Few other queens who’ve ever competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race have been as universally liked as Peppermint. As Trinity herself said of Valentina’s controversial “Miss Congeniality” prize, being among the fan favorites on any season of the show truly is the ultimate prize. And as many a judge on season nine agreed, Peppermint’s likability factor is off the charts. In contrast to Monica Beverly Hillz’s tearful runway admission of her identification as a transgender woman in season five, Peppermint’s story has been a consistent source of joy and arrival.
How fortuitous, then, that Peppermint has been working on a documentary portrait of her journey? Project Peppermint, a documentary by director Oriel Pe’er, isn’t finished yet (you can contribute to its Indie GoGo campaign here), but Peppermint talked with me about her experience navigating the world of drag as a transgender woman leading up to the Drag Race finale.
You identify as transgender and are also working in the field of drag, two things that for some still feel very separate. It seems drag is still somewhat cisgender-dominated. What’s it like to work with these two representations?
Well, I’m not sure it’s as unusual as it is unrecognized. The short end of it is I probably feel the same way being a drag queen who’s transgender as I would if I were in any other job, working as a trans person, working at the store, or being a police officer. In terms of the relationship between my gender and my profession, I think it doesn’t necessarily influence that as much as people might think it does, and it doesn’t hinder it either.
Unless we’re talking about the court of public opinion. And that’s really where the realm of this conversation really takes place. Do people believe, in their own opinions, that trans people have the right, should have permission to do certain things, and exist in certain spaces? Including drag, which has been simplified to gay men wearing women’s clothing and sashaying. And of course that’s true, but it’s not just gay men, and it’s not just men. And it always hasn’t been. There’ve been lots of other people who’ve contributed to lots of art forms more than just one group. I think what we have to do is make a little bit of a shift in our thinking, in terms of drag and in terms for what we want in our community.
It’s been tough. I’ve had people challenge me, and I’ve heard people declare that transgender people can’t be drag queens, and drag queens are not trans. And that’s certainly true for many people, but for me it’s not.
If I were to be pulled over by a police officer for speeding, I’d hope it would be by Officer Peppermint.
I’ve got the handcuffs!
That’s supposed to deter me? [laughs] It seems to me, in watching drag come into its own as a popular form of expression in these last few decades, it’s interesting that for a lot of people drag helps them get closer to who they actually are. In putting on clothes, it helps them remove the layers of defense that people put up carrying themselves around in the real world. Did that draw you to drag?
It’s interesting. In putting on costumes and putting on makeup and putting on hair—and believe me, when it’s hot, there’s never a time when you wouldn’t notice it more than when it’s 100 degrees and you have all this extra stuff on—drag is incredibly revealing, considering how much fixing and futzing you can do to achieve your look. And drag offers an opportunity and a certain sense of freedom for the individual to explore not only gender roles, but also political ideas, and to turn social norms on their head if they want. And drag queens generally feel like and a lot of times are given permission to do and say whatever they want.
Which is a freedom for the individual, but even bigger than that, it’s definitely a freedom for the beholder, the person that watches and participates in the audience. That same freedom is given to them to let go of some of the rigid rules that they had about all those ideas, and participate in the show, and forget about sexuality and forget about sex and gender. It’s interesting how it can be liberating for both the performer and the audience member, and it really can allow us to make a paradigm shift.
How did you come up with the name Peppermint?
It’s really my favorite candy. And I was flirting with this boy one day, and he told me I had a mouthful of Peppermint, and he told me that should be my name, and I kind of just went with it. But it’s the worst name for Google.
How did you come to launch this documentary project?
This probably has a lot to do with being trans and the head space that I’d been in, but sometimes trans people are kind of saddled with some insecurity, and it’s very natural to have insecurities when sorting out not only sexuality, but gender and their bodies and how that all fits together. I’ve always had a curious sense of shame about my natural born body, and having to identify as male was something that just didn’t sit right with me. The best form of rejection that I could come up with was to exist and be in drag, which I love doing anyway, as much as I could, as long as I could. When everyone else wanted to take it off, I wanted to keep it on after the show. But then even more so, when I wasn’t in drag, try not to exist, try not to let anyone photograph me. Of course I would spend time with friends. But I look back on my life and I realize that so much of the memories that I have, I just didn’t participate because I didn’t want to leave a permanent mark in time as somebody who was male-bodied or male-identified, or perceived as male.
Later on, recently, since starting my medical transition, I’ve wanted to document. From this moment on, regardless of transition or not, the head space that I’m in, more content, I wanted to start documenting—taking pictures, recording videos, writing in a journal. And I wanted to vlog on my own, as a way of documenting my journey that I was about to have. And then I realized that’s not really that realistic. I needed to have someone else do it, so I approached Oriel. We’ve been friends a long time, and he agreed. It’s still a work on progress. We’ve been filming for over a year. We actually started before I was cast on Drag Race, and of course we had to halt while I was on Drag Race. Now we’re in the home stretch, and now we’re desperately trying to raise money so we can turn the dream into reality.
What’s next for you?
I’m recording some original music. I have an album coming out called Black Pepper. And Cazwell and I are working on an EP or single—the name of the project is Harlem Cleopatra.
What’s it like to be at a Peppermint show live?
For me, it’s exhilarating, energizing, and entertaining. Hopefully that’s what the act’s like for the attendees in the audience.