracted to women (with all the aggression and physical strength of men)”.
- A Republican delegate in Maryland voiced her disapproval of a similar bill, saying “if you happen to see a guy in a dress in the restaurant bathroom, you’ll know the bill passed and that I voted NO!”
- Fox News reporter Todd Starnes has raised the spectre of “big burly men in dresses” using the women’s restroom.
- Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government previously protested a bill that they claimed would “allow cross-dressing but biological males in your daughter’s school locker room.”
- Activist Peter LaBarbera has likewise asked “whether federal female employees will be protected from transsexual men wearing dresses who demand to use ladies’ restrooms”.
- The Traditional Values Coalition and the Family Research Council have used images of drag queens in their publications opposing hate crime and employment protections for trans people.
It’s a long-running trope that’s guaranteed to be trotted out whenever trans people might obtain some measure of legal protection. So does it really seem like such a good idea to go ahead and start using “transgender” to refer to people who actually are cis men in dresses?
And in the midst of all this, what stands out the most to me is that cis male drag queens are hardly affected by the politics of transphobia at all. They aren’t the ones confronted with the daily dilemma of which restroom is safest for them to use, if any. They don’t face the threat of possible arrest just for going to the public bathroom that aligns with their gender. They also don’t have to contend with the legal issues surrounding:
- Having our identifying documents updated to reflect our gender
- Having transition procedures covered by healthcare plans
- Being recognized and treated as our gender in schools
- Being recognized and treated as our gender in homeless and domestic violence shelters
- Being housed according to our gender in prisons
- Receiving necessary transition-related medical treatment in prisons
Drag queens and other cis people have the self-accorded luxury of trying to define drag queens into “transgender”, while they themselves never have to deal with the repercussions of this. They don’t have to worry about how to get an accurate ID that doesn’t out them, or if they’ll still get their hormones if they’re ever imprisoned, or whether they’ll be placed with the wrong gender in a homeless shelter.
They have nothing at stake here – and meanwhile, trans people are the ones who pay the price for cis male drag queens’ willing embrace of the toxic confusion sown by transphobes. If cis male drag queens are defined as “transgender” alongside us, then their experience of being “transgender” still bears very little resemblance to ours. And if this umbrella concept is promoted to cis people as the definition of “transgender”, then it becomes all the more understandable that they would question why actual men should be allowed to change the gender on their ID, or be placed with women in prisons, or use women’s restrooms.
7. Selling assimilation as “liberation”
So, what of Will’s contention that trans women who take issue with certain aspects of drag are “assimilationist” and “seeking to integrate trans* people into heteronormative society through normalization of ‘transgender’”, while those who’ve recently defended these elements of drag are “more liberationist with their calls for unfettered freedom for people to identify however they wish and use language however they wish without regard to the potential harm caused by such language”? I’d posit that this is almost perfectly backwards. There is nothing “liberationist” about harming trans women – and encouraging and participating in such harm serves as a way for cis male drag queens and certain trans women to gain acceptance and assimilate into a society where harming trans women is already normalized.
If drag is to be grouped under “transgender”, then it is perhaps the safest, most unchallenging and non-confrontational element of that so-called umbrella. Drag is prepackaged entertainment with no serious commitment required of anyone involved. Cis men put on an outfit for a time, and when they’re done, they continue to be cis men and go back to their everyday lives – this temporary engagement, this lighthearted dabbling in extravagant costumes, has done nothing to change who they actually are. Other cis people are free to stay away from these nightclub acts in a part of town that they already avoid anyway; at worst, they get the opportunity to have their once-a-year whinefest about how some kids might see a drag queen in a parade.
Trans people, on the other hand, are not just safe entertainment. We do challenge deeply-held notions of the supposed permanence and immutability of gender and physical sex – we’re living proof that these fundamental aspects of who you are can indeed change. And we’re not hidden away in some corner of a bar, where cis people can easily avoid us. No, we’re everywhere. Cis people aren’t likely to encounter a drag act at their workplace, at their school, or at the grocery store. But they will encounter us. Cis people can always choose whether they want to go see a drag show or not; we don’t offer them such a choice. We ask for more. For this, we’re treated like garbage: harassed and attacked just for going outside, fired from our jobs and immediately rejected by potential employers the moment they see us, denied even basic medical care, endlessly mocked in all media, and then depicted as rapists when we just need to use the bathroom.
Who, here, seems to be most assimilated into cis society? And who seems to be most in need of liberating? Assimilation implies changing who you are in an attempt to make yourself more palatable to society, and Will suggests that some trans people would go about this by cutting drag performers out of the transgender “umbrella”. But for that to make any sense as a strategy, it would have to be the case that trans people have more social acceptance than drag performers do – that, in isolation, we as trans people would clearly be recognized by cis people as the “good ones”. This is clearly not so; if anything, society broadly considers us to be far worse.
Does that mean it would be more effective for us to assimilate by consciously aligning ourselves with drag performers? No – because we’re not trying to assimilate in the first place. The very reason we face such violent, pervasive hostility from society is because we won’t change who we are. Instead, we ask society to change, to accept us, and to stop hurting us. What we ask for is liberation.
What does actual assimilationism look like? It looks like Andrea James. It looks like Calpernia Addams. It looks like Alaska Thunderfuck. In fact, it looks quite a bit like Will’s idea of “liberationists”. Liberation implies being freed from some previous constraint or hardship. But when has there ever been a widespread taboo against cis people saying “tranny”? Who had been preventing them from speculating about whether a woman is a “shemale” for all this time? It’s not as if cis people are being “liberated” into a new era where they can suddenly feel free to throw around transmisogynist slurs whenever they please. They already do this.
This is an existing norm, and James and Addams are doing their best to assimilate into cis society by defending this norm. Much of James’ “activism” for trans women has been dedicated to the goal of being invisible at any cost – literally. Now, she publicly attacks any trans women who object to the use of “tranny” and “shemale” by cis people. This is assimilation: she’s showing cis people that she can be just like them, that she’ll never ask too much of them, that she’ll never protest their transphobia, and indeed she’ll join them in tearing down any other trans women who dare to speak out.
Calpernia Addams enables, facilitates, and then defends stereotypical depictions of trans women in major films, telling cis people that this is totally okay. After that, she mocks any “nutty trans hacktivists who had been ‘triggered’ by the buzz generated when Jared Leto thanked me in his Oscars acceptance speech”. She frames herself as one of the “good ones”, someone who’s safe for cis people and will give her stamp of approval to how they treat trans women – and if it comes down to it, she’ll side with them against trans women who demand to be respected.
