Peppermint has been a staple of the New York drag scene for years, and now she's joined the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9. She talks exclusively to NewNowNext about her experience as a drag performer and being the first openly transgender contestant cast in Drag Race history.
What was growing up transgender like for you?
It wasn’t as clear an idea when I was growing up as it probably would’ve been for me if I was growing up today. Honestly, the most overwhelming thought was that I was just different than everyone else I encountered. I knew that I was attracted, not necessarily romantically, but I knew that I was attracted to queer people on film and TV. But, I didn’t really know anyone who had the same feelings that I had. It was difficult in the ’80s as a kid to really pinpoint what that was. It wasn’t until I was late into my teens that I realized: “okay, I’m a woman.”
Were you nervous about reactions from the other Drag Race contestants?
I was nervous. There are a lot of people who think that think drag queens can’t be trans and trans people can’t do drag, that there’s always a separation. There is a separation of course. Not all drag queens are trans and of course most trans people aren’t drag queens. But there are certainly plenty of trans people who work and perform in the context of drag. And there’s a lot of drag queens who transition and there’s a little bit of a margin where they are kind of both. That being said I was worried. I wasn’t sure if they [the Drag Race queens] would accept me into the sisterhood.
I honestly thought that if they did that it would be disingenuous. I knew that I had what it takes to get on the show. And I knew that my style of drag and my approach to drag is something that’s accepted already. I’ve been doing drag for 20 years, so if I was doing something that was completely wrong I would have known by now. I was worried that they would be like “oh, you’re trans, you’re a woman, you don’t belong here.” I was worried that that would happen.
But ultimately I wanted to tell the group in my own time. On my own terms. Any anxiety I had beforehand melted away. You'll see for yourself how it plays out on the show. For Ru and the judges it was a total non-issue. I felt totally loved and accepted. Can I get an amen?
What are some of the biggest misperceptions about trans women today?
I think that in general one of the biggest misconceptions about trans people, women in particular is that you’re not trans, or you don’t become a woman until you’ve had surgery and you’ve started taking hormones and you’ve done some medical, physical outward change. I think a lot of people think that it works from the outside in. That you’re a guy until you go and get the surgery and then you’re a woman. And for me it’s the energy of a woman that is so strong from the inside. The feeling of being a woman is so strong that it prompts you to do all of these outward things. It doesn’t work the other way, at least not for me.
Are you hopeful for the future in terms of how trans people are being accepted by society?
Absolutely! The awakening has already started. I think it’s unavoidable. Even if something happened when something swings politically one way or the other, it’s pretty much too late. We are out, we’re here and we exist in every single space that there is existence already. And people may not know that but they will because we are going to start announcing it to people. Everyday as we move on it’s going to get louder and louder until you look around and it’s just as typical to see a trans person as it is to see a person of a different race, or any other type of difference. People are going to start to see us as equal in those realms.
How has your transition been received by the drag community?
The very beginning of my transition was met with some pushback. There was a lot of micro aggressions with people coming up and whispering in my ear “you’re not transitioning or anything are you?” That kind of approach or that kind of talk scared me for many years. Thinking: “wow, if I come out as trans I’m going to lose my spot in the drag community and in the LGBT community.” I work as a drag queen, I volunteer with AIDS and HIV patients. I marched for marriage equality.
I did all of those things and I didn’t want anyone to feel they have the right or the responsibility to take that away from me. I did meet a lot of pushback in the beginning. People needed to know and I didn’t have all of the words, or the explanation to give to people, and I think that bothered some people.
I saw some other trans sisters who work as drag queens when they were going through medical transition before me, I witnessed a lot of them losing their work in the clubs and they weren’t able to maintain. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to afford to transition and that I was going to lose my work because of how people were talking about me and gossiping. Eventually I said: “fuck it, I’m going to go through my transition, live as a woman, be out as a woman.” People then started to get it. I snuck it in.
What message do you have for the trans youth of today?
To look back on your history and see the great example of people who stood up in the face of adversity and challenge and even risked death to be who they are. Don’t lose the notion that it is important to fight for who you are.
RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 premieres Friday, March 24 at 8/7c on VH1.