Since appearing on RuPaul's Drag Race in 2017, Peppermint has done, well, everything: toured the world doing drag, acted on multiple TV shows, originated a role on Broadway, and now she's releasing a trilogy of EPs. The first, A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers, comes out October 16.
"I really wanted to be able to have an album that I would've wanted to hear growing up as a young trans girl. It's about love," she says on this week's episode of LGBTQ&A. "It's so important to be able to destigmatize the relationships between trans people and their partners." Peppermint also talks on the podcast about coming out as trans on The Daily Show in 2016, racism in the drag fandom, and the inspiration behind her new single, "Best Sex."
Jeffrey Masters: How did your relationship to drag change after you came out as trans?
Peppermint: It actually got a lot less serious. Before coming out as trans, it was the only thing I had to hold on to. After being able to have more control over how I was perceived and what I was putting forth, then I was a lot more chill about my approach to drag.
I don't really care what happens to me in drag, because my womanhood is no longer at stake.
I would avoid campiness at all costs. I took it so seriously. I was like, "No, I am a woman. I want people to see me as a woman and that's it." I mean, those things are still true, but I'm a lot more playful with it and I can be more campy. I no longer view my drag as the only way that I can communicate my womanhood.
JM: You talked about being trans in an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. Was that something you'd previously disclosed to the producers?
P: No, I didn't sit down and have a conversation about being trans to the producers, but I'd been out as a trans woman. The first time I ever said publicly to the largest audience possible that I'm a transgender woman, was on The Daily Show, which has millions of viewers, probably more than Drag Race, on April 16 of 2016 on the trans panic episode where I was featured with several other transgender activists talking about the transgender bathroom ban laws.
Now, no one cared because I wasn't standing next to RuPaul, but it was on my Instagram. It was on my Twitter, on my Facebook. I was very happy about that moment. But the people who watch Drag Race, of course, nothing exists if it isn't on an episode, and so to a lot of people, they were like, "Oh, this person was just born here."
JM: Oh, as if this was something you had just realized while on the show.
P: Yeah, "Peppermint just realized she was alive." I mean, it's not like Drag Race is the beacon of trans representation. I was nervous and I wasn't sure how people would react or what would happen, but there's not a lot of talking happening at Drag Race, period. They want the show to happen on camera.
Now, it was so natural of a conversation that it actually did happen before the episode, whatever that was, four, five, or six on Drag Race. They did ask us, "Would you all mind talking about that again?" And so, we basically did it again.
I knew I was going to have a conversation about being a trans woman on that show. It was just a matter of when the conversation was going to happen, and it did, a lot. They edited so much of that stuff out. There were other people coming out as non-binary on the show, there were other people disclosing their gender variance, but it wasn't a big coming out moment like, "We have a secret to tell."
JM: I think that's why that moment stuck with me. It modeled a way to come out and how to respond in a non-sensationalized way that I thought was powerful for people to see.
P: The last example that I'd had, the very brave example that I had had of a trans woman coming out on Drag Race was Monica Beverly Hillz on her season, season five, before she got eliminated. And that was a very heartfelt, emotional time. She was in tears. It almost felt like a confession in that moment.
But for me, I had already started my medical transition, and so it was really like, "Yeah, I'm trans, and what?" I mean, I have been in tears. I have been there, but I just happened to have done it at a different time and place. I was in my apartment. I was alone.
So by the time I got to Drag Race, anyone who really knew me and actually knew me personally already knew. There was nothing to cry about at that point.
JM: We've been talking about the issue of racism in the Drag Race fandom for years now. Does it seem like people are finally starting to listen?
P: I think so. I certainly hear more people talking about it. Now I do think that with everything else that's happening, that people are engaging and realizing that what happens in the rest of the world, happens within the Drag Race fandom. I think that the perception of queens like The Vixen would've been much different, had they happened now, on season 12 or 13.
JM: I know racism isn't always visible, but can you talk about what it's looked like in your life?
