Gentlemen, start your engines! Earlier this week, RuPaul's Drag Race unveiled the cast for its upcoming 13th season, making "herstory" after announcing that Gottmik, the show's first transmasculine contestant, will sashay into the workroom on its January 1 premiere. The second openly transgender contestant to ever compete on the Drag Race mainstage, Gottmik's casting is significant, an important step in securing gender diversity on the wildly-popular TV program.
"A drag queen is a drag queen. A drag queen goes home at night, takes off the wigs and makeup, and is still a man. You can be the most feminine queen in drag, but, at the end of day, you still enjoy the privileges of being a cisgender man," Slate's Raif D'Angelo wrote of the controversial segment. "Trans women don't have that option. They are women every day, and that comes with the threat of ridicule, exposure, and violence."
Even former contestants began speaking out about the problematic segment. "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," Monica Beverly Hillz, who came out as a transgender during her time on the show's fifth season, told HuffPo. "I have fought, and still am fighting, for respect from society -- to be accepted as a woman and not referred to as a 'tranny' or 'she-male.''"
As a result of the backlash, Logo TV, which aired the show from its first season in 2009 to 2016, banned the slur, in turn, axing one of RuPaul's introductory catch phrases using the offensive term. "Logo wants to thank the community for sharing their concerns around a recent segment and the use of the term 'she-mail' on Drag Race," a network spokesperson said. "The episode has been pulled from all of our platforms and that challenge will not appear again. Furthermore, we are removing the 'You've Got She-Mail' intro from new episodes of the series. We did not intend to cause any offense, but in retrospect we realize that it was insensitive. We at the network sincerely apologize."
While many heralded this decision as a step towards inclusivity, host RuPaul later lambasted the decision, telling The Guardian he "would not have changed it."
"Our intention was always coming from a place of love. On paper, you cannot read intention, so it was actually hurtful," he said in 2015. "First of all, drag is dangerous. We are making fun of everything. But when someone doesn't get the joke or feels offended by it, it's a lose-lose situation, because you can't explain a joke."
However, this was far from the last time the star, who once accused members of the transgender community of taking offense with certain transphobic terms with looking to "strengthen their identity as victims," shared troubling views. In 2018, RuPaul told The Guardian that he would "probably not" allow a transgender woman who had undergone cosmetic procedures to appear on the show. "It's an interesting area, Peppermint didn't get breast implants until after she left our show," he said referencing Peppermint, who was the first openly transgender contestant to appear on the show in 2017. "She was identifying as a woman, but she hadn't really transitioned ... You can identify as a woman and say you're transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body. It takes on a different thing; it changes the whole concept of what we're doing. We've had some girls who've had some injections in the face and maybe a little bit in the butt here and there, but they haven't transitioned."
The star's comments faced almost immediate backlash.
"My drag was born in a community full of trans women, trans men, and gender non-conforming folks doing drag," wrote Sasha Velour, the winner of the show's ninth season. "That's the real world of drag, like it or not. I thinks it's fabulous and I will fight my entire life to protect and uplift it."
Velour, who is genderqueer, is far from alone. "RuPaul has the responsibility of writing the history of drag and, unfortunately, it's being rewritten and erased because of his antiquated policies," explained Charlene Incarnate, a trans drag performer who says she auditioned for the show's seventh and eighth seasons. "RuPaul knows better, because the kinds of queens that were around when he was rising up were the kinds whose gender was ambiguous because it didn't matter. By drawing distinctions, he's saying it matters, when the whole point of drag is that it doesn't."
At first, RuPaul doubled down on his stance, tweeting "You can take performance enhancing drugs and still be an athlete, just not in the Olympics," but soon after, he seemed to concede.
"Each morning I pray to set aside everything I THINK I know, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. I understand and regret the hurt I have caused," he later wrote on Twitter. "The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers."
While since then, the show has taken a bit of a more inclusive approach, inviting Gia Gunn, who came out as a transgender woman after her appearance on the show's sixth season, back to compete on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, and now, featuring Gottmik on the show, it still shouldn't have taken this damn long to feature a more diverse cast.
Case and point? The Boulet Brothers' Dragula, a horror-drag competition series which has consistently featured contestants of all genders since first airing back in 2016.
"These people aren't just a part of the queer community, they are, in fact, the queer community," Swanthula Boulet, one of the show's hosts told Los Angeles magazine. "It's easy to fool yourself into thinking that the queer community is made up of fit white men, but the reason you think that is because most bars and clubs cater to, reward, and encourage that kind of crowd. In reality, our community is made up of all sorts of people including trans people, non-binary people, drag queens, sex workers, cis men, lesbians, and everything in between."
Although it's important to note that Dragula is far from perfect, receiving backlash for its lack of Black queens, Swanthula has a point when it comes to featuring drag performers of all genders. The art of drag is all about playing with the notions of gender, expressing oneself, one's femininity and/or masculinity though makeup, costume, and performance. As cheesy as it sounds, drag is for everyone, no matter who you are.
So Gottmik, congratulations on your historic appearance on the show. Here's to hoping you take the crown (and ofc, that $100,000 check) and set a precedent for more transgender "Ru Girls" to come.