“She-male” Outrage Garners Apology from RuPaul

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
March 31 2014 8:35 AM

RuPaul Sort of Apologizes for Transphobic “Shemale” Segment

rpdrs6_horizontal_rupaul_whtbg
Even RuPaul trips up sometimes.

Mathu Andersen / Logo

A few weeks ago, Outward contributor Rafi D’Angelo channeled the collective discomfort of a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race viewers (including this one) when he criticized a poorly conceived “mini-challenge” segment called “Female or She-male?” The eyebrow-raising game had the show’s drag queen competitors look at details of various celeb photographs and guess if the portrait was of a “biological” or “psychological” woman, the latter choice being signified by waving a “She-male” sign in the air.

While no trans women were actually included in the segment, the use of the offensive term did not go over well with fans. D’Angelo explains:

I was over this stupid game from the moment it started. While I’m not a trans person, it’s pretty clear that using a derogatory term like “shemale” to directly refer to a human being is a no-go. Society has come a long way in respecting difference, and the queer community especially has become more open about gender identity and expression. But we are far from the day when a trans woman will be able to walk down the street without fear of hearing insults or worse, and suggesting that “shemale” is an acceptable word—even as a joke—is not helpful in getting us there.
Advertisement

Apparently, RuPaul was listening: In a Friday afternoon news dump some two weeks after the broadcast in question, Drag Race producers (including RuPaul Charles) released a sort-of apology via Logo pop culture blog NewNowNext:

We delight in celebrating every color in the LGBT rainbow. When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.

While the statement does not directly apologize for “She-male,” even a tacit acknowledgement that something was amiss is notable, especially given RuPaul’s intransigence on the issue in the past. One has to imagine that there was some pressure from the network helping drive the shift in tone; Logo offered its own take in the same post: “We have heard the concerns around this segment. We are committed to sharing a diverse range of trans stories across all of our screens and look forward to featuring positive and groundbreaking stories of trans people in the future.”

Hopefully, “She-male” will remain one of the few missteps in a show that, by my reckoning, is largely a force for good in the world. If nothing else, Drag Race’s creators should have learned from this episode that you don’t need to draw on overtly hurtful language to be funny. 

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.