Alaska Thunderfuck, a cis male drag queen, made a “humorous” video of himself shooting a trans woman in the head for disagreeing with him. In doing so, he’s symbolically putting trans women back in our proper place, and affirming to cis people that he’s capable of just as much enthusiastic violence against trans women – especially outspoken trans women – as any other cis person. Andrea James endorses this.
When asking for respect gets us nothing but another cis man joking about murdering trans women, don’t try to tell me that I’m for assimilation and he’s for liberation. What kind of liberation is that? Were cis men not doing that already?
Addams, James, and the drag queens they’ve aligned with are acting in the most assimilationist fashion imaginable. They’re the ones misguidedly chasing acceptance by choosing to tolerate slurs, and joining the chorus of cis people who don’t want to be told to stop calling us “shemales”. They’re changing who they are to be more palatable to cis society, but to do so, they have to try and silence us as well. For the sake of this false acceptance, they are the ones trying to cut us away so they can pursue cis approval, unhindered by our inconvenient insistence on our own humanity.
But we are not assimilationist for simply wanting to go about our lives without being insulted, attacked, cast out, treated like rapists, and seen as “men in dresses”. For that, we need liberation.
92 thoughts on “The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing of value”
From my initial read, this article is really bad ass and deserves a further, more thoughtful reading or two. This media situation is happening outside my sphere, so it’s mostly news to me and serious stuff. But for the moment, allow me to ask a silly question or two-
What level are ur boobies? Does it feel imbalanced to have two black mages and a Keanu in your party? And what kind of class abilities does a Keanu have? Is he a monk? He does know kung fu, after all. Hm.
Damn, you’re good. That’s a fantastic piece. I’m glad I get to read writers like you.
Damn you’re good.
A most excellent and articulated article
Suddenly I find myself wanting a black mage tattoo.
I’m not so sure that I agree with RuPaul. I believe that the pigs initially believed what they claimed to believe, but the position of power they ended up occupying drove them to evil.
That was really, really amazing. Thank you, Zinnia.
The sad thing is, there was a time when drag did not represent a conformist tool to the voices of cis queer assimilationists. Historically, drag once represented a highly visible challenge to heteronormativity and mainstream gender norms. Images of drag queens dancing upon floats during pride parades were once the go-to image which the news media and homophobic activists widely publish during the 90s (and in prior years) in order to portray homosexuality as a detestable, dangerously radical, and psychologically damaged subculture. The message was quite clear: not only were gay men sexually immoral but they also represented a threat to the male and female gender roles which form the very foundation of heteronormativity. A man who wishes to behave like a woman is clearly a damaged being and a dangerous one at that. Drag queens represented visible evidence attesting to the sheer perversity of “the homosexual lifestyle”.
Pride month inevitably sparked editorials penned by assimilationist gay men (and a few women) which called out drag queens and any other “outlandish” members of the queer community as representing a PR disaster for the gay community. Drag queens and anyone else who violated gender normativity in a public way were serving as unwitting weapons in the hands of anti-gay activists. Similar protests were registered against the leather community, the S&M community, and various others. Basically, the goal was to foster a conservative, “we’re just like straight people” facade to keep from frightening ma and pa America.
These tactics seem to have slowly faded over the past 15 years, and with it, the inevitable anti-drag editorials in queer publications. Nevertheless, I remember them well from the years that I was going through my own self discovery and transition as a trans woman.
It’s truly ironic that drag has come to represent an assimilationist force contrary to the interests of trans people. I remember a time when all of us—drag queens and trans people alike—scared the shit out of straight people and we were to be hidden away from view as so many “bastard stepchildren” who embarrassed assimilationist LGB people.
What an incredible article Zinnia ; I have to say , you certainly uncover the truth of the matter . As you rightly state , there are many offensive terms , ignorant attitudes & even the Transgender Umbrella wrongly includes “acting”…
Zinnia , you would have to be one of the best writers on the subject,,, you have my vote !!!
Zinnia, I’m sorry that what you’re saying here is being misinterpreted by so many. This is kind of a digression, by the way, but I’m glad that you brought up Andrea James’s near-obsessive promotion of FFS. I once saw her claim that “most” trans women supposedly “need” it in order to be perceived as women. I’ve been angry about the way she does that (and the way Lynn Conway used to do it, and the way some of the FFS surgeons themselves do it) for years, because of the way it promotes insecurity among vulnerable trans women early in transition, and causes them to think that in order to live as women, they have to spend $40,000. I’ve always believed that if 100 cis women sent their photos to these people, they’d tell 75% of them that they need FFS! If people really want it and think they need it, fine, and I know some women who really were helped by it, but I hate the way it gets pushed.
It’d be nice if the pushing for FFS ended up compelling insurance companies to cover it, though. I guess that’s kind of a pipe dream, though.
“Compelling” is a little troubling. Insurance companies are free agents, to compel them is unethical. Also, does this really fall under the gamut of insurance? FFS is used almost exclusively by people who are transgendered, inter-sexed or in some other way inherently prone to seek it. It is not something a customer has a certain probability of contracting. If your insurance covers a broken leg, it is because there is some point at which out-with your direct will, your leg might become broken. As FFS is elective, and can be had by anyone, is there not a risk that large numbers of people (possibly people in the employ of rival companies) would attempt to bankrupt insurance companies by signing up and requesting FFS?
Yeah I don’t give a shit about any of that.
Nor do I.
1. It is a sort-of elective treatment for a real disorder – if your body does not match the gender of your person, this is a way treating that disconnection. (Disclaimer: My wording here may be way off. Corrections welcome and probably necessary.)
2. Are you fucking kidding me?
2a. Insurance companies are full of BS anyway, what they will and won’t cover are games they play. The easy example is the tried, true, longstanding, and cheap pharmaceuticals the suddenly refuse to cover as being “exotic” when they can push something new and expensive. How does that work, when they would clearly being paying a larger dollar amount to cover the newer drugs?
2b. Free agents or not, there should be some ethical requirements as to what you must do and cannot do when providing products or services, depending on the service type/industry/sector.
Ugh, I get so confused over what the correct word to describe myself is. A decade ago, when I started transition, almost every trans woman and man I encountered shied away from the word “transgender” since it was so nonspecific and included things that had little in common with their experience. Then more recently, I was told up front by several trans women on Twitter that “transsexual” was outdated and hardly anyone used it in favour of “transgender” or “trans*”. And here, yet again, the ground seems to be shifting, nomenclature-wise.
I know that I shouldn’t get too hung up on lables, but I find words important when I try to communicate my experience in hopes that whoever I’m talking to might understand what I’m saying. But it’s tricky when, being a bear of little brain, I have trouble keeping track of them.