P: Well, it's really difficult. I think what we're not understanding or not willing to understand, is that racism is not just the actions of an individual.
People have an understanding of misogyny. People understand what being sexist is. All of sexism isn't just when one man calls a woman a bitch. The bigger topic is what happens when that same woman goes to the workplace or when that same woman calls a police officer. How is she treated when she's being questioned? And that exact same thing happens with racism. Saying, "We arrested the guy who beat up his wife," we know is not going to make it so that all women in the entire world get paid equally. It doesn't address what happens on a larger scale systemically, and we're talking about in every single industry.
JM: A PSA recently came out addressing these issues. Are there other conversations happening behind the scenes with drag queens about how to combat racism in the community?
P: Yeah. I think there certainly is a much larger, more fervent participation in these conversations that I'm seeing now. And it's surprising. I've been around the block. It wasn't necessarily so before.
I mean, if someone would say the n word, then everybody in the room would be like, "Bad, bad, get out!" But to acknowledge the system of racism, and our participation and our benefit... we all participate and benefit from racism in one way, shape, or form. I know that's probably a controversial thing to hear and say, but we all have participated in it to one degree or another, some way more than others, obviously.
And some people don't feel like they participate from it, but they do benefit from it, for sure. Period. And that's what racism is.
JM: I think your new song, “Best Sex” in your new EP is the shadiest song I have ever heard in my life.
P: It is quite shady. [Laughs]
JM: Can you talk about the song and where it came from?
P: Yeah, it came from my bedroom, apparently, the experiences that I've had, and all of the hits and misses that I've had. A young queer person who is in a city...hookup culture is a thing. And so, it is with me, as well. And with hookup culture comes the dreaded fuckboy. These people can often disguise themselves as someone else, and they have a lot of attributes. Many of them, in my personal opinion, are negative, but there's that one attribute that always seems to get them in the door.
JM: And that attribute is?
P: Their best sex.
JM: I bring it up because I don't think we hear enough from trans people about romantic relationships. The majority of violence towards trans people is intimate partner violence. And so, we do need to destigmatize dating and sex with trans people.
P: Yeah, that's one of the things overall that I wanted to do with this EP. I wanted to be specific. There are a handful of mainstream queer musicians that we know of, almost none of whom have written about their queerness in a way that was very straightforward, for the majority of their career.
While love is universal, dealing with the things that we deal with in everyday life as queer people, there are some special considerations. If anything, it's really important for younger queer people to be able to see themselves reflected back. I really wanted to be able to have an album that I would've wanted to hear growing up as a young trans girl. It's about love. Who doesn't understand that? Everyone can connect to it, and it's so important to be able to destigmatize the relationships between trans people and their partners, or their friends, or their lovers.
JM: Another lyric that stood out to me was from the song "A Girl Like Me," "A girl like me knows how to live her truth. A girl like me can dream, but sometimes that's all she can do." Do you feel that about yourself?
P: I'm not necessarily...this song is not literally just my experience.
I have achieved certain things, and I've had dreams that I had to abandon when I was younger. A lot of that came from a place of connecting with my inner child of the dreams that I wanted to have as a youngster, before Drag Race. I went on Drag Race when I was almost 40. And so, I'm talking about the years before that, right? But then for other folks, those dreams, they're trying to achieve them today.
For a lot of those girls, their dreams may be of being a famous model. Then for some people, their dream is literally being able to just have a job, and not be attacked, and not be shot or killed or brutalized. It's a very low expectation to set, but I think that that is what we're dealing with.
We see all these instances of violence and it's not being uplifted, especially the instances of violence against trans women of color, and black trans women. If anything, it sends the message that our lives are not valued, and that is a dashing of that dream.
I know that I speak from a place of privilege, and I'm grateful.
A Girl Like Me: Letters To My Lovers comes out on October 16.
LGBTQ&A is hosted by Jeffrey Masters. Episodes come out every Tuesday.