Ru Paul was recently interviewed by Michelangelo Signorile on his Sirius OutQ radio show and clearly demonstrated how completely out of touch he is with the reality most full-time trans people (i.e. transsexuals) actually live in.
Before I continue, I want to make clear that my opinions expressed here are directed toward Ru Paul exclusively, not toward drag performers in general as a group nor toward drag as a concept or an art form.
The truth is that Ru Paul's drag persona is not a real person, but rather a fictional character he portrays as a performer to make money, no more a reflection of true reality than Captain Kirk or Stephen Colbert, who, like Ru Paul, also uses his real name when portraying a caricatured, fictional character created and performed solely for entertainment purposes. As Ru Paul himself has said of his drag performances:
"I do it once in a while for fun but I really only do it when I'm getting paid, ch-ching!"
For someone like Ru Paul who does not actually live a transgender life, but rather only engages in transgender expression as a way to make money, his response to Signorile's asking what he thought of Lance Bass apologizing for using the word "tranny" was testament to his arrogance, ignorance, and utter detachment from the lives most trans people live.
"It's ridiculous! It's ridiculous! Words -- it goes back to grade school: Sticks and stones, you know the rest. The thing is you have to look at the ego, you have to follow the money, and the payoff. And the payoff is that the ego wants attention no matter what. It will try to get it wherever the hell it can, whether it's positive or negative. So you have to ignore it basically -- you have to starve it out. And unfortunately in our culture one person can write a letter to the network and they shut something down. It's unfortunate. But I love the word "tranny."
And no one has ever said the word "tranny" in a derogatory sense. In fact, you have to go to the intent of the person saying it. Of course Lance Bass, his intent would never be to be derogatory. Never. So, you know, that's really ridiculous. And I hate the fact that he's apologized. I wish he would have said, "F-you, you tranny jerk!""
While like many real-life trans folks I'm tempted to ask "Is he for real?", I already know the answer. Yes, he is for real, because Ru Paul is neither a true trans woman nor someone who lives a life reflecting reality for most of us. Ru Paul is actually a gay male actor, a super-rich celebrity performer who has probably made more money portraying a comedic caricature of a woman than most real trans women will see in their lifetimes.
As a celebrity performer, Ru Paul doesn't have to go to interview after interview looking for work, always hoping that this will finally be the time that the interviewer will actually consider their resume, not their gender identity, as the key factor in deciding whether or not they'll be hired.
Ru Paul doesn't have to worry if one day his landlord will decide he doesn't want a "tranny" around and legally throw him out on the street without notice. He doesn't have to be concerned that his bosses might fire him and replace him with a non-trans person just because a higher-up decides he doesn't want a "tranny" working for his company.
Not only doesn't Ru Paul have to worry about facing discrimination because of his transgender expression, he has financially profited quite handsomely from it. If we use the quote above as our guide, Ru Paul doesn't see his doing drag as a form of self-expression, but rather simply as a business, a route to wealth and financial success. Ch-ching indeed.
While I thought that for the most part Signorile conducted an excellent interview, I have to wonder why he chose to ask Ru Paul the question in the first place. From my perspective, it's much like asking William Shatner what he thinks of NASA. Shatner might have some interesting thoughts on the subject, but it's understood at the outset that he portrayed a role, a fictional character, that he's never actually gone into space himself, and he's not really an expert on space travel.
For someone like Ru Paul who engages in a form of transgender expression part-time exclusively as a moneymaking enterprise to try to tell people who live and work 24/7 in a gender role they were not biologically born to - people who are legally denied the right to work, rent a home, or even just to have a drink in a local bar free of discrimination in 34 states - what they should or shouldn't find offensive is the very height of arrogance. It's also clear evidence of a complete detachment from and disinterest in the reality most trans Americans actually live in.
No, Ru Paul, you don't get to tell me or any other real-life 24/7 trans person what we should or shouldn't be offended by. You don't get to tell us to lighten up, not when our lives, our ability to live, work, and take care of the families that depend on us are on the line, not when we can still legally be fired, thrown out of our homes, or even denied access to public spaces just because we're transgender in most of this country.
You don't get to compare yourself to us or cast yourself as a voice of our community because you neither represent us nor understand us. You don't get to speak for us, Ru Paul, or get to tell us what to think or how to feel because the truth is that you're not one of us.
You're nothing like us, Ru Paul, nothing like us at all.