Awesome. Was thinking about this myself and you’ve hit most of the points that got me aggravated at the modern state of Drag. While the freedom of gender expression (within a designated space) might’ve been useful in the past, it seems more and more an avenue for typical cis shock entertainment. Shock entertainment that screws us over for the performer’s benefit. There are better ways for people to explore their own gender expression that don’t rely on making a spectacle of its existence.
While the points you make under #6 are valid and need to addressed for the safety of transpeople, the subtitle is simply false. The confusion is not deliberate, intention, or harmful by design.
RuPaul is your Queer Elder. Without his word, the transgender community would not have the power and acceptance it does today.
“Tranny” started out as a porn term. It is only the recent generation of privileged white TG women who have a problem with it, and define it is a slur. I see this as whorephobia. Tranny is not the word people who murder TG women use. It’s the word men who seek TG women as porn stars and prostitutes use. It is interesting that you say that the Drag community has nothing of value — people say that about porn and sex work as well.
Drag is both a celebration of, and mockery, of gender. All gender, cis and trans. It is a way to make us really consider how much it is a performance. It is not a bunch of gay cis men out to oppress TG women. That is a horrific, absurd characterization.
The black and sex working TG community has a lot more to worry about than words. And when they say this, they get attacked by comfortable white TG women. It really turns my stomach.
Sorry, some typos. This is a painful topic.
Should have said, “without his work”, not word.
My trans woman friend was beaten up by three cis men in February. One of the words they yelled at her was the t-word. My trans friends of color also prefer not to be called words like that. It is certainly not “only” a porn term, and it’s certainly not only white trans women who object to being labeled with it.
Also, mocking cis genders and trans genders are not equivalent actions because of the context and place in society of each category. If drag performers were only punching up we wouldn’t be having this discussion, would we?
What about mocking gender nonconforming AMAB people? Similar to trans women, they suffer from a remarkable degree of stigma, including violence and discrimination — yet they are classified by definition as cisgender. Not to mention, many gender nonconforming people are routinely erased even within the trans community, where trans women frequently denounce “men who like to play dress up” as an inferior or less-than-genuine facet of gender.
Even this article makes a point to characterizing gender nonconforming people as nothing more than “cis men in dresses”.
I was born in the 60s, as RuPaul was. So, he’s certainly not my elder.
His experience as a cis gay man is decidedly not the same experience as a trans woman, such as myself. Just because a cis man wears dresses and makeup on stage doesn’t make him an expert on trans people’s lives. It’s great that he once offered some degree of support to trans people but now, as a cis man, he has clearly moved past acceptable boundaries in using prejudicial language as a means of ridiculing women who don’t seem “cis enough” to be considered real women. He is capitalizing on cis prejudice to add elements of humor to his television show, and in doing so, he is inadvertently perpetuating the notion that trans women are ridiculous, sad men who are pretending to be something they can never be.
As others have mentioned, he is clearly punching down at those lower in the social hierarchy. If he, as a cis person, is going to use slurs and bigoted humor against trans people, I’m going to challenge that without apology. I don’t care about the support he once provided. He is effectively shitting upon his own legacy of queer activism.
Could you imagine the kind of response a straight television show host would receive if he jokingly referred to heterosexual men who didn’t seem “straight enough” as queens or fags? There would be no question as to how wrong this is.
So, you can try to use the past to manipulate the present but some of the “Queer Elders” know better.
By the way, when a man calls a woman a whore and she objects to it, she’s not manifesting whorephobia, she’s challenging the man’s misogyny. While there’s nothing wrong with people who support themselves via sex work, there is something very wrong with using the term whore to denigrate women. In doing so, the man is using negative associations with sex work to denigrate women. He is using one axis of oppression to reenforce an intersecting axis of oppression. Thus, it is he who is employing whorephobia as a tool in the sexist denigration of women.
When using words such as tranny or she-male, RuPaul, a cis man, is employing cis prejudice toward trans women as a means of getting a laugh. Objecting to that is not whorephobia. It’s an objection to RuPaul using cissexism as humor. The fact that words such as tranny also bring whorephobia into play makes his words even more despicable. Do you think it’s a coincidence that tranny elicits widespread snickers from cis people and is also associated with sex workers? Especially when one of cis people’s stereotypes regarding trans women is that we tend to be sex workers?
One could say that transphobia itself is interlinked with whorepobia. Given that cissexism and transphobia lead so many trans women into chronic unemployment, sex work becomes one of the few means of support available. Thus, this provides cis people with an opportunity to further marginalize trans women via the negative attitudes society holds toward sex workers.
Objecting to a slur is not the same as endorsing the societal prejudices that make the word as a slur. Quite the contrary, they are an objection to the underlying prejudices themselves.
Why aren’t *you* objecting to RuPaul using language that clearly references underlying prejudices?
One more thing, and this is something that I’ve seen far too few point out. When a man holds a contest with the objective of judging women’s expressions of femininity as acceptable vs. fake, that’s old school misogyny. Men have appointed themselves as arbiters of women’s behavior for millennia. It doesn’t matter if the man doing the judging is gay or is judged as feminine by straight culture, he’s still being a sexist ass who is providing yet avenue for enforcing gender normativity upon women.
RuPaul’s methods of “critiquing gender” are a bunch of misogynist bullshit.
Here’s what Fallon Fox, who is not a privileged white woman, has to say on the subject:
And here’s what Monica Roberts, who is also not a privileged white woman, has to say on the subject:
These are just two that I knew off the top of my head. So maybe you should stop trying to use women of color as rhetorical points since you’re not actually listening to them, hmm?
Really?! “Tranny is not the word people who murder TG women use. It’s the word men who seek TG women as porn stars and prostitutes use.”
My girlfriend is a mild-mannered school teacher, and she got an anonymous letter in her school mailbox that read, “We shoot trannies”. When a parent was angry because their student received an “unacceptable” grade (for unacceptable work, I assure you), she came into the school and screamed in public that the teacher was a “lying, pedophile tranny” (which is slander, but the school never investigated the death threat so you can be sure they didn’t concern themselves with slander). When my girlfriend started leading a gay-straight alliance in order to help all gender and sexuality minority students at the school, a pair of young gay men said openly, “we were going to join, until we found out the tranny was going to be there.”
So yeah, the word is commonly used by people, gay and straight, to threaten and degrade trans women, even the meekest professional trans women.
Ah, it’s the word that men who objectify and fetishize trans women use for them. Well in that case, go right ahead, sounds fantastic. We should start calling all women by the terms used for them in porn! I’ll have to start calling Black women “ebony hos” and Latina women “spicy bitches” and so on. Every woman is now a horny slut who’s begging for it!
