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The herstory of trans women on RuPaul’s Drag Race

The herstory of trans women on RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul is the Emmy-winning host of RuPaul's Drag Race.

On last week’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, season nine queen Peppermint spoke openly about identifying as a woman.

In the workroom, one of the contestants declared gender being over during a discussion about masculinity and femininity. This prompted Peppermint to speak up.

‘It was actually though my drag that I realized my transness,’ she said. ‘I’m trans. I’m a trans woman.’

While there have been quite a few queens on the show who have come out as trans after the fact, or came out for the first time during filming, Peppermint is the only queen in all nine seasons of Drag Race to openly identify as trans upon entering the competition.

‘She’s always been there,’ Peppermint tells EW during an interview. ‘I just had limited choices when it came to safe ways for expressing myself as a woman. [As a kid] it wasn’t possible for me to do that on the football team or in karate. Those were not safe spaces, but the world of drag was… It felt the closest to right.’

Yet, before opening up to her fellow competitors about her gender identity, Peppermint felt hesitation. ‘There’s a lot of people who think drag queens are not trans and shouldn’t be,’ she said. ‘And there’s a lot of trans people who think that drag queens have no place in the trans community. I wanted to really get to know the girls before I came out to them. I was afraid.’
But thankfully, Peppermint was met with support by the other queens.

Season Two

The first trans woman to ever compete on Drag Race was season two’s Sonique, who came out as trans during the reunion episode. Though she began transitioning before being invited to compete on the show, she chose to temporarily halt her transition during filming. During the reunion, she tearfully discussed how she always felt like a woman ‘born into a boy’s body’ and how she hated removing her makeup when getting out of drag.

Sonique is currently living as a woman under new legal name, Kylie ‘Sonique’ Love. Sexually, she identifies as pansexual.

Season Three

Next came Carmen Carrera on season three. While she identified as male during filming, she later came out as trans in 2012. In 2013, a petition circulated urging Victoria’s Secret to pick up Carrera as their first transgender model. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the petition garnered over 48,000 supporters.

In 2014, Carrera made waves by criticizing Drag Race and its casual use of anti-trans slurs. She particularly took issue with the show’s use of the term ‘she-mail.’

‘”Shemale” is an incredibly offensive term, and this whole business about if you can tell whether a woman is biological or not is getting kind of old,’ Carrera said on Facebook. ‘We live in a new world where understanding and acceptance are on the rise.’

Since this backlash, Drag Race has become more mindful of using such terms, even removing the term ‘she-mail’ from the segment in each episode where the queens get a video message from RuPaul.

Stacy Layne Matthews is another season three queen that has come out as trans since her season aired.

Season Four

Season four brought us Kenya Michaels and Jiggly Caliente, both of whom came to the realization they were transgender after the show.

Jiggly Caliente goes by the name Bianca Castro when she’s not performing the character of Jiggly.

Season Five

In season five, Monica Beverly Hillz bravely came out as trans on the main stage during elimination.

Like Carrera, Hillz also took issue with the use of anti-trans slurs on the show.
‘After my experience of being on the show, I would say that, to me, the use of the words ‘she-male,’ ‘ladyboy’ and ‘tranny’ are not cute at all,’ she told The Huffington Post.

Season Six

Most recently, season six queen Gia Gunn came out as trans during the 2017 Transgender Day of Visibility.

Posting a video to Instagram, Gunn said, ‘I have been on hormone replacement therapy for about a year and I identify as female and I am indeed transgender.’

With all of this, it’s clear that drag is not a form of art solely for cisgender gay men. In fact, many women perform drag as ‘bio queens,’ and trans men sometimes perform as drag kings. There is, however, continuous debate in the LGBTI community about what constitutes drag.

‘When trans folks perform bio drag, it can make other transgender people uncomfortable. Some believe the performer is perpetuating the idea that drag and being transgender are the same thing, while others say bio drag isn’t drag and that being trans gives a performer unfair advantages,’ writes Basil Soper for ‘The drag community often forgets about the transgender women that founded the drag movement. As you can see, it’s a complex issue, and the voices of transgender drag performers are consistently ignored.’

‘Drag performers and trans people are judged for living their lives authentically,’ Soper states. ‘Ideally, the LGBT community should embrace everyone, but it’s a constant struggle.’