To the trans friend who recently dropped me on Facebook
I’m sorry because I’m pretty sure I know why you did it–to spare yourself pain that I caused you.
I am not writing now to ask you to reconsider your decision. I’ve been unfriended by people before (including members of my own family) and I will be again. I respect that unfriending can be an act of self-care, and I know you believe, as I do, that…
You warned me, though, that my ardent, passionate love for the show RuPaul’s Drag Race was irritating to you. You said you just didn’t get why so many straight women like me were so enamored of drag queens, especially a cis-male queen like RuPaul who casually used words that you found hateful and transphobic.
For the record, I have never used those words, but I do have an alarming tendency to repeat other Ru-isms from the show. I use “WERRK” and “GUUURRL” so often so that now my kids use them to express great approval.
Is this okay? Can I co-opt the language of a culture I admire for my own entertainment?
I am a cis-gendered straight white woman, oozing with all kinds of privilege. In fact, I have the privilege to wear neither makeup nor dresses in my day to day life. I don’t get crap for dressing like what presents as “BOY,” unlike boys who get crap for dressing in what codes as “GIRL.” Sexism rewards me for my Chuck Taylors and jeans.
As an ally of social justice movements, being called out for my privilege hurts. Like I’ve written before, my natural impulse is to yell “NOT ALL [insert privilege here]!” With a little help from the Twittersphere, blogosphere, whatever you want to call it, I work on shutting my damn mouth and listening to what the call-outers are saying.
You never accused me of being transphobic, but I suspect you had enough when I posted how excited I was to hear RuPaul was a guest on my favorite podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. I hadn’t heard the episode yet, but I am such a big fan of both the guest and the show that I couldn’t help but announce my glee on social media. I didn’t have a clue that this show would be where Ru unloaded all of his frustration with those who object to some of his show’s content. As Ru put it:
Don’t you dare tell me what I can do or what I can say. It’s just words. Yeah, words do hurt. ‘Words hurt me.’ You know what? Bitch, you need to get stronger. You really do. Because you know what? If you think, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think. I’m telling you this.
I listened to the podcast but I did not comment on it. It is not my business to offer an opinion on whether or not it is okay to use problematic words that don’t apply to me.
I did watch the discussion unfold on Twitter, where RuPaul posted:
…and where trans Drag Race contestant Carmen Carrera responded:
There is so much pain out there, and I know you have endured more than your fair share. That word is just one of many painful things you’ve endured since you transitioned. We didn’t talk about it all that much, but you mentioned that you lost a partner you loved. Your family isn’t supportive. You have trouble holding a steady job because of the harassment. Public bathrooms, which cis-folks like me take for granted, can be a nightmare.
I tried to show you how much I care about you and your journey when I asked Kate Bornstein to sign a copy of her memoir A Queer and Pleasant Danger to you. I guess I should have TOLD you myself, but (ironically in this case) words got in the way. How do you say to someone who is just living their goddamn life that you admire them like hell for doing it? For having the guts to be their authentic self? How?!
Is it transphobic of me to like RuPaul and his body of work? I don’t think so. I think it would be much worse for me to insert myself in a debate over whether or not it’s okay for someone to self-identify with a word that others find distasteful. That’s why I did nothing.
I’m sorry if you interpreted my RuPaul fandom and my silence on the controversy around the word as an endorsement of that word being used.
You didn’t need my admiration or a stupid hashtag–you just needed to know that I had your back. And in that moment on Facebook, you felt that I didn’t.
Whether you extend a Facebook friend request to me in the future is not as important to me as the fact that you know, via this blog post/open letter, that I care about you and that I regret the hurt I caused. We may never cross paths in real or virtual spaces again, and that’s okay. I’ll always be glad that I knew you, the WHOLE you, a smart and funny and talented and compassionate person.
Continue to take care.