Sorry, I don’t agree with you Spider; Drag maybe queer but it has little to do with helping MtF Transgender issues; please note; Corinth is in the real world . Persons such as RuPaul are a catalyst for many misconceptions and the mania in society . It maybe true ; that most Drag Queens don’t deliberately plan to cause harm to Trans women however , many do considerable damage as a CONSEQUENCE in presenting their TV or Stage acts …
Yes , Drag often destroys what should be a serious debate in Society ; it adds to the ignorance & disrespect in relation to understanding Trans women . What makes it worse , is when it’s badly bent for monetary reasons…
This is an interesting and thought provoking article.
I enjoyed your message and the courage with which you speak on the issues that are near and dear to you. I think the problems I have witnessed come from an inability to listen to each other and hear what may hurt another person. An example: If a person in the 1950’s used the word Negro it was never brought to his or her attention how hurtful this term might be to another person and it went on for years. When someone tells you outright that a term you are using to describe them is hurtful or misleading this where you make the choice to be respectful or hurtful to another individual.
I am in the process of changing my physical appearance of my body from male which is what was on my birth certificate to female which is how I have viewed myself my entire life. I will admit the term she-male offends me and makes me feel as if I were some type of porn star which for me is very degrading. I also agree that using the restroom can have life and death consequences as I have been hit and beaten years ago for being forced to use the male restroom when presenting as female. This is something that performance artists do not truly understand unless this has happened to them on a routine basis.
So before I attempt to make a response as long as your detailed and passionate essay let me just say it is about honest communication and respecting the feelings of another human being. When comics learned that the word “nigger” caused people that were African American to burst into tears or to become emotionally distraught most responsible people never used the term again even in jest. Why? because it hurt someone else and if we really care about people we listen and respond to their genuine concerns and feelings. I just want to live. I have no burning agenda, but I will agree with you I don’t want to make grocery shopping a major event in my life. I don’t feel the need to have to be attacked just for living. I am a good person and just want to be judged on the content of my character and not the fact that my existence goes against your view of gender expression as a way of my very being.
Well I am going to run, but this was thoughtful and I am glad that my friend passed this along. I wish the best in your endeavors.
1) Great article.
2) “C#@hy Br%#$*n” is a vile slur on humanity and its use, either spoken or in print, is offensive.
[…] ever-awesome Zinnia Jones continues to call out assimilationist transmisogyny with facts, truth, and interesting censor […]
There are many ‘drag queens’ who happen to be transgender. Sadly, they (drag queens) are no longer just men to transform themselves into women for entertainment purposes only, many transsexuals are performing as well.
I for one, wish it were reserved for REAL drag queens, no trans women that are living full time as women. That is where the confusion can be derived from, because the profession is blurred now.
This. There are also trans men who perform as drag kings. Choosing to perform in drag is a separate matter from everyday gender expression. Often the two expressions of gender are very different; the drag performance is far more extreme and exaggerated.
The show RPDR had a rule that trans women could not be involved for quite a few seasons of the show. IIRC trans women spoke up and got that rule thrown out, as many of them enjoy preforming in drag.
Brava, Zinnia! That is one bold stance — letting it ALL hang out.
While I won’t be THAT brave, please add my name to your signatories. I am Dawn Ennis and I stand with my sisters (and brothers)!
I wish it was a “Human Umbrella.”
I suspect it isn’t “modern-day drag” that is hurting Trans women so much (though any individual can make things worse), as it is a society, hopefully changing, that is hurting all LGBT people. It isn’t the first time that changes in society has caused infighting between the oppressed. You can’t spend that much time at the bottom without the urge to climb up on the shoulders of others. That’s not to say you have to take it without fighting back. Only that it is such a waste …
Replace “drag” with cross dresser and you’ll still have many people arguing for exclusion – because cross dressing isn’t the same as being transgender.
But then read the NTDS survey and you’ll see 56% of self-identified cross dressers would like to transition down the road.
The umbrella exists because not everyone uses the same language, and because people will move from one group to another over time – people in those groups will be left out and potentially harmed by separatist/exclusionary definitions of “transgender”
This is certainly true… but does someone get lumped in as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual if they don’t self-identify that way (or, at least, *should* they be, assuming we discount the issue of bisexual erasure)? No.
When someone begins to identify as transgender, by all means they should be allowed to… but automatically including (e.g.) any man that puts on a dress, whether it’s for money or sexual gratification, as transgender is not only problematic, it’s disingenuous.
Until such a time as someone actually claims that this is part of their gender identity, and not just a job or sexual fetish, it’s rude to force it on them, and it adds confusion of the masses about those for which is IS their identity.
How did you go from crossdresser to “a man that puts on a dress for sexual gratification”? I think you are conflating transvestic fetishism with crossdressing. Crossdressing is a blanket term for the wearing of clothing that is stereotypically associated with the opposite gender. It is not a paraphilia, nor does it imply any specific motive.
Gender nonconforming AMAB people (whose gender presentation visibly defies societal expectations) frequently suffer from the same transphobic violence and discrimination as that of trans women. These statistics are confirmed by the NTDS survey. To deny people who crossdress on a day-to-day basis the same rights and protections as transgender people is an affront to their dignity as human beings.
Thank you for writing this. It is well-thought out and beautifully written. As the mother of a 22 year old transwoman it means a lot to me to have such an articulate response to this controversy put out there. I do not typically write responses to things I read on line but your post is just so excellent I have to say again – THANK YOU!
For myself…Your article hits home in my own personal story. As a Transsexual since age 12, I’ve never consider wanting to perform on stage as a Drag Queen. I am not a Drag Queen and that is a personal reason I’ve chosen so others don’t label me as one. No offense to those that choose to do drag, that’s there choice. My path to pursue a fulltime life as a trans woman has been a life’s journey just like most trans women. While Drag Queens seem to be glorified and accepted by the mainstream, we as transsexual women on the other hand, are misunderstood, discrimnated in our everyday lives, considered easy sexual targets and approached by a lot of men as though are main function and main reasons are to attract men, and finally we’re hated and even murdered for trying to live an authentic life we so desparately strive for our entire life. I’ve seen many headliner type drag artist and touring stage performances thoughout my life and one thing stands out to me which supports this articles views, that as mainstream knows quite well the entertainer or certain theater performance, encompasses drag as entertainment even before seeing the show, especially since they pursued seeing the show for mere laughs and personal entertainment, I’ve noticed throughout the years, my attending these same performances as a trans woman, seems really baffeling to many audiences I’ve come across. Which really baffles me, because I’m there in the audience for the entertainment value of the show too. Our lifes are real while drag queens are not. My entire world is my stage and I will continue to be visible in that regard as to hopefully someday gain the respect and dignity we as trans women long for…Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.
