RuPaul Sticks To His Guns On the T-Word

After a solid season of controversy over his use of the T-word — “tranny” — RuPaul has finally spoken up, and what he has to say won’t thrill trans activists who weren’t pleased not just with the T-word’s presence on the show, but with the segment known as “Shemail.” They argued that the word was a slur, used primarily against trans women and associated with transmisogyny, the same ideology that leads to violence against trans women. “Shemail,” a pun on “she-male,” was also a sly way to use a slur on the show, some felt, and they weren’t happy about it.

In an interview with Marc Maron, RuPaul said that: “Does the word ‘tranny’ bother me? No. I love the word ‘tranny.’” He went on to speak dismissively of the people raising their concerns about the word, claiming they weren’t part of the trans community and that a relatively small group of people were trying to dictate which words people could and couldn’t use: “Bitch, you need to get stronger. If you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think.” His doubling down in the interview should come as no surprise to those who remember similar statements from 2012, in which he hotly defended the use of the word.

Logo TV, his host, made it clear that RuPaul wasn’t speaking for them, and in response, he took to Twitter with a string of comments. His escalating irritation with critics was clear, as was his confidence that he wouldn’t be likely to suffer consequences — “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a wildly popular television show and it’s unlikely the network would pull it over the controversy, but it has mandated changes, including removing the “Shemail” segment to address concerns raised by members of the transgender and transsexual community who were uncomfortable with it.

The RuPaul controversy highlights the complex nature of using slurs in a reclamatory way. While some members of the trans community do use the word, there’s discussion even within the community over who has a right to use it — some trans women, for example, feel that since the word is most commonly weaponized against them, they are the ones with the right to use it to reclaim power and control over it. Others, like RuPaul, clearly feel that it can be more broadly applied to a variety of gender variant people as well as those like transvestites, who have indeed been targeted with the word (and assaulted over their gender expression) in the past.

RuPaul’s stance is that he doesn’t find the word offensive, and other people shouldn’t be so sensitive. While he’s entitled to his opinion, it’s not a stance shared by many activists, who feel that discussing language and challenging the use of slurs on television and in other media is important.

While RuPaul may find it personally empowering to use the word, activists are challenging him to consider the context: as a major media personality with tremendous clout, he has influence over the way other people think about the word and decide whether to apply it in their own lives.

While his sense of confidence and ego is impressive, not everyone has reached that point in their lives — and those individuals expect better of a drag icon.

Photo credit: David Shankbone.


Vivianne Mosca-Clark

It is hard to make and or except changes in life.
Worrying about a word that can be used positively or negatively will have some one on either 'side'.
Give credence to others thoughts. If you do not like them or the words used to describe the thoughts....then go away and do not listen.
You do have the choice to leave any situation you do not like or feel uncomfortable with.

Ruby W.
vanessa W.2 years ago

Just found this online which sums up how I feel, bearing in mind my own personal experiences:
"A few weeks ago, runaway hit RuPaul’s Drag Race, now in its sixth season, was forced to censor a weekly feature called “she-mail.” Transsexual rights campaigners said the show was perpetuating transphobia with this innocent bit of wordplay.
Once you get over the obvious, self-defeating absurdity of this ally-on-ally carping you start to realise how fundamentally unalike these two groups of people are.
It had most likely never even occurred to the producers of Drag Race that the phrase “she-mail” might be offensive.
Drag queens are encouraged to be sexually and socially fearless. Self-effacing humour is central to drag culture because it’s only when you can laugh at yourself that you are able to come to terms with deep private grief. Drag performers are clowns with souls.
But that attitude is antithetical to the hair-triggered, censorious instincts of today’s trans campaigners, who see in every throwaway line about “bed-wetters in bad wigs” deep-seated fear and loathing of gender dysmorphia. The slow clapping from some transsexual campaigners was a thing to behold. (I should say at this point that there are plenty of normal transgender people embarrassed by the antics of those who claim to represent them.)

Ruby W.
vanessa W.2 years ago

My uncle had a sex change when I was 16, and I was introduced to a world of amazement and wonder. I followed and documented a drag act (female impersonators) from 1996-1998 and had very frank discussions with all the guys there. A couple were gay, a couple were transsexual, one was straight, all used words such as this to empower themselves, they were reclaiming it way back then in London, much like Germaine Greer has always tried to reclaim and empower the 'C' word, and like black rappers have reclaimed and empowered the 'N' word.
I wouldn't use the word unless surrounded by my like minded friends from the days of The Roadhouse Club in Covent Garden, or the WayOut Club in London. I think you need to know your friends and surroundings before you use terms such as this perhaps. If RuPaul, a famous person in the drag scene, uses it, who the hell are we to argue against that?

Matt Peake
Matt Peake2 years ago

Marrianne RuPaul isnt TRANSEXUAL FYI~

Matt Peake
Matt Peake2 years ago

strange that my M2F trans friends USe the term , yet my F2M trans friends abhor it~ it was used widely by my friends so im not sure~i dont use it except with friends who do~i know words are weapons as im gay~

K Nichols
K Nichols2 years ago

As a transgendered person, I don't find the word offensive. But others do. It's not much of an effort to refrain from using the word to spare people who might be sensitive to it. I'm sure people can find other words to describe someone who is different. Ru Paul is gender variant. But she is not transgendered in the clinical sense.

Gabby B.
Lauren B.2 years ago

They are absolutely disgusting, derogatory and transmisogynistic. No matter how RuPaul tries to spin it.

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B.2 years ago


janet t.
janet t.2 years ago

I think RuPaul has the right to call things as he sees them. I use the word retarded which some people find it offensive.(I have a severely retarded daughter) But retarded means slowed. And the other words that people want me to use are not as accurate. Handicapped can mean an intelligent person in a wheelchair. Learning disabled can mean an intelligent person with dyslexia. on and on. Retarded fits her best and only people like me can judge that. Not being as knowledgable as RuPaul, I leave it up to him to choose words for his reality.

Janis K.
Janis K.2 years ago