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Peppermint Learned A Lot This Year—And Hopes You Have, Too
"People were of the mindset: 'I’m gay, I’m a minority, so you can’t check for my racism.' That has gone out the window."
BY HEATH OWENS
Twenty-twenty was going to be Peppermint’s year. She was set to release a new album, launch a residency at the legendary Joe’s Pub in New York City, and embark on a European tour. But when coronavirus forced performance venues to close, drag entertainers were among the many without a lifeline. Nonetheless, the ever-graceful ‘sweet diva’ logged onto Zoom for an interview with her hair blowing gently away from her face, as if she were standing in front of the omnipresent hair fan at a drag bar. She’s making it work.
Peppermint has been a fixture in New York City nightlife since the early aughts. Her debut single, “Servin’ It Up,” was released in 2006, more than a decade ahead of her mainstream fame. In 2017, she made history as the first openly trans contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and placed second in the season. She made history again in 2018 as the first openly trans person to originate a principal role on Broadway in Head Over Heels, a jukebox musical inspired by the music of The Go-Go’s.
Despite the year’s challenges, Peppermint has kept the internet entertained. She’s racked up her fair share of viral moments, including a hilarious accidental mention of RuPaul’s fracking controversy on an Instagram Live with Bob The Drag Queen.
Peppermint video-chatted with Hearst Pride from her hotel room in Vancouver (where she's quarantining for two weeks before filming a top-secret project!) to discuss the 2020 election, racism in the LGBTQ+ community, and the future of drag.
On the 2020 election:
It's so crucial—I'm more worked up than ever. But, I’m also really grateful to be in a country where I feel safe participating in this discourse, without feeling like there will be retribution from the government. I have a protective circle of people around me so I've been lucky to not be in a situation where I have been overly scrutinized or attacked, and hopefully it never happens. Thanks to that insulation, I've found the strength to put myself out there even more. Right now, I’m trying to find a Trump supporter who will talk to me on camera. I would like to have an on-the-record conversation with someone who has extremely opposing views.
On racism in the LGBTQ+ community:
Last year it was World Pride in New York City, and to be honest, it was intense. I thought to myself, “If I never see another Pride again, I’ll be okay.” Then COVID hit. Then the Ahmed Aubrey video came out. And then George Floyd. And then Breonna Taylor. I knew then what the path forward for our community could look like.
Conversations focused generally on systemic racism in our country are crucial, but too often, they exclude the queer community, especially trans women of color. And this has been the most deadly year on record for trans women of color. [According to the Human Rights Campaign, 33 transgender and gender nonconforming people—a record number—have been killed by violence this year, the majority of whom were Black and Latinx transgender women.] So it was important for me to find a way to bring that up in the context of Black lives mattering. Thankfully, I was not alone in doing that, and there were a lot of overdue conversations happening at this year’s virtual Prides that finally acknowledged systemic racism in our own community.
All queer folks are marginalized, but embracing intersectionality of different races and gender expressions never hit home before summer of 2020. People were of the mindset: "I’m gay, I’m a minority, so you can’t check for my racism." That has gone out the window. It is a different world moving forward.
On her new album, A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers:
I was in a relationship that was one of the best relationships I’ve ever been in—it was transformative. But (spoiler alert!) the relationship ended, and it changed me so much that it would’ve been dishonest for me not to have it reflected in my work. The feelings, emotions, and openness that I was feeling about this relationship also coincided with me wanting to do something different, musically. I’ve had songs about “put a dollar in my titty” and “your phone is shady” and all this stuff, so I wanted this to be something that wasn’t so dance, or cutesy, or kitschy. Something that was like, “This is how I’m feeling.”
On her on Broadway debut in Head Over Heels:
It was truly a full-circle moment. Years ago, I was called by my agent to do a drag show and play backup for an artist. When I walked in and realized it was Belinda Carlisle, I was on the floor. It was such a great experience. We spent several days together rehearsing and doing the show. Years later, when I was cast in Head Over Heels, I knew the show was The Go-Go’s’ music, but I didn’t know what else to expect. But The Go-Go’s were around a lot, and on opening night, they played a concert with us after the show. It was a dream come true, and Belinda remembered that I was her backup eight years earlier.
On the future of drag:
Everything that’s happened to me, I never expected. And it’s been amazing to watch other drag performers in movies with Lady Gaga, on the Oscars red carpet, on an Emmy-nominated show other than RuPaul’s Drag Race—really branching out. Drag is an empty space where you bring all of your art and skills and talent. It’s more than just hair and makeup. Some drag entertainers are comedians, some are vocalists, some drag entertainers are even politicians. There are so many more places that drag can take us. The sky is the limit.
Finally, would she compete on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars?
Yes, I would. [Editor's Note: We'll be waiting for that call.]
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.