I’m not sure my thought are completely coherent on this topic yet, but I’ve had the conflict between second and third wave feminism in mind. The difference in how people see drag has also been highlighted, it’s got me thinking.
The key in my thinking is the difference between identity and performance. If it were an authentic expression of self that resulted in what we might describe as a out-sized caricature of femininity, I don’t think I would have a problem with it. Even if such expression were transient in nature, if it wasn’t just performance, I think I’d be comfortable describing them as transgender generally.
The problem is that I don’t see Drag, as represented on RuPaul’s show and elsewhere, as an expression of identity. It could be art, and an expression, but not one of identity. It’s an expression of an assumed identity.
It may well have been more fuzzy in the past, with the overlap between drag and trans being rather large, but now I think the two have grown apart. Sure, transwoman can participate in drag, but I think they would still be performing.
Am I wrong about this? I’d be curious to hear from drag performers talk about how much of their authentic self-expression is wrapped up in drag.
As a trans woman with few friends that are “in the community” so to speak and who never really has been an active participant in it (I spent the first 25 years of my life in a rural area and now have my own family in a rural area) I find the notion completely insulting and bizarre that I need to show respect to cisgender men dressing up as women for fun and entertainment and shitting all over my identity or why I need to show respect for people who say just as terrible things or worse in their defense even when they are transgender themselves. I don’t care what supposedly did for people like me in the past you don’t get a free pass for that or one because you’ve always said terrible things so why should anyone be mad now?. You are not my friends and you are not my allies. You are actively working against people like me. I have nothing but contempt for you.
“I don’t want to be associated with drag queens therefore they should stop existing.” You seriously need to rethink that. Does it not matter that drag queens have historically been abused and killed for their transgressions against the status quo, as well? That they’ve helped fight for the rights you have today? Do you really think that now that you have them, you can just demand they step down and go away??
“I don’t want to be associated with drag queens therefore they should stop existing.” Who are you pointing the finger at? There a few saying things like that but don’t imply it’s all of us.
And, as I said before whatever it is that has happened it the past does not give anyone a free pass to make victims of others.
I just realized I misread part of this article. On the bright side, hurray! People aren’t as terrible as I thought! However, I am humiliated forever. Please throw heavy things at my stupid head.
I also want to make it clear as well that I personally don’t have anything against drag in general. I have friends that dress in drag both cisgender and queergender. I’ve dressed in drag before I transitioned. I know what drag artists and performers have done and been victim to. I’m not ignorant of the history. It breaks my heart. But I’m just getting really sick of people invoking the past to justify their or something else’s bigotry.
You left out an important detail, she shot someone…WITH A HAIRDRYER and sound effects. I find it totally ridiculous to mischaracterize the cartoon usage of a friggin hair dryer as a graphic violent video. You are misleading people.
So, because he didn’t actually murder someone for his video, it doesn’t symbolize anything? Try again.
…and every movie on earth uses fake guns, fake bullets, fake blood, fake death. So, why is one fake less representative than the other?
It doesn’t matter if they just used their hand and made “pew pew” noises. They went to all the effort to add sound effects, a fake bullet hole, blood… so, tell us again that they weren’t trying to convey the idea of silencing someone by killing them. Please….
If someone had made the same video about POTUS, regardless of how real or fake looking it was, they’d have the secret service knocking on their door. Why? Because it’s a threat of violence.
I dunno I usually end up with lots of bullet holes in my head every time I use a blowdryer, doesn’t everyone?
Only when I forget to clear the chamber first…
I think your blow-dryer is broken. If the warranty is still valid, get it repaired. If not, consider a replacement, or use a towel.
Without the queens, today’s transfolk wouldn’t even exist in the mind of the public. Transvestites (yes, they were called TRANNIES) were taking a relentnless beating before most of you losers were even born, and now that they’ve created a future for you, you cuckoos think you can tell them how to run the show? Ridiculous to the nth degree.
They won’t go away. They will still be there when your 5 minutes of social justice fame are over.
BTW: Alaska Thunderfuck’s video was HILARIOUS.
Golly, a bright future where people consider me a full-time drag queen and call me a shemale! That sounds just so great, they really must have had our best interests at heart!
Trans women have been in it since the very beginning and it’s only now that gay men have a small measure of societal acceptance that they’ve decided to declare us outsiders and newcomers. Fuck that noise. If drag queens and other gay celebs can’t resist the urge to tell the public that trans women are just DQs that got surgery, they can expect to be fought on it every time.
BTW: Leaving aside the nasty intent and just looking at it on a purely comedic level, there wasn’t a single original joke in that stupid video so if you thought it was hilarious then you’ve got a weak-ass sense of humor. Even the “future” jokes were done better on Futurama and Doctor Who years ago.
Yea, except of course, noone actually does that. If you have to deliberately misrepresent other peoples’ humour, you know you have no point.
BTW “Fuck that noise” ? Really The very article we’re commenting under, smears Alaska’s video as “graphic”, and slimy turds like Tauriq Mosa propose that pointing a hairdryer at someone is “a threat of violence”. Not that he actually believes a single word of what he’s saying, no sane person would, but he’s riding the wave and it pays the bills. THAT is noise.
BTW2: If you don’t get slapstick, too bad.
No one actually does what? Considers trans women full-time drag queens and call them shemales? Call trans people outsiders and newcomers to LGBt? Tell cis audiences that trans women are drag queens? Uh, yeah, those actually do happen far too often (RuPaul himself directly said the last one though he’s not the first), so you appear to know even less about this subject than previously was apparent.
As for the rest, the video shows a bloody bullethole in the head, it’s not like the “hair dryer” made laser beam sounds and made her disappear; it made gun sounds and a bloody bullet wound appeared as she falls over. That’s graphically-shown death, despite the lack of detailed special effects, so it’s not a smear unless you just don’t know what the words involved mean. And I get slapstick, but insofar as this weak shit counts as slapstick it just wasn’t very original or funny. Alaska Thunderfuck is no Charlie Chaplin.
Where is the advantage in existing ‘in the mind of the public’ if the public mind has an entirely erroneous idea about who transgender people are?
That’s like saying that without the Black and White Minstrel show, today’s people of colour wouldn’t even exist in the mind of the public; it’s both false and suggests that it is a good thing if someone relies on false stereotypes, because it is better than the way things used to be. It might well be that things are better than they were, but they still aren’t good enough.
Trans women are being beaten up and murdered to this day, and some are being denied medical help to transition, based on not ‘performing’ femininity correctly. When the public perception of trans femininity is of a glamorous drag queen dressed up to the nines, nearly all cis women would fail that kind of comparison, so it is small wonder that trans women think that, far from being vital, modern-day drag is at the very least not helping the movement towards equality and in many cases is actually holding it back.
