On Friday night’s episode of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” New York City queen Peppermint finally had a moment that many fans of the show knew was coming: a discussion surrounding her trans identity and the way it relates to her drag persona.
It was a highly personal and vulnerable conversation for Peppermint, who has been open about being trans since the show premiered earlier this year. But deciding when to share this with her fellow competitors and coming out on national television is no easy task, and one that Peppermint put an immense amount of thought and emotional energy into prior to the filming the show last summer.
There have been contestants who have come out as trans during the course of a “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season in the past, like Monica Beverly Hillz, and those that have gone on to transition post-”Drag Race,” like Carmen Carrera or Gia Gunn. But Peppermint is the first queen to be vocal about her identity from the moment the list of queens competing on her season was announced.
In this interview with The Huffington Post, Peppermint opens up about how she decided to tell her fellow contestants about her trans identity, the relationship, for her, between being trans and drag performance, and advice she would give other trans and gender non-conforming queens considering competing on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in the future.
The Huffington Post: First of all, congratulations for coming out on national television ― that’s a huge deal!
Peppermint: Thank you! I’ve actually been out for awhile but this is my first time speaking about it with this group of people, so I guess it’s a coming out! It’s a small and a big coming out at the same time.
Right ― it’s just more of a public coming out on this major platform. How did you approach sharing your trans identity going into “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
Well, I think I took the same approach that I took in life, which was I didn’t necessarily have a Facebook announcement moment or like a “stop it all, everything changes” moment. I really just kind of wanted to become who I was supposed to be and continue to do what I was always meant to do – and I did! I just kind of morphed myself into a trans woman [laughs] and continued to kind of go about my daily life. The people who were in contact with me and in my life just kind of saw it in front of their eyes. So that was kind of my approach with the show.
I didn’t really want to come in and say, “hey everyone, I don’t know your names but I’ve got an announcement to make.” I just wanted to let me persona and my talent speak for themselves. And once I felt comfortable and established in the room and this group of people and knew that it was a safe space then I felt comfortable enough to share personal moments with them – including my trans experience.
You talked a little bit about this in the episode, but I would love to hear you talk more about the contention and distinction between trans identity and drag performance. Obviously you can’t speak for everybody when it comes to that but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what that relationship is like for you.
You know, it didn’t even occur to me until a certain time that there is a difference between drag and [being] trans. For me, for so long, just doing drag was me being able to express myself as a woman and make the choice to wear things that I felt were gorgeous and makeup and hair and all of that. And it wasn’t until much later and actually starting my transition that I realized that’s barely even what womanhood is about for all of those women. So once I wrapped my head around that I was kind of able to see the relationship between drag and trans in that, for me, the truth is that there’s a lot of wonderful places in great cities and groups of people and LGBT centers that are safe spaces for people of trans experience to kind of explore their identity and step into that realm. But, as we know, there are a lot of places that aren’t safe spaces and I think drag in most cities, at least in America, continues to be a safe space for someone to kind of experiment with gender expression – of course! Because that’s the name of the game for drag. And so that’s a really safe space for trans people to be able to kind of explore that. I think some trans people very quickly realize that performing in drag is not for them, and then some of us get hooked on it and want to do it every day!
But, as we know, there are a lot of places that aren’t safe spaces and I think drag in most cities, at least in America, continues to be a safe space for someone to kind of experiment with gender expression.
I think that this is definitely a dialogue that we engage in a lot within queer community. How do we help the larger world understand this really complicate relationship between these different shades of identity involving drag performance and trans identity.
I think the simplest way to put it is in the words of Monica Beverley Hillz who so bravely came out in season five of Drag Race, that “Drag is what I do and trans is who I am.” And I think that’s the simplest way to put it. I know that there’s a lot of nuances, just as there are in the human experience – there’s no one way to describe everyone. I think that’s what we should take away: there’s trans people who may have never set foot in a gay bar or been to a drag show. And there’s trans people who are drag queens and are at the gay bar every week ― just like there are gay men who never set foot in a gay bar. It’s really easy, especially when we’re talking about minorities, to kind of paint the entire community with one broad stroke and just say “all gay people are this” or “all trans people are that.” And this is primarily because we have very limited examples of who these people are in our media. So I think once we start to expand the different shades and shapes and sizes of the people in our queer community in media, then people will see that there are different types of trans people – some of whom are drag queens and some of whom are not. Drag is a job or career – it’s a way to make money, but it’s not necessarily the be all end all of a trans person’s existence.
