You’ve Got Shemale: The Issue of Exclusion in the LGBT Community

 

After a few weeks of public scrutiny and community backlash regarding a certain segment on RuPaul’s Drag Race entitled “Female or Shemale”, LOGO released a public apology and stated that it would no longer include the You’ve Got Shemale intro on the popular reality competition. The segment, which involved participants trying to discern from pictures whether or not the close up was of a drag queen or a cisgender woman was criticized for being transphobic and insensitive.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has become somewhat of a cultural phenomena, launching the careers of several drag queens while introducing gay lexicon to the greater community. Many of its contestants, like Willam Belli and Manila Luzon, have gone on to have quite lucrative careers with a wide array of YouTube videos and cosmetic deals. The show has even reached 1 million likes on it’s Facebook page which is a testament to its growing influence and popularity in the LGBT community.

While some are extremely happy that LOGO took the time to apologize for it’s recent transgression, others have voiced their frustrations with LOGO’s self censorship and the supposed over sensitivity of the LGBT community as a whole.  It seems that the point of contention comes from an underlying divide between the queer community as a whole and its transgender members.  To put it simply, gender expression and sexual orientation are seen as two very different things. White cisgender gay men are inherently very different from say white trans* women, despite the fact that both have experienced discrimination as a result of being a minority. And to say they are similar simply because they are included in some umbrella term like LGBT undermines the plights of both groups.

I will say that I am not an extremely sensitive person but that is most likely as a result of my life experiences rather than my personality. Yes I have been bullied for being gay occasionally but being a white man I’ve never felt wholly silenced or underrepresented.  I would even say that I’m very assimilated into our hetero-normative society and I feel that my identity as a gay man has helped me in life more than hinder me. As a result, I don’t feel like I have much in common with trans* people and that my interactions with them are only a tad more frequent than a straight, cisgender person’s interactions with them. I am acutely aware, however, that trans* people are entirely underrepresented and ignored by society as a whole. And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that as society continues to grapple with overall acceptance of same sex orientation that trans* issues are still on the back burner.

It is hard for me not to subconsciously distance myself from members of the trans* community because I acknowledge I am different from them. I’ve learned that it’s okay to acknowledge this difference as long as I don’t use it as leverage to better myself while marginalizing them. It’s hard to refrain from allying myself with straight, cisgender people and refer to trans* people as “others”. It’s hard to not want to fit in with the more dominant group in society and often times in order to do that you have to belittle another group to gain favor. Just because I am not the same as a trans* person doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize their needs and support them in their quest for greater equality.

It is upsetting that the second most liked comment on the post is one that says, “How about these people stop being a bunch of easily offended and overly sensitive whiners?” I have said that I find the phrase, “check your privilege” irksome because it is often said by people of privilege to belittle others of privilege but I think in a situation like this it is more than applicable. Just because I am not personally offended by the segment does not mean that I can’t comprehend why others would be so upset. And because the segment is not essential to RuPaul’s Drag Race I have no problems with it being removed in order to make people more comfortable.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is not a show without flaws, but I believe it has more good than harm. It is a celebration of a sect of gay culture that has often been misunderstood. I admire many of the past contestants from the show and I think their stories and artistry are incredible and worth sharing. The show has taught me about family, forgiveness, self expression and creative risk. It’s also incredibly entertaining and makes some of the best GIFs on the internet. As a result, I don’t think this minor change will matter much in relation to the quality of the program. My hope is that this issue sparks some conversation about what the LGBT community actually is and how we can support each other while still leaving room for creative expression.

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