Drag Racer Peppermint sashays into Dallas with transgender awareness
SCOTT HUFFMAN | Contributing Writer
CORRECTION: The event is Aug. 19, not Aug. 16.
Before striking out on their own, novice drag queens are often first schooled in the time-honored art of female illusion. Many veteran queens, affectionately known as drag mothers, offer beginners a practiced eye to assist with makeup, hair, wardrobe and accessories. But NYC-based dragster Peppermint was not the beneficiary of such early mentoring.
“My first time in drag was at age 16 for a drag contest in high school,” Peppermint recalls. “I won and was hooked. I didn’t look very good, though. I didn’t have much help or a drag family… just the help of the school’s wardrobe closet.”
It didn’t seem to slow her down, though. A semifinalist on last season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, Peppermint will appear at Marty’s Live on Aug. 19. And she hasn’t lost sight of what got her started down this path.
Unlike many teens who may try drag on a dare or lark, Peppermint was on a mission. She viewed drag as an opportunity for a young woman born in a male body to express her burgeoning gender identity covertly. In many ways, it was for her a coming of age.
“Drag was the best way for me to explore my idea of female gender expression without being chastised for wanting to be a woman, as many would say … although I was already a woman,” she says. Indeed, one of her most memorable moments on Drag Race wasn’t on the runway, but when she came out to her fellow contestants in the dressing room as a trans woman — one of only a few transgender Drag Racers openly to acknowledge their gender identity during competition. For her, it was an important step, and she welcomed the acceptance she received from her competitors.
While Peppermint did not take home the crown — Sasha Velour won the prize after a heated lip-sync battle — her standing as runner-up has provided a stage from which she is able to advocate for transgender equality during a time when such activism is perhaps more important than ever.
“Since I have more visibility, I can easily draw attention to gender equality [issues] including bathroom bills and military service bans, [actions] which I think are attempts to erase individuals for lack of clarity and understanding on [the part] of those who are proponents of such nonsense,” she says. “Therefore, the most effective way for myself or anyone different to affect change is to live our lives openly. So I’m very grateful I’m able to do that, and I plan to use my platform as long as I have it.”
As for the Drag Race experience itself, Peppermint says she was able to confirm a few things about herself, including the fact that she is “not a morning person.” She calls the competition “tough,” and reveals that — besides RuPaul of course — her favorite judge was Michelle Visage, whom she has loved since her days co-hosting VH1’s The RuPaul Show.
“The finale was surreal and relieving,” Peppermint says. “I was happy to finally bring everything to a head. Speaking of heads, Sasha really killed the finale, though I’m not surprised. She is a brilliant performer, and I always said if I don’t win, I’d want her to. I was bummed not to take the crown, but I really feel like a winner.”
Lip-sync battle aside, Peppermint and Sasha remain great friends. In fact, the two are planning a 2018 college tour “to speak about gender, the influence of drag, and the future of our communities.” Peppermint has no regrets about participating in the competition and is “still in touch with all the girls.” In fact, she says she might even consider returning for an All Stars cycle, provided her now-bustling schedule would allow.
“I would do it again if the time was right,” Peppermint says. “I’m so happy I participated. Before the show, I was mostly working in New York and only traveling occasionally to perform. Now I’m on the road most days of the week. It’s exhausting, but it gives me a chance to connect with some really great audiences.”
Her showbiz hustle isn’t limited to club appearances, either. Peppermint recently released the Black Pepper EP, her second recording, which she says showcases her “spicier, deeper side.” She attributes this exploration to the fact that many of the EP’s songs were written after experiencing “a devastating breakup.”
Peppermint is also working on becoming a screen queen, of sorts. Production continues on Project Peppermint, the working title of a documentary offering a behind-the-scenes look at the diva’s day-to-day life while examining fame, gender identity and the drag world. In it, Peppermint reveals some unexpected truths, including the fact that she once considered sex work — “a reality for many women, cisgender or trans,” she says. In Peppermint’s case, however, the motivation was to pay for gender reassignment surgery.
“I asked the director, Oriel Peer, to film a few shows and take some pics,” Peppermint says of the documentary. “The movie started out very small and got huge and follows my daily life before Drag Race.”
Peppermint has experienced many things along her journey from 16-year-old drag contestant to drag superstar. Yet her advice regarding gender identity remains simple.
“Don’t suppress your feelings,” she says. “Trust yourself. You are exactly who you are meant to be. And you will be so happy!”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.