RuPaul’s Drag Race season 15 had its highest-rated premiere in six years, thanks to its move to MTV. Meanwhile, the art form it celebrates and the people who perform it have been under sustained attack.
Public drag performances are now banned in Tennessee, which means anything from a show with Drag Race stars to Tom Holland’s Lip Sync Battle performance are now illegal.
While this has been happening, Drag Race alumni have been vocal, including in this video from GLAAD. But where was the star of the show that brought drag to mainstream popularity?
RuPaul has not exactly been on the front lines of activism against this growing fascism, unless you count answering a question on James Corden’s show.
Also silent: Paramount Global, the company that’s used the financial success of RuPaul’s Drag Race to prop up its dying cable channels and to get people to sign up for its mediocre streaming platform.
Paramount and production company World of Wonder are more than happy to use queens’ stories and trauma to fill a segment on Drag Race, but when trans people and drag queens are under sustained attack, what are they doing?
RuPaul Charles finally spoke out five days ago, with a video posted to social media:
Hey, look over there! A classic distraction technique distracting us away from the real issues that they were voted into office to focus on: jobs, healthcare, keeping our children safe from harm at their own school.
But we know that bullies are incompetent at solving real issues. They look for easy targets so they can give the impression of being effective. They think our love, our light, our laughter and our joy are signs of weakness. But they’re wrong, because that is our strength.
Drag queens are the marines of the queer movement. Don’t get it twisted and don’t be distracted.
Register to vote so we can get these stunt queens out of office and put some smart people with real solutions into government.
By the way, a social media post has never been as powerful as a registered vote.
This is nice, but…register to vote? That’s the message? That’s it? Important, sure! The best way to respond right now? It’s not enough.
MTV and World of Wonder went a tiny step farther, posted a message to its social channels that said:
Drag performers and the LGBTQ+ community are facing threats across the country.
That’s why RuPaul’s Drag Race, MTV, and World of Wonder are proud to donate to “The Drag Defense Fund.”
Join us in supporting the ACLU’s work for LGBTQ rights.
So that’s it? Give to the ACLU? Nothing else?
I honestly didn’t know. I certainly haven’t been on the front lines of activism, either. I think that’s part of feeling powerless against these well-organized forces, and part hoping that other, smarter people are dealing with this, and will tell me what they need from me.
Emily St. James wrote that “The time to panic about anti-trans legislation is now”—and she wrote that one year ago, in March 2022. But doing something now seems better than waiting another year.
By the way, Emily also summed up what I think a lot of people don’t understand just about the core underlying issues here:
It’s worth repeating some other basic facts: Affirming trans children’s genders reduces their risk of attempting suicide; the use of puberty blockers in trans kids is safe; children are having bottom surgery only in exceptionally rare cases; and almost every element of trans health care we have was originally developed for cisgender people. (Cis children with precocious puberty have been using blockers for decades!)
‘Drag bills are barely about drag queens’
“Remember that these drag bills are barely about drag queens—they’re about discriminating against trans people,” Trixie Mattel wrote. “It’s so obvious.”
It is. Legislators are creating a problem out of nothing. They’ve done absolutely nothing about kids being shot to death in schools and elsewhere, but are somehow think a performer in a costume reading a story is a threat?
Some other things that have happened recently:
- Arkansas just relaxed child labor laws and is still trying to deny kids health care.
- Trans kids can’t play sports in Texas or in here in Florida, where legislators actually proposed inspecting kids’ genitals before allowing them to play sports, and one has proposed taking kids away from their parents
- A speaker at CPAC said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life” and conservatives cheered at the idea of annihilation
All of this anti-trans action and rhetoric is not limited to fringe conservatives. Elon Musk takes time out from breaking Twitter to tweet transphobia, despite having a trans child.
Meanwhile, the allegedly liberal The New York Times‘ coverage of trans people has been absolutely atrocious. (That’s why I joined New York Times contributors and 20,000+ other journalists and members of the media in signing this open letter, which the NYT dismissed.)
Why are people spending so much time attacking 1.6 percent of adults? It’s about everything from getting votes and trying to become president—and also about how queer and trans people represent “a threat to authoritarian control.”
But registering to vote or sending some money to the ACLU doesn’t seem to be enough.
So what to do? I’ve spent time researching some options, and present those here, in case you, too, would like to do more than just register to vote.
If you only have time for one thing
- Visit the HRC’s Count Me In page, which offers everything from a free sticker to information. As it says: “Transgender and non-binary people are your neighbors, co-workers, family members and friends. And when you or your friends and family are the targets of hate, violence and discrimination, you act.”
