It’s been two weeks since the backlash surrounding the offensive, transphobic mini-challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the inappropriately titled “Female or Shemale.” A few days ago, RuPaul and Logo finally responded to the controversy in a blog post titled, “Producers Respond To Trans Issues On ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’” It’s a good thing that they did, too, because otherwise we might not even know what they were addressing. Mentioning little else except a desire to continue promoting misty ideas of love and acceptance, Ru’s underwhelming two-sentence response comes bundled up as a collective statement on behalf of all the executive producers:
We delight in celebrating every color in the LGBT rainbow. When it comes to the movement of our trans sisters and trans brothers, we are newly sensitized and more committed than ever to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.
So, no. RuPaul did not apologize. The statement is short and vague, without any of the back-sassing Ru proffers when asked about the word “tranny.” But its brevity and PR blandness come off as more dismissive than dedicated “to help spread love, acceptance and understanding.” While it’s great that the executive producers on the show are “newly sensitized” to trans issues, how oblivious were they before? Logo, the network behind Drag Race, released an equally vague statement in conjunction with Ru’s (kind of) apology:
We have heard the concerns around this segment. We are committed to sharing a diverse range of trans stories across all of our screens and look forward to featuring positive and groundbreaking stories of trans people in the future.
The network should definitely make good on its word and feature more stories about trans people, whether it be via a scripted or reality shows or a web series; that’s the only way they can truly demonstrate that they are dedicated to respecting trans viewers. But here is something else to ponder: why hasn’t this been a priority for Logo from the start?
The channel launched in June of 2005, becoming the first advertiser-supported commercial television channel with a stated mission of providing LGBT-focused programming. And the channel is progressive, for obvious reasons. Still, Logo isn’t the shining example of LGBT acceptance and visibility that it could be — that it should be. Why is it that Logo isn’t leading the charge to feature members of the trans community, when shows like Orange Is the New Black, Glee, and Degrassi have done so to great success? This isn’t a question that can be answered easily, given that the network hasn’t expounded much on this issue. But it’s worth considering.
Two years ago, the network announced that it was shifting its focus to include more general lifestyle and cultural programming, because research showed that their audience doesn’t only want to watch programming that is directly LGBT-related. (Well, no duh. A healthy media diet is a varied one.) So Logo started putting more weight into programming that reflects “increasing integration” into mainstream culture. No doubt, this is a good thing. But when this inclusivity only promotes people more traditionally featured in the mainstream, there is a problem. Obviously, Logo wants to attract the broadest audience that it can. The channel’s About page makes it clear that Logo is for anybody who wants to watch their content. “Entertaining a social, savvy audience of gay trendsetters,” it reads, “Logo TV also attracts a straight audience that wants to be ahead of the curve.” But shouldn’t “ahead of the curve” include better word choices and more progressive representations? Instead, Logo seems to be vying for more mainstream acceptance at the expense of respecting the voices of a more marginalized viewership.
It’s funny to say that Logo feels behind on the times, but it does. There are other characters on other shows — Sophia on Orange Is the New Black, Unique on Glee — who happen to be trans people, but also get to be more than trans people. This Drag Race debacle is only symptomatic of a larger issue with the channel. Specialized channels are usually the ones that have the leeway to push TV a little bit further, offer content that speaks to a particular audience but can also transcend that audience. Rather than make and draw attention to great content spotlighting or geared towards the underrepresented trans community, Logo waited until after a giant controversy to even express a commitment to it.
So, where are we now? Drag Race and Logo haven’t apologized, or even really addressed the trans community’s criticisms. Saying that you “celebrate” your trans friends feels more like lip service than anything substantial. And it has revealed a problem bigger and more pervasive than the misstep of using improper language or promoting offensive gender roles: the issue lies in how Logo is trying to appease trans people and stop the backlash by applying these shaky stopgap measures. This is sad, really, because the network has such a great platform to showcase the stories of people in the trans community and really trailblaze some great, inclusive programming.