The show that they are running might well be self-serving; but no-one is asking them to go away, just to stop helping themselves by throwing other people under the bus.
I wish everyone would read your reply ” Tigger ” , that’s how it is in society ; performing drag is not beneficial to those living 24/7 with real transgender issues . When someone makes a Circus of it , the wrong perception of transgender persons is maintained in society , even worse , when it’s performed by a clown dressed in drag .
Our suicide rate is the highest for TG ; there are enough challenges without betrayal under our own umbrella .
Yes, the level of disrespect correlates with the level of Gender Dysphoria & what allows one to freely assimilate !
And also being denied medical help because people think being trans is just gay men in dresses and thus can be safely deemed “cosmetic” and unnecessary, giving insurance companies a nice out to deny us any treatment they deem as related to being trans. Drag queens encouraging this misconception does us real harm.
Something of a tangent:
If the idea of the “transgender umbrella” is a bad one, which I think Zinnia makes a good case for, how does one characterize people who don’t fit the gender norms, but don’t feel like they’re a in the body of a , either?
I’m ambivalent about whether I count as “transgender.” I would describe myself as a gender-variant male-bodied person who doesn’t identify with being male, but doesn’t feel all that female, either (too bad there isn’t a “none of the above” gender.) If you saw me the way I am most of the time, you’d probably characterize me as a “man in a dress,” since I don’t make any effort to pass as female.
I’ve had plenty of people insist I’m transgendered from my description. On the other hand, I get Zinnia’s point: if I change into what I think of as “male drag,” which I do every time I go to work, I pass for cis male. I’ve had virtually no problems going out as I am, aside from the odd double-take. I suspect that’s because though I’m a challenge to what people think is okay for men to wear, my presentation doesn’t really challenge the idea that there are exactly two immutable sexes. So I don’t face the problems that people face who are trying to live as and be seen as a member of the sex they were not assigned to at birth.
I don’t want to be appropriating other people’s experience, or claim an oppression I don’t actually face. Nor do I want to encourage people to make assumptions about who I am based on a label. On the other hand, it would be nice to have a word for people (sort of) like me, rather than having to write an essay every time to identify who I am.
There are some options for you: neutrois, agender, genderqueer/fluid, gender neutral, non-binary, etc, depending on the details.
I agree with you, these drag queens are just awful.
No, you don’t; because
isn’t what anyone is saying.
In the 60’s, many of the ‘drag queens’ were transsexuals as well as cis men. There was and still is, safety and freedom of expression for trans women within the gay community. Although you may ‘dislike’ by not identifying with drag queens, feminine expression is shared by them and us a women, whether via dysphoria or entertainment.
The real problem is ignorance within the gay community. For the most part, they do not understand us. I came out as trans from the gay community, and have educated the bars and people I love concerning the differences. I am now respected and loved as a ‘woman’, not a man in a dress. Some won’t get it, but that’s not the point. Respect will be earned via trans visibility. We don’t dress like drag queens…our make-up is very cis looking as we are or have assimilated to female living and lifestyle. We know this.
Just a reality check…when the rest of the world is looking in at us, most view us ALL, drag queen or transsexual alike, as men masquerading as women…in spite of our in-fighting and misunderstandings.
We need to educate so the ignorance won’t perpetuate and stereotypes will finally be dismissed…both within our communities and the rest of the world.
When I hear all these different opinions and arguments about “Labels” in the LGBT/Trans Community I feel like I’m in a resale shop looking for my size among hundreds of styles and sizes with all the tags removed. It confounds and confuses me to the point I just have to walk away from it all or my head will explode. If I find one thing that fits me and makes me feel good about myself, I’m happy and satisfied.
Other than that I really have no desire to analyze what I have found for myself.
We all need to recognize and respect the diversity that exists in our Community and not become so negative to it that it ruins your moment, your day, or your life. If that is happening to you then maybe you need more inner reflection of what is it that is within you that is causing your pain. I can only wish you love, happiness, and fulfillment in your own definition of who you are.
I am a real mtf ts from Vancouver bc. And I entirely
Agreed with zinia ideas snd idealogies. I can’t stand the
Umbrella lots of dudes wear make up. But does it make them tg?
After all its not like they actually have embraced womanhood and
In a positionn to be seen as a woman. Does a tv make transgender?
I get lots of flack from people when I tell them the truth.
Any wack job can be transgender but they can take off the make
Up and the clothes ans they are no longer what they seemed as.
Not me. I often wear a t-shirt and jeans but maybe my little breasts
Tapered thighs larger rounded ass and tummy along with very light
Feminine muscle tone really is obvious . Add in ny hair less soft as
Kitten skin and obvious feminine personalty and the differane becomes
Apparent. I’m not a dude…. I want to get back to the real start .
I am a transsexual . I have a bag of names such as mtf, ts, and one I
Agree with the most WOMAN. Some have even called me all kinds of names
When I calm them out with, yes you are so trans get diagnosed start hrt
Yes your so trans go to a straight bar ans survive , yes your so trans
But nothing like I am. I really don’t like dq that much so tscky.
Take a bus with me all done up. Lets see those womanly social skills
I posted this elsewhere in response to a blog post @ http://hacklikeagirl.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/a-letter-to-tng/ that I mostly liked but still felt the need to respond to. I thought my comment was relevant to post it here as well:
“I am a transgender woman who only starting “coming out” in 2012 and medically transition at the beginning of this year. I was born in the late 70′s so I’m not exactly sure what generation I fall in. My formative years up until age 25 were spent in the 1990′s growing up in a rural bible belt area in east coast Canada. Most of my years since then have been spent in conservative parts of Canada as well and I still live in a rural area because I am my family’s financial support and can’t afford not to. I now live about an hour or so outside of a city with one of the most robust trans communities there is (Vancouver, BC) but when you are eating Mr. Noodles and your car’s muffler is tied on with speaker cables because your child grew and inch in two weeks and needs a whole new set of clothes (and we pretty much only shop at thrift shops) the cost of travel limits my options.
I guess my point is I am in my mid-thirties and never have been part of any community. I grew up where even gay men were pretty much non-existent. I knew of one person in my graduating class who came out just before graduation and got punched in the face for it. My recollection is that the puncher got almost no punishment. I felt alone and like I had no one. There was no narrative for me to put myself into. I felt “like a girl” as long as I could remember but I wasn’t girly enough so to speak. And well, I liked girls. I knew about drag queens from talk shows on television but I didn’t relate. Still people could tell I was different. At school I think I got called f** more often than my own name even by my friends. And I always received comments about acting so “girly”. Over those years I wanted to kill myself and came close to it. I’m not sure what stopped me but still I retreated into myself and I’m a am still trying to navigate out. I never found a community or place of comfort other than a few friends and girlfriends and eventually a wife who accepted me as damaged, alone, confused and resentful of my gender role and I accepted her though she has a disability that meant I would be the sole financial support in our family. We had a child but still, I was depressed and I knew why and at the same time I didn’t.
