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RuPaul hasn’t been the best advocate for the trans community—but is he learning? A very small spoiler for Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4 ahead.

At the start of every RuPaul’s Drag Race episode, Ru says, “Gentlemen, start your engines. And may the best woman win.”

[You read that in Ru’s voice, didn’t you? Same.]

For the December 7 Christmas special, RuPaul made one big change.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines,” he said.

In a show all about gender and its subversion, the change may seem insignificant, but it’s actually monumental.

Among the competing queens was season two alum Sonique, who is not only a fierce drag queen, but also a trans woman. She is not the first trans or non-binary competitor on Drag Race, but it is the first time RuPaul’s opening has been gender inclusive.

Despite being one of the most recognizable, famous members of the queer community, RuPaul does not have a great record on trans issues. The show used the controversial “You’ve Got She-mail” tagline for the first six seasons and Ru has been vocal about feeling he has a license to say things like “n—r, faggot, tranny” because, as he says, “I’ve lived the life. I’ve been on the front line.”

And he has. RuPaul has been one of the most recognizable queer people for decades, releasing music and music videos, starring in television shows and movies, leading pride celebrations, and serving looks as the face of makeup companies. For a lot of straight people, RuPaul was the first queer person they felt they knew. The good RuPaul has done for the community, though, doesn’t give him a license to say whatever he wants; he still makes mistakes that need correcting.

In reading RuPaul’s statements, he seems to never consider that members of the queer community could take the issues of gender and identity seriously, saying only fringe groups looking for controversy pay it any mind.

What is really comes down to is intention. RuPaul is not trying to offend or ostracize the trans community—at least, I don’t think he is. In a Vulture interview, Ru said, “We do not stand on ceremony, and we do not take words seriously. We do take feelings seriously and intention seriously, and the intention is not to be hateful at all.” 

For RuPaul, gender is a joke, a completely meaningless joke. He has spent most of his career mocking gender and the people who focus on it so intensely.

“You can call me ‘he.’ You can call me ‘she.’ You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me,” RuPaul quipped in his 1995 autobiography.

Many drag queens use she/her pronouns when in drag, then he/his pronouns out of drag. It is also not uncommon to hear queens call each other “sis” or “girl” even outside of drag. As people who spend so much time exaggerating and examining gender, many aren’t particular about how they are addressed.

“We mock identity. They take identity very seriously,” RuPaul said of the drag and trans communities during that same interview. 

Trans people, understandably, do tend to take gender identity very seriously. The trans community is battling against the notion that they are just “men in dresses” or “confused crossdressers,” which is why RuPaul’s words cut so deep. The world sees RuPaul as a spokesperson for the queer community, so if he says using preferred gender pronouns for trans people isn’t important, other people will think that’s the case. If he says trans women are just drag queens who went a step further, people will believe that narrative, and the trans community will continue to face discrimination.

Having spent so long misgendered and mislabeled, trans people want to be addressed correctly. And that is their right. No matter where a person is at in their transition—no matter how someone else perceives their gender—they get to choose their gender pronouns, whether he/his, she/her, or they/them. RuPaul needs to respect that. No one is asking him start taking his own gender and pronouns seriously, but he needs to let others, if they so choose.

On March 5 of this year, after receiving backlash for his comments, RuPaul tweeted: “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. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement. You are my teachers.”

It is easy to tweet an apology, but the Christmas special was the first instance of RuPaul acting on his promise to do better.

All Stars 4 had its premiere last night, December 14, and featured another trans queen, Gia Gunn from season six. RuPaul stuck to the week’s theme, a variety show for LGBTQ troops, and began with, “My fellow drag Americans, start your engines,” so fans had to wait until the runway to hear the new inclusive, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.”

It’s definitely a start.

Photo courtesy of Facebook