Very well said and I would even argue that you’re embodying that possibility model by talking about this right now and that’s really powerful and I commend you for that. As a trans woman, how are you impacted by gendered terminology on the show? What are your thoughts surrounding that?
One step at a time is my thought. It would not be a bad thing if the producers and writers of the show decided that they wanted to carve out more space to expand and get a little more breathing room when it comes to terminology and words and definitions. I don’t necessarily think it is as crucial, specifically because I know that when I’m working as a drag performer, the definition and expectation is that you are a gender non-conforming person.
It’s really easy, especially when we’re talking about minorities, to kind of paint the entire community with one broad stroke and just say 'all gay people are this' or 'all trans people are that.' And this is primarily because we have very limited examples of who these people are in our media.
Did you ever feel the pressure to present in any certain type of way while out of drag when you were competing on the show?
Well, this is an extremely difficult, personal and very heavy kind of thought process for me. No, I didn’t feel any pressure directed at me from anyone else. I really had to address the pressure that I put on myself. What is a woman? What do I look like? What does my natural body say? And how do I feel about that? I’ve had to address that stuff throughout my life and I probably will again – this calls into question possibility. Do I really need to feel the pressure to sit in front of the mirror and put on a bunch of makeup and wear a whole bunch of jewelry, makeup and perfume just to go to the grocery store? What if I just wash my face and present my natural self – will people say that I’m a man? I mean that’s really a scary thing and a hard thing to deal with and accept for a lot of trans people. And a part of passing has to do with safety and not being targeted, and of course I felt safe I didn’t think I was going to be abused or anything. But the truth of the matter is an hour before I start getting into drag, I take a shower and I have short blonde hair, no makeup on and my body looks like one that most people would say, “oh that’s a man.” And I don’t like that but it’s the truth! And I have to deal with that. And so I wanted to go into each challenge as natural as possible, I didn’t want to have to put on a bunch of makeup and then take it off and put it back on again. And before the show I would wear hair as a trans woman every day ― my daytime hair. I have a daytime look which involves wigs and makeup and hair and I didn’t want to have to de-drag in order to drag again because then I would be at a disadvantage.
That’s extremely personal and I appreciate you sharing that. Finally, what would you want to say to any trans or GNC person that’s thinking about or going to compete on drag race in the future?
I think number one, absolutely do it. I think if you have faith that you are a stellar drag performer and you think you have a lot to offer to the world of drag and have already contributed to the world of drag, then I say “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is meant for you. Whether you see an example of yourself or not, you will be that person. So just do it! And I do think, kind of going back to the last question that you had, you may have to be really ready to shed a lot of the ― I don’t want to say security blanket ― but a lot of the things that you use to protect yourself in every day life when you’re going into a thing like “Drag Race.” And that’s not necessarily unique to a trans person or trans experience – I think every person who goes to “Drag Race” or any reality TV show has to be ready to be vulnerable or be exposed or be without their security blanket – whatever that is. And that includes people of trans experience.
Laverne Cox told me about an experience she had where she was traveling through the airport and was in a rush and she was misgendered by the airline personnel at the gate. And she had a choice to kind of either stay there and argue with the person so that they knew the right thing to say, or just keep it moving because she doesn’t have time and doesn’t want to miss her flight. And the truth is, whether I’m wearing hair or however I’m presenting, it doesn’t negate my womanhood.
I’ve always been a woman! And my womanhood is never at stake based on what someone says about how I look or how I present or whether you’re a drag queen or not or whether you’re transition or whether you have surgeries – none of that matters. Your womanhood or your manhood if you’re a trans man or whatever your gender identity – you’re born with it! That’s my belief. And even though it takes some people awhile to realize it and kind of come into their own, it’s always inside of you.