Ironically it was my young child that started me down my path to my true self. From the moment they had ways of expressing themselves to my wife and I we could tell that they were not “typical” in their gender expression. My wife and I tried never to be discouraging but felt pressure from others. As things progressed and we bumped heads with others I researched more. We contacted doctors to express our concerns (not with our child directly but how to deal with how others treat them). My “favorite” was the pediatrician who when we told that she liked and had some dolls said “Aren’t you worried you might make them gay?” *sigh*
The thing was that as I learned more about gender and gender expression I could feel the answers coming together inside me. I read and heard about stories of gender non-conforming children. I realized this was me. This was my answer. I was transgender. I could “be a girl”. I was a girl…I knew it all along but here it is. I wasn’t alone. Still, I didn’t tell anyone yet.
Then my daughter told us point blank that she wasn’t a boy. She was a girl. She gave us her new name and said she didn’t want to wears boy’s clothes anymore. We told her that’s fine and that we’d figure out how to make that work. And that’s when I came out to my wife…Me too basically. Still I didn’t tell anyone else. My wife and I had to make some serious decisions and sacrifices and eventually had to move across county to make a happier life for our daughter to live as herself. Meanwhile, I stayed “living as a man” for the next year until I couldn’t take it anymore and told my wife I was transitioning. So far it’s been a lonely road. Most people in my life express positive support but I’ve seemingly lost some friends. Still, I don’t have much of a community. I don’t have close friends with similar experience and I hardly speak to anyone about how I’m feeling in relation to my transition.
That’s my narrative. I’m damaged too. So when people like RuPaul say what they say and Andrea James and Calpernia Addams seemingly question the validity of my identity that I’ve spent over 30 decades coming to terms with and also nearly killed myself over when I was younger I’m going to get mad.
I understand we are all damaged and I know the things the community has gone through. It couldn’t have been easy. So many people died and suffered through hardships harsher and much different than mine. I’ve never been homeless. I’ve come out in a world much more accepting than the one I could have come out in years ago. I survived. I don’t want to make enemies of people but as someone on the outside of the main history and community who never found their way there I have to say I’m not the one questioning anyone’s right to exist. I wouldn’t play “no true trans” about Andrea James and Calpernia Addams. I’m not putting conditions on anyone and telling them who they need to shut up to and respect.
For those who say there is more important things to fight about and we should all just get along I’ll just say that I find this dismissive. This isn’t just infighting. I’m sure there are plenty of others like me and not like me trying to find their place and when they find out there are those who are supposed to be allies essentially setting conditions on whether or not you even belong or have a right to have a voice.”
Woops. I made a few typos. The big one was that I obviously didn’t spend 30 decades coming to terms. That should have been 3.
Thank you for re-posting that here. It can’t have been easy. Congratulations on your daughter! I hope she has a wonderful life, something we all wish for all our offspring – and something you should be proud of yourself for doing your best to help her achieve.
I agree, this is not infighting. This is one group of people, admittedly having achieved an enormous amount, deciding that they have now ‘won’, somehow, and that any further issues that other people might have don’t matter.
That is not something that they are qualified to decide, and it is disappointing that, having achieved some level of acceptance, they seem to want not only to pull the ladder up after them but to ensure no ladder is ever re-built.
The language issue is vitally important – it isn’t possible to be respected by wider society when words that have always been vicious slurs are being bandied about by people who should be our allies. Legal recognition and equality for minorities and underprivileged people won’t happen until it is no longer acceptable to punch down in any way. Just so long as wider society sees people, who they think are just like trans women, belittling the status of trans women, they’ll feel entitled to do the same.
Trying to change the language into something more respectful isn’t being hypersensitive, it is looking at the wider picture. When ‘respectable’ people use slurs, their words gain repectability by association. We’re trying to reverse that process. Demeaning language is used in order to ‘other’ someone, to reduce their perceived humanity, making it easier to discriminate against them. Attacking the words attacks the attitudes expressed in those words.
Yes, language evolves – and its evolution can be steered to be more respectful.
Thank you Tigger. I’d be dishonest if I said things haven’t been hard but when it comes to what I see is best for my child it’s like the decision about what needs to be done is already made for me and whatever is to happen will happen and my wife and I will do whatever it was we need to do.
And this whole thing gets me beyond furious when I think of my daughter. She doesn’t express her gender in any typical way and the idea that this is something to make a joke out of, especially by people who should be examples to her makes me shake with rage.
My daughter likes pink frilly dresses and short hair, my little pony and superheroes, tea parties and ninja fighting and that’s all perfect to me and still would be any other way.
I should add that I would guess that the majority of these people would say kind things when it came to young children expressing themselves which makes the lack of self-awareness at the consequences of their words and actions all the more maddening.
Wow, great article. I love the way you write and I love the way you think, but I absolutely do not love your bullshit premise that we need people like you to protect us from the bad drag queens and their saucy language. I am a fully assimilated trans woman and I transitioned mid career so even though I’m lucky enough to appear stealth, I never will be because too many people knew me before. I have plenty of skin in this game and all of the shit you complain about in this article has zero impact on my life. The words, the actors, the drag queens, the queers, none of it. You know what HAS had an impact? Andrea and Calpernia. I don’t know either of them and I doubt they’ve ever heard of me but it was Calpernia’s story in A Soldier’s Girl that made me realize I might be something other than gay. I don’t know why exactly, it just touched me in a profound way. Then guess where I found an incredible source of excellent and life changing information after that? Yes, Andrea’s TS Roadmap. These two women have been part of the most significant development in my life and they did it by simply sharing a bit of themselves. I’m sure that there are countless women just like me who would say the same thing, and just as many might say the same about Rupaul. Sure, Ru is not the almighty Transsexual, but you can’t deny that his fearless persona has opened many hearts and minds over the years. Who cares if he’s not like me and you? He’s done more to advance our acceptance than either of us is likely to do. To those that complain that drag is an embarrassment to us REAL transsexuals, I say get over yourself. Drag ain’t going anywhere and if some cube can’t tell the difference between us and them, then that person certainly isn’t going to understand the nuances of our language. You know what IS embarrassing? People like you who complain about what words are hurtful and what language should be allowed to the point that people outside of our community think that we’re all just fragile eggshells waiting to be cracked open at the slightest perception of offense. Personally I’m offended by the idea that I would be lumped in with people like you because we share a transition. I’m offended that people might think I’m too sensitive to handle certain words, and it offends me that someone might think I won’t get in their face if they use a REAL slur. I am not a fragile egg, I am hard boiled and I want people to respect me for my strength and personal power. Not pity me because of my painful transition. My fingers don’t bleed when I play guitar anymore and my feelings don’t get hurt when people laugh at me or look at me with disgust. Transition is painful and it is hard, and life as a ‘real’ transsexual is not for the timid, but it IS my life, and it is not up to the world to worry about hurting my feelings. It’s up to me to learn the lessons I need to learn and grow the callouses where they need to be grown. I don’t need people to be mindful of this year’s approved words list, I need them to respect me as a contributor and to recognize that I exist legally. That’s the REAL struggle and this whole movement to police the words that drag queens use does nothing to advance that struggle. In fact it minimizes us as a community.