Whether you’re a trans person in need of help, or an ally who can share these with people you know, here are some resources:
- The Trevor Project’s free, 24/7 access to counselors
- The Trans Lifeline, “run by and for trans people”: 1-877-565-8860
- Resources for LGBTQ+ youth outside of the United States
- GLAAD’s list of resources, including advocacy and legal help
- The Okra Project’s list of resources
- The Marsha P. Johnson Institute’s list of resources by state, which include “locating culturally competent resources for basic necessities like housing, food security, legal and financial support, COVID-19 relief, health/wellness, employment, social support, and more”
If donating your money is a possibility, here are some options besides the ACLU’s Drag Defense fund:
- Give to The Trans Lifeline, “a trans-led organization that connects trans people to the community, support, and resources they need to survive and thrive”
- Give to local organizations, like the ones listed by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute
- Volunteer for or donate to Trans Student Educational Resources, which “is a youth-led organization dedicated to transforming the educational environment for trans and gender nonconforming students through advocacy and empowerment.”
- Donate to Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, which says donations will “support our legal program, which brings cutting edge cases seeking to expand transgender civil rights; the Name Change Project, which provides free legal name changes through our partnerships with lawyers in private practice; and the Trans Health Project, which works to eliminate barriers to insurance coverage for transgender-related health care.”
- Give to The Okra Project, which “provides support to Black Trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people with the intention of alleviating some of the barriers that the community faces daily”
- Donate to GLSEN, which “believes that every student has the right to a safe, supportive, and LGBTQ-inclusive K-12 education” and is “working to make this right a reality.”
- Join the Human Rights Campaign
Contact people in power
Phone calls to legislators are far more effective than e-mail. I once interned in a congressman’s office, taking calls from constituents, and we tallied every call, and that was shared regularly.
Thankfully, a number of websites make it very easy to see who you can contact, and what to talk to them about:
- Use the Track Trans Legislation tool to get action items for your state, including sample scripts
- Call your representative in Congress using this script to oppose HR 734, which would ban intersex and trans kids from school sports nationwide
- See if “your elected officials support LGBTQ+ equality,” and then call them to encourage their support
- Explore the National Center for Transgender Equality’s list of 2023 legislative session priorities
- The Tennessee Equality Project’s blog has weekly lists of bills moving through Tennessee, with links to forms to directly contact legislators
As a cisgender white man, I certainly don’t pretend that I know what it’s like to be trans, so I’m doing my best to continue to learn. Here’s some information I found from trusted sources that may be helpful:
- The Mayo Clinic’s guide to Children and gender identity: Supporting your child
- The HRC’s Resources for Black Parents, Family Members and Caregivers of Black Transgender, Non-Binary and Gender-Expansive Youth
- Myths and Facts: Battling Disinformation About Transgender Rights
- Gender Spectrum’s information and education
- Issues facing trans people from the National Center for Transgender Equality
reality blurred is dedicated to unscripted entertainment, so a good way to end this list is by suggesting some classic, acclaimed documentaries and newer videos, all of which center the experiences of trans people:
- Learn With Love (YouTube). The Trevor Project “invited trans young people from all over the country to share their experiences of growing up and how the people in their lives affected them, affirmed them, or changed them.”
- The Most Dangerous Year (streaming free on Peacock and Kanopy). Follows “a small group of embattled parents as they banded together to fight a deluge of proposed laws that would strip away the rights of their young, transgender children”
- Changing the Game (Hulu), which “takes us into the lives of three high school athletes—all at different stages of their athletic seasons, personal lives, and unique paths as transgender teens.”
- Disclosure (Netflix), a documentary in which “leading trans creatives and thinkers share heartfelt perspectives and analysis about Hollywood’s impact on the trans community.”
- Transhood (HBO Max), which “chronicles the lives of four young people (aged 4, 7, 12, and 15 at the start of filming) and their families as they navigate growing up transgender in” Kansas City
- Pay It No Mind: Marsha P. Johnson (free on Vimeo), which “focuses on revolutionary trans-activist, Marsha ‘Pay it No Mind’ Johnson, a Stonewall instigator, Andy Warhol model, drag queen, sex worker, starving actress”
- Paris is Burning (HBO Max), which the Criterion Collection says “offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women”
Friday 17th of March 2023
Thanks Andy......great article and great links to resources! Also, thanks for all the years of Reality Blurred.
Wednesday 15th of March 2023
Andy (long time fan here), don’t feel special. Rupaul hasn’t said diddly squat about BLM and George Floyd’s execution. Nothing.
Thursday 16th of March 2023
@Andy Dehnart, he also has a complex relationship with trans persons. While he deserves credit for mainstreaming drag, he's also made some negative statements about trans persons. It is only in the last few seasons that he has cast openly trans persons on Drag Race. It would be great if he would use his platform his platform in a pro-active way, but I think he doesn't think this is relevant to him and it is not worth risking his brand.
Wednesday 15th of March 2023
Good point. I guess that's what we should expect: very little or nothing at all.