“Leg­endary queen from NYC… P-E-P-P-E-R-bitch, you know the rest!”

Gay Times Magazine - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy Ar­run Dun­worth Fash­ion Kam­ran Ra­jput Words Si­mon But­ton & William J Con­nolly

The first out trans star to ap­pear on Drag Race, Pep­per­mint was the runner-up we were all root­ing for. With a fierce look and an ever fiercer at­ti­tude to match, we meet the icon to talk about self-dis­cov­ery, the pos­i­tive sex­u­al­i­sa­tion of trans men and women, and the truth be­hind Project Pep­per­mint.

Be­ing the first trans woman ever to ap­pear on the cover of Gay Times is a his­tory-mak­ing achieve­ment that Pep­per­mint takes very se­ri­ously. “It’s such an hon­our,” says the RuPaul’s Drag Race star. “This is his­toric for the mag­a­zine and the community, and it’s in­ter­est­ing that since the trans move­ment is emerg­ing in a way that it hasn’t be­fore, there’s so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for his­toric mo­ments to hap­pen for ev­ery­one. I’m in­cred­i­bly happy to par­tic­i­pate in this great one.”

Hav­ing also made his­tory as the first trans Drag Race con­tes­tant to be vo­cal about her sta­tus from the get-go and one of only two (along­side Mon­ica Bev­erly Hillz who came out mid-run in the mid­dle of the fifth se­ries) to openly com­pete on the show rather than iden­ti­fy­ing as trans later, Pep­per­mint adds: “Even lit­tle stuff like the first time you hire a trans per­son - that’s a his­toric mo­ment. There’s mo­ments hap­pen­ing all around and we must cel­e­brate th­ese.”

Her story is a cheer­ing one. She’s spo­ken be­fore about how New York drag queens weren’t al­ways ac­cept­ing of hav­ing a trans woman in their midst when she first moved there, with some of them ask­ing “Are you trans or are you a drag queen?” as if the two were mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. Hav­ing boldly stood her ground, she be­came a fab­u­lous fix­ture on the Man­hat­tan drag cir­cuit and sashayed her way to sec­ond place on last year’s ninth sea­son of Drag Race, im­press­ing with her lip-sync­ing skills, nail­ing her Brit­ney Spears im­per­son­ation and roast­ing Michelle Vis­age to roars from Ru and au­di­ence alike. (Sam­ple line: “Not since Des­tiny’s Child has there been a Michelle so fa­mous for rid­ing some­body else’s coat­tails.”)

Now a bas­tion for the trans community, she points out that queer unity needs to be a two-way street. Trans peo­ple, she as­serts, have been at the fore­front in the fight for LGBTQ rights and were vo­cal sup­port­ers of mar­riage equal­ity.

“Gay folk knew and still know they can rely on trans folk to be there in the crowd and be part of the gath­ered voices that make us stronger,” Pep­per­mint says, adding provoca­tively that when the trans community is un­der siege, gay men don’t al­ways rally round as they should. “When I had the chance to march or protest for HIV and AIDS or mar­riage equal­ity or gay pride in gen­eral I would see my male and fe­male trans friends there.” She sighs. “But when there would be a vile mur­der of a trans per­son or a mo­ment recog­nis­ing that a trans per­son was now miss­ing from the community, it’s al­most al­ways trans women of colour stood in the rain.”

Happy to be re­ferred as Pep­per­mint or Pep, she’s very flir­ta­tious, declar­ing: “You have to get on your knees ev­ery sin­gle time you even think of me, let alone speak to me.” But she’s se­ri­ous about her mis­sion. When she signed on for Drag Race she knew she’d be seen as a spokesper­son for trans women do­ing drag and a trans woman of colour at that. “It was a lot of per­sonal pres­sure but I knew that there was an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to con­nect with my story. I was cau­tious be­cause I didn’t know if they’d ac­cept an out trans queen and was wor­ried I’d be re­jected be­fore I had the op­por­tu­nity to speak about my ex­pe­ri­ence on such a huge plat­form.”

Open about her sta­tus from the mo­ment the se­ries aired, she none­the­less waited for the right

Gay folk knew and still know they can rely on trans folk to be there in the crowd and be part of the

gath­ered voices that make us stronger.

time to tell the other con­tes­tants, which she did in the work­room in episode six. “It was a com­pe­ti­tion and I didn’t want any­one to use any­thing against me be­cause I didn’t know how cut­throat the girls would be,” Pep says of suss­ing out the other queens first, “but it wasn’t very long be­fore I re­alised the queens were very kind, gen­uine and pro­gres­sive.”

