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Can A Tranny Get a Table Dance?
Did RuPaul use the LGBT version of the N-word?


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RuPaul, sometimes referred to as the world’s first supermodel drag queen, is getting blasted by the very community that usually includes his most loyal supporters. In a recent interview on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, RuPaul defended his use of the words “tranny” and “she-male” on his extremely popular Logo TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In the interview, RuPaul states, “I love the word ‘tranny.’” He has also taken to Twitter to defend himself, saying, “I’ve been a ‘tranny’ for 32 years. The word ‘tranny’ has never just meant transsexual” and “Trust! @LogoTV hasn’t ‘distanced’ itself from me, not while I’m still payin’ the f***** light bill over there.”

Logo TV has said it would pull episodes of the show that use the word “she-male.” Logo also said, “‘Tranny’ and ‘she-male’ did not come from Logo. We are committed to supporting the entire LGBT community and will not feature any anti-trans rhetoric on our shows.”

RuPaul, who first hit it big with the 1992 song “Supermodel (You Better Work),” is in a strong position in any such exchange with Logo. Drag Race, a sort of America’s Next Top Model for drag queens, is the network’s highest-rated and most-streamed program.

In another tweet, RuPaul says, “It’s not the word, it’s the intention behind the word.”

I couldn’t help but agree with this particular tweet. I am sure, and I expect many people in the LGBT community would agree, that RuPaul did not intend to use the word with a negative connotation. After all, he has had a lucrative career as an entertainer in this community.

In his interview with Marc Maron, RuPaul goes on to say, “You know, I can call myself a ni**er, fa**ot, tranny all I want to, because I’ve the right to do it. I’ve lived the life.”

Also sound logic. As a black drag queen, he has certainly not shied away from his sexuality and has, in fact, made a fortune from embodying a campy version of the drag-queen lifestyle. And although he is not a transsexual, the term “tranny,” has been used as slang to refer to almost everyone on the LGBT spectrum.

However, RuPaul is getting more ire than support from the LGBT community over his choice of words. In an op-ed entitled “This T-Word Fight is About Respect” in the Advocate, Rebecca Juro claims that the “tranny” dialogue is about

wanting to scream at the top of your lungs, “What don’t you get about why this is wrong?” It’s about those who were once oppressed now feeling entitled to take on the role of the oppressor themselves with a less politically potent minority. What’s more it’s about how they’re doing it gleefully and with a big public middle finger to those they oppress.

In Juro’s opinion, because RuPaul is not a transwoman, he does not have a right to use that word and is, in effect, oppressing a minority even smaller than the gay minority, which has arguably been accepted into pop culture more than the trans community has.

Another blogger, TransGriot, who identifies as a “black transwoman” states that she “can’t stand” RuPaul because of his use of the T-word “after [his] repeatedly being told” that the word is an “offensive slur to the trans community.” She’s also disappointed by “elements of the white community rushing to RuPaul’s defense . . . to justify the continued use of the ‘tr***y’ epithet in gay and lesbian community circles.”

Also a good point. So, who is right?

This debate about the T-word is similar to the debate about the N-word in the black community. Coleman Collins accurately sums up the dispute in his article “Exporting the N-word:”

There are generally four schools of thought on the word ‘nigga.’ There’s the first and largest group—black working-class… who say it casually because it’s what they’ve always done… There’s the small but vocal group of middle-class black intellectuals who claim to have “reclaimed” the word, to have turned it into a term of endearment instead of a tool of oppression…The third group is comprised of the “respectable Negroes,”… the “don’t you embarrass me in front of these white folks” crowd…. Last but certainly not least you have the extremely sympathetic older generation that worked to have the word eradicated from white people’s vocabularies only to find it shouted from street corners and blasted from car windows in the future they worked so hard for.

There is logic in wanting to avoid hateful words that remind people of a tough time in their personal or group history. Transsexuals have heard the word “tranny” screamed at them in hate while they crossed the street or worse, while being kicked to the ground and beaten. There is also logic in people having the right to call themselves what they want, even if it means redefining a word that was once hurtful to suit your own purposes — to own the word that once owned you, in the same way that many girls call their closest girlfriends “bitch.”

I do not know whether RuPaul or Rebecca Juro or TransGriot is in the right. I don’t very much care, as I am not a member of the LGBT community and I am not writing this article to deliver a verdict. However, I do know that this is a debate that will rage for a long time. It has been nearly 150 years since slavery was abolished and the African-American community still hasn’t solved the N-word debate. Who knows how long the T-word debate will last? As the entire LGBT community becomes more assimilated into the mainstream, this issue will fill message boards and personal blogs for years to come.

RuPaul is not the oppressor here; he simply brought up a subject that had been dormant.

— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review.



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