A March 17 episode of RuPaul's Drag Race has sparked a backlash from the transgender community after it featured a segment that used what many consider an offensive, transphobic term, but so far, neither the show nor its Viacom-owned network, Logo TV, have publicly committed to ending use of such terms.
In the statement made last Friday — almost two weeks after the episode aired — RuPaul and the show's executive producers said in part they were "newly sensitized" to transgender issues, and a separate statement from a Logo TV spokesman said the network is committed to featuring "positive and groundbreaking" transgender stories across its platforms in the future — but neither directly addressed the transphobic language used in a segment of the episode, such as the term "she-male."
The episode in question features a mini-challenge segment, "Female or She-male," in which contestants were shown closeup images of celebrities and were asked to identify them as either a "biological woman" or a "psychological woman." The term "she-male" has long been condemned by the transgender community as offensive and is commonly used in the porn industry. GLAAD regards it as a derogatory anti-transgender slur, saying, "[t]hese words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used."
When pressed on the issue by BuzzFeed, a Logo TV spokesman would neither confirm nor deny whether it will cease using such terms in future programming. The spokesman was only able to provide the existing statements from the network and the show's producers at World of Wonder.
Following those statements, GLAAD, an LGBT media watchdog, issued its own statement about the controversy in a blog post Saturday, condemning the offensive segment and addressing criticism that it took too long to publicly respond.
"Some writers and trans advocates questioned our entire commitment to trans people because we did not post about this issue on our site immediately," said Nick Adams, GLAAD's associate director of communications. "Why was there not an immediate post? We know from past experience that dialogue and education are the most effective ways to create substantive and lasting change in the media, and today's statements are the beginning of new conversations with this network and this show."
Advocates from the organization expressed concerns about the segment to Logo the morning after it aired, according to GLAAD.
But in a post to her personal blog on Saturday, Jennifer Finney Boylan, co-chair of GLAAD's national board of directors went further than her organization, saying "[a] stronger statement was what I had hoped for, and, given the very long time it seemed to take to deliver this statement, seemed rather anemic to me." On top of that, she claimed Logo agreed it would end the use of transphobic slurs in future shows.
"More important to me is a commitment LOGO made that is not reflected in their public statement — that they are not going to using the word "t——" on any of their programming again, going forward," Boylan said. "It will be GLAAD's responsibility to hold them to their word. They've also committed to putting an end to other anti-trans language on their network."
As of March 31, GLAAD, along with Logo, would not confirm nor deny to BuzzFeed that such a commitment had been made.
Contestants hold signs during the challenge in the March 17 episode (left). A graphic from the March 31 episode introduces the "You've Got She Mail" segment (right).
RuPaul's Drag Race, now in its sixth season, has commonly used terms that offend the transgender community, according to advocates. A segment featured in every episode of the show is named after a play on the word "she-male," or "You've Got She Mail." An advance screening copy of this week's episode, which airs Monday night, includes the "She Mail" segment as well.
Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications at GLAAD, says any use of the term "she-male" on the show is problematic.
"[W]e stand by the term she-male being offensive to trans women and, especially given the criticism of the word usage from some trans and queer people in recent weeks, what seemed to be funny pun when the show began years ago looks different in today's world," he said.
Ferraro confirmed RuPaul's Drag Race has been removed from GLAAD's Monday "What to Watch on TV" digests, the organization's daily LGBT programming recommendations.
"It was removed following the 'female or she-male' segment," he said. "We plan to continue to promote individual contestants who support LGBT issues as well as previous contestants, especially trans women we have worked directly with like Carmen Carrera and Monica Beverly Hillz."
Monica Roberts, a transgender writer and activist, said in a March 19 post on her popular blog TransGriot, that the "Female or She-male" segment is just another episode in RuPaul's "long history of transphobia."
"RuPaul waited several weeks before even putting out a statement, which only served to piss trans people off even more," Roberts told BuzzFeed. "I didn't expect him to do that much."
Roberts said the minimum expectation the transgender community is for the show to stop using offensive terms.
Masen Davis, executive director at the Transgender Law Center, hopes the backlash and conversation that spawned from the episode will lead to progress.
"I am hoping this will be a learning opportunity for RuPaul," Davis said. "Many people are offended by the language commonly used on the show. It is both true that there is often transphobia and misogyny in gay and drag cultures and also that many transgender and gender nonconforming people have found acceptance and a sense of home in drag cultures — people like Monica Beverly-Hilllz.
"Like any culture, its members are not monolithic," Davis said. "Further, many, though not all, drag queens can personally relate to the harassment and violence that the trans community endures. We need to be united and move forward together, focusing on the deeper issues that need addressed like violence, homelessness, and health care."