Back in mid-September, trans influencer Nikita Dragun came under some fire, which wasn’t exactly surprising. Once a YouTube beauty guru, Dragun became a figure within the transgender community after coming out in December 2015. She quickly caused controversy after landing in scandals and drama with other make-up influencers, such as Jeffree Star, and receiving criticism for blackfishing and cultural appropriation.
This latest scandal has to do with Dragun’s newest single, “DICK.” The song caused quite a stir since the music video presents real texts and private messages men have sent to her. Dragun also labeled herself as the first trans pop star, which is both false and insulting to trans pop star Kim Petras, who previously featured Dragun in her music video for “Heart to Break.” What people found most disrespectful was Dragun’s use of photographs of dead trans women, placing the word “DICK” over their eyes to promote her single.
One trans woman Dragun defamed is Marsha P. Johnson, known for playing a major role in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Many found this to be not only disrespectful but tone-deaf. Why couldn’t Dragun have used pictures of living and consenting trans women? Additionally, taking a figure that fought to provide the modern trans community with the rights they have today and diminishing her to something to help promote herself makes Dragun seem both ignorant and ungrateful.
It is clear why many fellow trans people would be angry with Dragun. Many consider her actions disrespectful to the trans people she exploited and also to their family and friends.
However, this issue, which started as an issue within the trans community and online trans discourse, migrated beyond the trans community. As in any large-scale drama, cisgender people got involved. Many believed they were justified in misgendering and engaging in other transphobic actions toward Dragun in response.
This happens often: Cis people on social media find a trans person who they do not like or use their negative actions to justify transphobic behavior. You can find the actions of a trans person to be wrong, but that is not an excuse to be transphobic. Cis and trans people alike can call out the misdeeds and wrongdoings of trans influencers. That is completely fair.
However, the main problem is misgendering. Cis people believe that if or when a trans person does something wrong, they have the right to misgender them because they do not respect them or their actions. They believe that if someone correctly genders this hypothetical person, then they agree with their actions. Cis people don’t misgender other cis people, no matter the offense, because it simply would not make sense to so. Why is it so different when it comes to trans people?
It has to do with power.
There are many other ways to hold a trans influencer accountable that do not misgender them or invalidate their lived experience. Sadly, misgendering is seen all too often whenever a trans person on the internet gets into a scandal: Big or small, cisgender people find excuses to barge into trans conversations.
Another recent example of misgendering getting weaponized involves TikTok star Ve’ondre. Ve’ondre is a young trans girl who’s best known for her dancing and lip-sync videos. She has always been open about being trans. Recently, she started making videos about her experiences with transphobia as a trans girl, specifically with cis women. After this slight change in content, a lot of her so-called fans turned on her. The flood gates opened as defensive cis women poured in to invalidate her experience as a trans woman.
The difference between these two situations is that Dragun did something wrong and Ve’ondre did not. Yet, they both inspired similar responses from cis people. Cis allyship is conditional. If you follow their rules they will respect you, but if you as a trans person step out of line, they will invalidate you. The common excuse people have for this behavior is that the trans person did something wrong, and therefore, they do not have to respect them and will not use the correct pronouns.
Gendering someone correctly does not inherently mean you respect them. I might not respect Nikita Dragun because of her actions, but I would never misgender her because it would simply be incorrect. Another example would be Caitlyn Jenner; I strongly disagree with her politics, but I would not misgender her because her gender is not in question. From what I have noticed, most of this misgendering has been happening because “respect” comes from more liberal crowds. From my own experience, “hyper-woke” cis people feel so good about themselves when they use the correct pronouns for a trans person; it makes them feel like they are automatically a good person. But if you as a trans person slip up or fall out of their likeness, their act of being such a “good person” will change. They hold the power of a trans person’s identity. They can make other people think misgendering trans people is okay.
All in all, you can disagree and even find the actions of any given trans person to be deplorable, and you can absolutely call them out for it. But you must be able to do that without being transphobic if you truly consider yourself an ally.
Daily Arts Writer K. Rodriguez-Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.