RuPaul, the drag queen who started the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, a popular drag competition, caused a stir within the LGBTQ community when he said he would “probably not” allow transitioning transgender people to compete on his show.
“You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body,” RuPaul said in an interview with The Guardian, “It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we’re doing.”
Outraged, many members of the queer community accused RuPaul of transphobia. They claimed RuPaul took a step away from equality by preventing some queer people from participating in an activity important to the LGBTQ community. Other drag queens denounced RuPaul’s statement.
“Drag is fun. Drag is not to be taken too seriously. Drag is expression. Drag is art. Drag is for everyone. Drag can be created by anyone,” tweeted Tatianna, two-time contestant on the show.
While RuPaul’s comments may be the most recent and publicized incident of transphobia from cisgender—those who identify with their assigned gender—members of the LGBTQ community, the sentiment echos a larger issue. Exclusivity is a frequent trend in the LGBTQ community, which claims to be inclusive of everyone’s gender identity and sexual orientation.
Many cisgender queer people have transphobic inclinations or lack knowledge of transgender issues. Cisgender queer people often refuse to date transgender people, usually justifying this with offensive comments about transgender people’s genitalia. We often commit microaggressions and make offensive statements towards transgender people.
Basil Soper, a writer for Pride, published a list of things he has heard from several cisgender gay men. Soper says they misgender him or fetishize transgender people.
“Of course, I’ve dated a few lovely cis gay men, but 8 out of 10 times, our conversations lack dignity on their end,” Soper wrote.
Transphobia has even seeped into queer media and politics. Director Roland Emmerich appropriated the story of the Stonewall riots, led by transgender women Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, by making his film, Stonewall, about cisgender gay men. Taking away their story and giving it to cisgender people erases the history of the transgender community.
Many cisgender gay conservative political figures such as Peter Boykin and Milo Yiannopoulos do not hide their intolerance toward the transgender community. For example, in a speech at the University of Delaware, Yiannopoulos called transgender people mentally ill.
Unfortunately, instead of denouncing his transphobic beliefs, some individuals in the queer community rewarded Yiannopoulos for his bigotry, such as when LGBTQ publication Out Magazine published a profile about him that lacked criticism. This profile prompted criticism from queer journalists.
“This puff piece — complete with a cutesy clown photoshoot — makes light of Yiannopoulos’s trolling while simultaneously providing him a pedestal to further extend his brand of hatred. Indeed, he does so in the profile itself, openly slurring the transgender community, which Out published without any apparent concern,” wrote numerous LGBTQ journalists in an open letter to the publication.
By normalizing a gay man who has made his career off dehumanizing other members of the LGBTQ community, Out Magazine perpetuated a toxic hierarchy that prevails within the queer community.
Out Magazine and other queer publications have an obligation to serve the entirety of the community. By publishing transphobic remarks from Yiannopoulos in their piece, the magazine promoted views against the transgender community, making them complicit in transphobia.
We are a community that upholds values of tolerance and acceptance, but we struggle to practice these qualities ourselves. Cisgender queer people fail to include the entire LGBTQ community, whether through overt transphobia or creating restrictive queer spaces. We need to improve the inclusivity of our activism and be cognizant of our cisgender privilege.