TRANSMISSIONS: Discord And Distraction

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Originally printed 5/8/2014 (Issue 2219 - Between The Lines News)

In Connecticut, a 16-year-old transwoman of color is being held in an adult prison with no charges filed against her.

A doctor in Urbana, Ill. according to a lawsuit brought forth by Lambda Legal, told a trans woman that she "did not have to treat people like you." Assuming this is true, it is in violation of the Affordable Care Act.

Transgender actor and advocate Laverne Cox, in spite of a vast outpouring of votes for her inclusion, was snubbed by Time magazine and will not appear as one of their 100 most influential people of the year.

Transgender activists protested outside of the Smith College admission office to protest their policies against admitting transgender women. The school does not allow students who are born male if their applications identify them as such, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

Longtime transgender writer and performer Kate Bornstein is struggling for her life in the face of cancer, and once again the community is mobilizing to help cover her rather expensive medical costs.

Transgender people are being murdered, are committing suicide in staggering numbers and are being discriminated against in countless ways every second of the day.

The transgender community, however, is instead tightly focused right now on the divisions between itself and the drag community.

Fighting continues over RuPaul's Drag Race and it's season-opening segment called "Female or Shemale." The issues surrounding this have spread further, encompassing RuPaul's use of both "shemale" and "tranny" on the show. It has spilled out onto other issues, and people on all sides of the debate have taken up virtual arms against each other.

Open letters have been flung against a pair of long-time transgender activists who have opted to side with RuPaul's Drag Race, while the duo has fought back with their own counter offensive. Logo, as well as RuPaul's Drag Race, have finally offered up an apology and struck the words in question from their lexicon, but RuPaul took to Twitter to quietly compare the kerfuffle to George Orwell's book "Animal Farm."

Then Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, a drag artist, released a video called "RuPaul's Drag Race Season 76." In it, a mustachioed and blue haired "Twitter Account Owner" named "Joy Less" complains about the language of the show, initially getting some of it changed. After further complaint, Alaska mimics firing a hairdryer like a pistol, gunshots are heard, and "Joy Less" is seen with a bullet hole between her eyes.

This was unacceptable on all levels.

I tend to be a firm believer in keeping one's eyes on the prize. Infighting only emboldens those who would seek to tear us down, and does little to move us forward. At the same time, I know that these have been issues simmering for a very long time: in their own ways RuPaul and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 have simply moved a heated topic from the back burner to the front.

"Season 76" aside, I find it disturbing to read about the supposed "policing of language" from the use of "shemale" and "tranny" on RuPauls's Drag Race and others. I'm of the opinion that if someone - or in this case, several someones - comes to you to explain why this choice of language is hurtful, then perhaps it is.

As transgender author and GLAAD board member Jennifer Boylan put it on her personal Twitter account, "Do you have the right to use language I find insulting? Why, of course you do. But tell me: Why would you WANT to hurt my feelings?"

While I have used "tranny" in the past to refer to myself in a self-deprecating fashion, I have grown to understand that perhaps it's best to set that term aside. I do not feel "policed" into doing so; I do it out of love for my community.

I acknowledge the use of the terms "shemale" and "tranny" within the drag community, and that these have been used there as a sort of endearment. I also know that those terms are terms used to objectify transgender people at best and are used to harm at worst. They may be some of the last words some transgender may ever hear.

Perhaps some day we shall reclaim those terms, but today does not seem to be that day.

There are many in the wake of this controversy, particularly after the "Season 76" video, who have opted to demonize drag overall. That is wrong. Is what Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 created horrible, hurtful and unnecessary? You bet it is -- but let's not demonize countless drag performers who may or may not agree with what she posted.

Part of the fallout has been to decouple drag from the transgender umbrella. I don't think this is necessary or even know how one might do this in the first place. Transgender identity and expression is a huge, broad thing encompassing a lot of gender presentation. If one considers themselves to be transgender, then by all means they are.

Yet I doubt that neither RuPaul nor Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 identify as transgender. I've never heard them use the term to identify themselves. Still, regardless of their identity, let's not forget that some who opt to perform in drag may well identify as transgender. Many other transwomen may have come out of the drag world, including at least a couple former RuPaul's Drag Race contestants.

Meanwhile, I want to see the amount of attention and zeal that is being paid to this sort of infighting get applied to even one of the issues I addressed at the top of this column. I want us to fight the good fights and continue to move forward.

Gwen Smith thinks it's going to be a long, hot summer. You'll find her at
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