Drag Artist Aja Comes to the Defense of Trans and Non Binary Communities
Rupaul’s Drag Race has had more than it’s fair share of controversy when it comes to the remarks on- and inclusion of- transgender individuals. Some in the drag community, particularly cigender gay men, speak out frequently to condemn transgender women, femme queens and non-binary folks, who they believe should not be allowed to participate in the art form.
As a member of this community, I know of many transgender women who rebuke drag and are even triggered by the aspect of performance and impersonation regarding it as inflammatory or a mockery of their own identity and I respect those reactions. I have trans friends who will never see a drag show because they perceive it as offensive “Trans-face.” Other friends frequent clubs and bars where drag queens before and have a good relationship with the cisgender men who perform, viewing it as more of a celebration of femininity and less mimicry. A great many of the artists I know are assigned women at birth, and do excellent performances in their local areas, demonstrating that drag is not a gender exclusive arena.
To compound that, I also have friends who are transgender and also drag performers.
But, at the epicenter of Drag and its journey into mainstream culture is where the conflict lays. Who owns drag? That seems to be the question that an alarming number of cisgender gay men who perform believe they have the answer to. They do. Naturally, as with any large community that commands a lot of public attention and is deeply competitive, the most outspoken of them have poised themselves as a sort of guardian of the art, regularly attacking the performers who don’t fall into their world view of drag. I have seen it myself, both as a participant, and as a fan of women and trans folks who engage with audiences in spectacular drag fashion, as they find themselves challenged by a minority of gay men who simply don’t want them in their space.
Yes, Virgina, there is a such thing as a Trans exclusionary gay man. Being a part of the community they deeply- and loudly- oppose, I see their missives with unsettling regularity. I’ve witnessed femme queens Courtney Conquers and Crimson Kitty both have to defend themselves against self-appointed “Drag Bouncers.”
Transgender and non-binary performers have experienced the same exclusionary trends in the community, often having intense debates with those who have unilaterally determined that they don’t belong in the industry of expression through performance.
It’s unfortunate to witness these divides given the far more dangerous threats that face all of us as a community — where not one of us is viewed by radical religion or hyper conservatives creating laws as better than the other. The ship is sinking and the diners are arguing over who is entitled to the best table.
Some drag queens, like Drag Race season 9 winner Sasha Velour came out in staunch support of diversity in the art of drag after Rupaul made the announcement that he would never consider a transgender contestant for his show who had any gender confirming surgery. While there have been trans contestants on Rupaul’s Drag Race, they didn’t reveal it until after the show aired.
Outside the context of this polarizing topic, very few drag queens speak out politically. It’s dangerous, after all. Most of us live by the rule of never discussing politics or religion in polite company- I get that I’m an exception to that rule, clearly.
Apparently, so is Aja, the star of both Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 9 and All Stars 3, who recently took to twitter to get some things off their chest- and they’re frustrated with how the cigender gay community alienates trans and non-binary folks who exist beneath that umbrella.
Very few have stepped up, using their platform, to ask hard hitting questions and deliver some much needed home truths in a manner that only Aja, could manage. Sure, some Drag Race stars have come out to do the exact opposite, like Willam, for example, whose is notorious for his anti-trans rants, but few had dared threaten their own fame and favor to fight for inclusivity and equality of the most marginalized within our own community.
Often, for good reason. This scathing article from Back2Stonewall wrote a catty, dismissive piece, ultimately attempting to discredit Aja’s argument and instead preserve the fragile thing that is the male ego- even the gay male ego. Some people can’t handle the truth when someone breaks formation to defend the rights of the rest of us who remain “othered.”
Aja did. They said it using their platform. They didn’t sanitize their statements or make the pill easier to swallow… And I’m glad someone finally did just that without feeling it was necessary to apologize at the same time for having the audacity to raise their voice.