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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ fave Peppermint sings her experience as a Black trans woman

'Drag Race' fave Peppermint releases 'A Girl Like Me: Letters to My Lovers,' the first in a trilogy chronicling a recent relationship.

Joey Guerra November 10, 2020Updated: November 10, 2020, 10:22 am

eppermint, like so many of us, turned to movies during the early days of lockdown and self-imposed quarantine.

The trans actress and singer first did it out of boredom. But things took a turn.

“Very quickly, it was every movie about pandemics and quarantines and zombie apocalypses, which, in all fairness, I’m always here for a good zombie movie. I was going back and watching my old favorites like ‘Contagion’ and all those scary movies where people are dying because of a virus,” she says.

“Contagion,” originally released in 2011, and 1995’s “Outbreak” both surged in popularity in March and April. The South Korean zombie film “Alive,” released in September, topped Netflix charts in 35 countries.

Attention soon shifted to real-life trauma, with the worldwide protests against police brutality and racism in the wake of George Floyd's death. Those are issues Peppermint knows well. She was the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 9 runner-up, the show’s first out trans contestant and the first trans woman to originate a lead role on Broadway in the musical “Head Over Heels.” Peppermint has since used her platform to speak on her experiences as a Black trans woman.

“That put me back into active/activist mode,” she says. “We all know that the conversation of race and discrimination is now new. But one thing that I’m grateful for in 2020 is that it seems like, collectively, people have become more aware and even changed their approach when it comes to activism. It’s always encouraging, at a lot of these BLM protests, seeing white bodies, whether it’s white moms or grandmas in Portland, standing between the police and the other protesters.”

The past several months have indeed been an awakening. There’s been BLM support from Tejano legend Little Joe Hernandez and Texas country singer Jason Eady, often to the chagrin of their fan bases. K-pop group BTS and Harry Styles have made hefty donations. Companies such as Target, Etsy and Nike have also pledged financial support.

Peppermint is now doing her part through her art. Her newly released EP, “A Girl Like Me,” initially plays like a sweet collection of love songs with a ’90s throwback vibe. She planned to tour behind it this year but has taken to virtual showcases. There are conversational interludes and a subtle cover of Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It’s the first in a trilogy of EPs recorded over the past year.

But it’s much more than that. “A Girl Like Me” focuses on romantic relationships through the eyes of its creator, a trans woman of color. Mainstream artists, including Miley Cyrus, Pink and Christina Aguilera, have often put LGBTQ+ characters at the forefront of songs and videos. But Peppermint’s art, which she calls her “diary,” is revolutionary simply because it exists in an industry primarily focused on heterosexual, cisgender declarations of love and sex.

“When I was a young, queer kid coming up, until high school, I thought I was the only one. And I know that I’m not alone in that thinking. It’s because we don’t see ourselves reflected anywhere. That’s changing now, and I wanna be part of that change,” she says. “We’ve heard songs by other singers who are queer or gay, and they’ve changed the gender of the person they’re singing to in the song or they always make it ambiguous. When the singer is in protective mode and evading all of that, then no one is showing us who we are or putting out art that really speaks to or validates our experiences.”

“A Girl Like Me” is a sensual collection of five ballads, connected by a series of spoken interludes detailing Peppermint’s experiences in love. She sings intimately, often quietly but with full confidence. The steamy first video, “Best Sex,” was released in October. This is a far cry from the usual post-show music from “Drag Race” contestants. No high-energy club anthems. No tongue pops or catchphrases.

“I knew that I wasn’t inventing anything new. I was just doing songs that I wanted to do, that come from my heart, written about my story, in the style of music that I grew up listening to,” Peppermint says.

The title track is the heart of the EP and the entire trilogy. It’s a simple love song on the surface, highlighted by Peppermint’s plaintive vocals and understated production.

But there’s much more in the poignant, sometimes painful lyrics.

A girl like me isn’t always seen as equal/ And sometimes not one at all/ A girl like me can’t give a man a baby/ And when trouble comes she’s the first to take a fall/ And girls like me are scared and angry/ But we always find a way to smile …

“It’s the song that is calling out the most to be heard,” Peppermint says. “Everything about this moment, this relationship, my experiences with love can be summed up in the one song. It’s the one song that I believe I haven’t heard, a song about a trans woman of color, singing about trans women of color, to trans women of color.

“I would have taken any Black trans woman singing a sweet song. We as trans women in this world have some catching up to do. There’s a lot of things we haven’t been able to do, are still illegal for us to do, places for us to exist and jobs for us to hold. And so every time we do them, they’re considered historic. I’m not giving myself a badge of honor by saying this is a historic song. I’m just saying that something that seems so perfunctory for everyone else is rare for us to do and so simple and so special.”