What I do not love is your bullshit premise that anyone signing Zinnia Jones petition is trying to speak for you. Also, I’m glad to know you are lucky enough to appear stealth. Too bad I can’t. I’m glad Calpernia’s story helped you out and Andrea James’ website helped you. Too bad all that Andrea James’ site did for me was help convince me that I wasn’t what I thought I might be before I came out. But I never said people had to be perfect because I’m sure Andrea James did help a lot of people just as I’m sure Calpernia did because well, I’m not ignorant to who they are.
Mostly I’m just glad there was a path laid out there for you to follow that matched your narrative enough that you could find your way because you obviously are implying that you hadn’t found it before that. Too bad that same path didn’t work from me. And, too bad those who laid out that path are now saying things that insult my very existence and dismiss my validity as a woman.
First, what my determination for me is I am who I am and I love it! Want a label, name, tag whatever, I go back to one of the early Star Trek – “changling!” It suits me!
Drag Queens (Kings): They are entertainers. Why they get on stage and perform for an audience I leave it up to each one of them to look inside themselves to know why? Just like any other “profession” there are good ones and there are bad ones. One thing that they all seem to have in common is boundless energy and for that I really admire them.
I am sure there are exceptions, but I have been in “drag bars” all over the country, not all of them but so far I am batting 1000 for the ones I have been in an tried to interact with these performers. Just to say “Hi” or ‘Nice show.” To everyone of them that I have complimented I was looked at and/or treated as a ” second class citizen. Now, I “pass” whatever that means, but in these “entertainment centers,” if you will, I am read and we all know why so it ain’t no big deal, but to get the sneer or be ignored following a compliment to them is not only rude but shows there bias attitude toward “us.” A lot of them walk around before or after their show with “the attitude” or they have their little group of followers (hangers-on) who push past you like you don’t even exist!
This girl does not have to put up with that and I don’t, so I no longer frequent those establishments.
Just my observations
What a bunch of assholes! I’ve always been ambivalent towards those privileged drag queen fucks, but now I can’t help but hate their smarmy arrogant othering of actually oppressed people.
I don’t believe it’s right to say drag queens, even that subset of whom can be described as cisgender impersonators, don’t suffer oppression. Even as hyperbole.
Feminine gender expression in any context still becomes a vulnerability when bigots associate drag performers with their stage personas. Non-trans drag performers do need to be held accountable for their shitty appropriation of our lives and the imagery of the “exotic transexual” to fuel their careers, heck, even transgender performers need to be criticized for irresponsible depictions on occasion, but it’s not like black gay people like RuPaul are swimming in privilege.
Talking of Drag Queens & where some cause harm to trans-women: in presenting a demeaning performance.
Not all are so negative ; some may even be positive in the overall broader picture involving those transgender:
The Winner of the 2014 Eurovision Grand Final is: Conchita Wurst from Austria ( song: Rise like a Phoenix ) some call her the bearded lady . From many of the posts on the Internet today : this outcome maybe on the plus side. Conchita certainly says the right things & she’s very talented,,, but that beard OMG… interested to know the thoughts here on this blog ?
Euro Winner go to http://youtu.be/_dCP-56Ps58
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The truth is both sides are right and both sides are wrong. Thirty years ago when the gay rights movement morphed and became the LGBT movement, transvestites most certainly were under the trans umbrella. I was there and all trans had to fight to be included – transvestites and transgender and everything in between. But time marches on and we should all be open and willing to revisit and redefine what needs to be done for the best of all of us. The trans woman community today is almost unrecognizable to what it was back then. I don’t approve of transphobia but I also don’t approve of homophobia either. Running around trying to diminish drag queens as only entertainers or only men in dresses is not the reality of our history and is flat out wrong. Likewise, acting like trans women don’t have a right to say we’re in a new time period and it’s time to revisit what is needed to make trans women’s journey easier is wrong too. The positive is it’s out there now and being discussed. The negative is the comments and opinions I keep seeing trying to diminish other people and their accomplishments – from both sides.
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[…] reclaiming epithets is part of drag culture. Trans women have expressed their own concern that, if conflated with drag queens — i.e. “men in dresses” — the validity of their own identities will be questioned, further […]
[…] reclaiming epithets is part of drag culture. Trans women have expressed their own concern that, if conflated with drag queens — i.e. “men in dresses” — the validity of their own identities will be questioned, further […]
I am a post-op transsevual. I has sex reassignment surgery in Montreal in 1994. I was once “physically” male and no amount of wording, phrase or argument will ever change that. I have been accepted by the vast majority of society by my actions and behavior from everyone from Mrs. Bully Graham to penthouse centerfolds, for which I was once considered. I have been engaged twice and accepted as nothing more than the female I am now by both men. To preach, rant and rave, or throw a tantrum is one thing and that the shoving of demands or information down anyone’s throat only causes a gag reflex and vomit, but I have found that by actions you receive acceptance and more importantly respect.
[…] What is their offense? Apparently, according to her, since they are not gay men they are less prone to like drag and that’s somehow a […]
[…] activist Zinnia Jones makes a strong case against RuPaul in a piece titled: “The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves […]
[…] The worst assimilation of all: How modern-day drag hurts trans women and achieves little or nothing … […]
I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!
[…] epítetos fazia parte da cultura drag. Mulheres trans expressaram a própria preocupação de que se confundidas com drag queens — isto é, “homens de vestido” — a validade de suas identidades será questionada, […]
Courtney Act is genderqueer just fyi
The difference between drag queens and trans is that trans people have developed a form of depression or dysphoria whereas drag queens are just odd in their gender behaviors.
One enjoys wearing the opposite clothes because it makes them feel comfortable socially or sexy
The other wears them because believe they have to wear them as part of their identity