Who can be a drag queen? RuPaul's trans comments fuel calls for inclusion

Without drag, Monica Beverly Hillz might not be alive today.

“I lived a whole other life that women like me do not really survive. Drag really saved me,” the Chicago-based performer said in a recent interview.

Hillz made headlines in 2013 when she came out as a transgender woman while competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the hit reality show that brought drag queens to audiences across the globe. She was the first to come out as a trans woman during the competition, and the show largely embraced her.

But this week, RuPaul sent a different message. He told the Guardian he would “probably not” let a trans woman on the program, adding: “You can identify as a woman and say you’re transitioning, but it changes once you start changing your body.” His remarks sparked an uproar from drag queens, trans performers and LGBT rights activists who were particularly upset that RuPaul spouted the harmful notion that physical characteristics determine gender identity.

RuPaul eventually backtracked, but the controversy has reignited debates about the boundaries of drag and the role of the art form in an era when trans people are increasingly visible and gender is more widely seen as fluid.

“RuPaul himself would not have the career he has and the platform he has if it wasn’t for the trans women who came before us,” said Pearl Teese, a San Francisco drag performer who is also a trans woman. She added: “Drag is just a form of self-expression.”

RuPaul’s Emmy-winning show, which has a large mainstream audience, has consistently featured men performing in drag as women, completing runway challenges and lip-sync battles.

Drag can be more risky, creative and entertaining when it’s not limited to men, said Hollow Eve, a San Francisco performer who identifies as a “post-binary” drag artist and uses gender-neutral “they” pronouns: “The subversive, wild, politically interesting thought-provoking art that is happening in San Francisco and in so many cities across the country … that’s what I want to watch.” Read more via the Guardian