A lead­ing light of the NYC drag and club scenes be­fore the show as well as a singing star whose par­ody of Gaga and Bey­oncé Tele­phone mu­sic video (co-star­ring Sherry Vine) caused a vi­ral sen­sa­tion, she’s busier than ever – tour­ing the world and be­ing trailed by cam­era crews for her Project Pep­per­mint doc­u­men­tary. The lat­ter prom­ises to re­veal the back­story of a woman who is Pep­per­mint in her drag life and Agnes Moore in pri­vate, but over her two decades as a per­former “sys­tem­i­cally dis­man­tled the iden­tity that I was given when I was born”.

Born and raised in Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina, she muses: “I’d erased my­self sub­con­sciously. You can eas­ily find pic­tures and tapes of me as a drag queen and a woman, but not in any other form be­fore my tran­si­tion. I re­alised that I don’t want that part of my life to go miss­ing. You also get to see some of the is­sues that I’m in­volved in - ac­tivist is­sues, trans is­sues, and you see be­fore Drag Race I was just a stru“ling drag queen. I am wor­ried about be­ing so hon­est, but I’m ready for it.”

Mis­gen­der­ing is some­thing she’s had to con­tend with. “Day-to-day it’s less than I would ex­pect,” she’s pleased to re­port, “but I have dealt with dif­fer­ent forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion and it usu­ally comes as mi­cro-a“res­sion. It doesn’t feel good, but it never stops me from liv­ing. When I first tran­si­tioned, it felt cru­cial and hurt a lot. I’d bite and ar­gue and con­front them. As time moved on I got over it. If peo­ple sense you’re not se­cure in your gen­der iden­tity it gives them li­cense to pick at it.”

Does she think Drag Race does enough to rep­re­sent trans women? Not re­ally, no, since it’s through the lens of drag. “It’s not a show about trans folk or trans is­sues and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily sup­posed to ed­u­cate the community. It’s just the model they have. I don’t know if they’re plan­ning on changing it soon, but I would per­son­ally like to see all kinds of queens on the show - not only dif­fer­ent types of drag queens but dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple do­ing drag.”

With the mur­der rate of trans women of colour the high­est it’s ever been in the States, she’s cau­tious about mak­ing a cor­re­la­tion be­tween that and Don­ald Trump be­ing voted in, feeling it’s more to do with ig­no­rance and trans­pho­bia. “How­ever, I do think there’s peo­ple who are more in­volved with cer­tain ideals since he was elected,” she says, adding a pos­i­tive caveat: “It’s worth not­ing we’ve made great strides and I don’t be­lieve there’s any­thing they could throw at us which we couldn’t han­dle. We’ve been through so much be­fore and will do in the fu­ture, but it’s about how we get through it. We’ve been there when the law wasn’t on any of our sides and where al­lies or a sense of community didn’t ex­ist. I think we’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

Al­lies in high places in­clude Dan­ica Roem, the first ever trans state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and An­drea Jenk­ins, the first African Amer­i­can trans woman to be elected to of­fice. Their ap­point­ments mark a sea change for Pep­per­mint, who as­serts: “We need law­mak­ers in our favour. Law­mak­ers must be di­verse as pos­si­ble from all races, gen­ders and sex­u­al­i­ties to re­flect the so­ci­eties they are rep­re­sent­ing. We’ve had a num­ber of law­mak­ers around the world step into the light who are queer and that’s fan­tas­tic and it feels es­sen­tial now.”

Her mes­sage to trans youths dis­cov­er­ing their truth is a pos­i­tive one. “Get­ting to where I am to­day once looked im­pos­si­ble so I know that their fu­ture will be even brighter. What­ever you’re go­ing through now can feel hor­ri­ble and con­fus­ing but it’s nec­es­sary to get to the next step. When you do even­tu­ally turn around and look at what’s be­hind you you’ll ac­knowl­edge it wasn’t as bad as you thought. Now is the time to be out and proud and have those con­ver­sa­tions with your fam­ily. I was faced with the op­tion to take the step of liv­ing out and fac­ing the neg­a­tiv­ity or avoid it all and mak­ing choices that weren’t me. The per­son and feel­ings you have in­side are al­ways right.”

Our his­tory-mak­ing cover star is happy to be a trail­blazer. “I don’t want to re­ject the sig­nif­i­cance of the con­tri­bu­tions I’ve made to change as I’ve been the first per­son to do a lot of things,” Pep­per­mint states. “I recog­nise the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of it and I’m ready to try and up­hold it in the best way I can. I want to blaze the bi“est trail I pos­si­bly can so that peo­ple who come af­ter me have it eas­ier.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.