“Drag Race” contestant Peppermint on coming out as trans and supporting NCTE
In 2012, drag performer Peppermint came out as transgender to her close family and friends; something she’s known about herself since the second grade, as she told Cosmopolitan magazine. As a season nine contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race — perhaps the world’s largest drag stage — Friday evening, Peppermint came out to her fellow contestants and to an audience of millions. Now, she’s using her visibility to help the trans community by calling on viewers to support the National Center for Transgender Equality.
On the eve of the big show, Peppermint was kind enough to speak with NCTE about her work, the intersection of being a drag performer and being trans, and her hopes for the future.
With Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, Gavin Grimm and many others, trans people are more visible than at any point in American history. RuPaul’s Drag Race reaches millions of homes each week. Collectively, such progress might have been unthinkable for viewers 20 years ago. What do you hope to see in the next 20 years?
In terms of media, I hope to see a relaxing of the stringent gender norms and binaries we have right now and an influx of gender non-conforming people.
Within society in general, I hope to see more safe spaces that are conducive to someone developing and building their identity in any space, not only having to go to an LGBTQIA center. People should be able to grow in their own environments without necessarily having to seek out a community or resource group. This mean that families are already open and ready for a child who may be trans or gender non-conforming. And for them to be able to recognize the signs as part of normal development, and treated as if the child were just left-handed.
I’d also like to see more positive representation of trans people, specifically trans women of color and trans people of color in the media. I would just like to see more representation across the board. This will certainly improve how we think of and view trans and gender non-conforming people. I believe this is key to helping parents understand and get ready to welcome trans or gender non-conforming children into their lives.
Your announcement this season was far different from past contestants who later came out as transgender. How would you explain the intersection of drag and being transgender, and why drag might be a safe space to explore gender identity?
In drag, we are gender warriors in that we challenge gender stereotypes and gender norms. The issue for me was the relationship and juxtaposition of drag and trans-ness. It seems so strange to me because, I remember in many bars or clubs where you see drag shows, it was not unusual to see trans people or trans women performing as drag queens. But for some reason, at least in my experience, those identities were not always harmonious. Most people could not swallow the idea of drag and trans together, and they seemed to want others to define themselves as one of the two. But I always believed that not to be true.
In terms of the show, it has never been revealed on the show in the way we talk about it. What I wanted to do, and the reason I waited to reveal it to the rest of the girls in the cast, is I didn’t know if they had the same thoughts about drag vs. trans. I wanted to wait until I knew them, in the workroom and to know more about them, to see if they were like-minded. I wasn’t quite how that would play out and how the other girls might perceive me. I’ve definitely been in some places where other drag queens just didn’t seem very happy that a trans woman is in their space. So I wanted to really establish myself as the performer and drag entertainer I’ve been working as for the last 20 years. I wanted to let that speak for itself and define me, before I got into my personal business.
Everyone was extremely warm and supportive, and accepting. Moreover, it spawned wonderful conversations that I think should continue. And frankly, I like this conversation much better than the ones we were having a couple of years ago about drag vs. trans and if those ideals go hand in hand.
People had the misperception that a man who worked as a drag queen — 10 or 20 years ago — he may have had to say that he wasn’t transitioning, just working in drag. Anyone else in drag is afforded the ability to just work in drag without defining their gender. The same respect should be afforded to trans people. Drag is a job. It’s a job, a career for me that I love and take pride in, and pour lots of myself into. But it is a job. Of course, my personality has always informed my drag persona, and my experiences influence my choices as a drag performer. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is unstable with their gender or gender identity.
Doing drag was a good way for me to explore more of my female expression without being reprimanded or rejected. It was much easier for me to explore being a woman on a stage in a gay bar during a show, where people readily accept that and even applaud. Or, the alternative was to try to fight it out in your everyday life as a child, not on stage. I didn’t think I had the option — or it didn’t present itself — to explore my female identity outside of drag. So I did it, and luckily I took to it very well. There are certainly other trans people who experiment with drag and discover it’s not for them. And that’s fine.
It has less to do with people who choose to work in drag, or not, than about how society treats people who begin to express something other than what we expect when it comes to gender. I think the reason why people mainly make one choice or another, is not necessarily because it’s the one they’re drawn to, but because they don’t believe they have other options. When we’re talking about trans people, we’re also talking about jobs, employment, healthcare and everything else important in adult life. There are very few options for trans people. Drag is one such option. So that may be one reason for so many trans people in the field.
Despite tremendous political gains and protections earned for the trans community over the past few decades, trans people in this country face many real challenges, like homelessness, inadequate healthcare and high incidences of violence and assault. Already, nine trans women of color have been killed in 2017. You recently shared a story of an assault you faced in high school. What advice would you offer to trans kids growing up now and to the families of those kids?
My advice to young trans kids is to have faith in your feelings, and know the choices you want to make are the right choices. For parents and families of a trans child, follow your child’s guidance and let them tell you who they are. If right, they will flourish. If not, it’s not the end of the world. No one wants to be stuck doing the wrong thing. You want them to be happy and thrive. So the goal is to let them be who they were always meant to be.
Of course, it’s very disappointing for me to see the laws and protections we’ve so hard for to be stripped away. I can only say that while it’s important to have legislation on our side, it doesn’t necessarily negate the importance and the strength of community. We’ve been through too much work when we had fewer protections on the books, even less than what we may have in the next few years. So I know we’ll make it through. We’ve been through extremely hard times; as hard or even harder than where we are now. But I know we can get through with each other.
This is just the beginning of this and many conversations, as NCTE and Peppermint expand our work in 2017 and beyond. Be sure to donate, like, follow and subscribe to NCTE’s Facebook, Twitter and Medium page; and continue the conversation with Peppermint on YouTube, where she’s ready to answer your questions about all things trans on “Ask Peppermint.” RuPaul’s Drag Race airs Fridays at 8pm ET on VH1.