When speaking with drag entertainers, many will cite the mentorship they received in the early days of their career as the kismet connection that got them to the next level. It’s not the case for Miss Peppermint.
The recording artist and RuPaul’s Drag Race alum was self-taught from day one, first learning the ropes when she entered a high school drag contest. “I wish I could say that I [had a mentor], but I didn’t,” she says with a laugh. “I just learned by mistake. I learned everything on my own. A mentor is something that is an important component of drag, but it’s not automatic for everyone. In place of that you have community — people who are there to support you even though they are also doing drag for the first time.”
Now, the runner-up on the ninth season of Drag Race is back on our screens with Call Me Mother, the Canadian reality competition series streaming on OutTV, which features Peppermint and other seasoned professional drag queens acting as mentors (or “Mothers”) to a younger generation of talent.
Hosted by ET Canada reporter Dallas Dixon, the series follows up-and-coming drag performers as they compete in a variety of group challenges until only one is crowned the “First Child of Drag.” The series features drag mothers mentoring the drag queens, drag kings and transgender or nonbinary performers (think: The Voice, but make it drag). Peppermint — who heads House of Dulcet on the series — has been a nightlife staple in New York City, even before her legendary run on Drag Race.
As for her time on the show, Peppermint is quick to respond. “It was wonderful. Drag is invigorating. A lot of the [competitors] were [already] seasoned entertainers. What really resonated with me was the fact that there were so many different types of drag.”
Drag is invigorating.
She adds: “I can’t say there were types of drag that I hadn’t seen before, but I was certainly excited to see nonbinary entertainers and people who were assigned female at birth included in our drag television show, which is rare for TV. The new drag [featured on Call Me Mother] wasn’t so much, ‘OMG, I’ve never seen that before’… it was more like, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen that on TV before.’”
As the first season of Call Me Mother continues to earn rave reviews, Peppermint recently chatted with Slice via Zoom to discuss her early days as Miss Peppermint, trans activism and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The genesis of Miss Peppermint
Long before she won over a legion of fans for her iconic run on Drag Race (TBH, we’re still thinking about her lip sync versus Cynthia Lee Fontaine) and her successful recording career which includes two studio albums, Peppermint first tried her hand at drag during high school.
“The first time I ever did my makeup in drag was a drag contest in high school… and I looked terrible,” she says with a burst of laughter. “I [also] used the name Peppermint for the first time when I was in high school. I was hanging out with a guy I had a crush on and he told me, ‘You should name yourself Peppermint’ and so I did. He knew that it was my favourite candy.”
Like most of those early days of her drag journey, it was all trial and error. And, similar to the current generation of up-and-coming talent, Peppermint’s first real introduction to drag excellence was through RuPaul Charles. “I’m sure the first time I ever saw mainstream drag was RuPaul,” she recalls. “Obviously, I’d probably seen movies and TV shows where there was a man wearing women’s clothing doing something for laughs, no doubt. But Ru was the first time I’d seen a drag entertainer make it mainstream. I had never been to a gay club and I’d still been exposed to a drag entertainer like RuPaul. I watched [her] on MTV. That was definitely my first, and highest, example of a drag entertainer, which was great.”
As for whether or not there’s a difference between on-stage Miss Peppermint and Pep at home, she says, “Not really, I view them as circumstantial. I love hearing from drag entertainers who sort of refer to their drag persona as a creation that’s separate from them. For me, me doing drag is me doing drag.”
For a lot of people, they don’t become that woman until they put on that lash. For me, I’m always that woman, so I’m 100 per cent that bitch.
She continues, “I certainly don’t mean to diminish the power of drag, but I guess my relationship to it is that drag is a very, very dependable conduit for me to get from my living room to the stage. For other people, it’s a connection to gender expression. And for a while it was for me as well — but if drag and gender expression is the building, a lot of people take the main hall [and] I was taking a different route through the back way.”
“My connection to gender expression is a little different. For a lot of people, they don’t become that woman until they put on that lash. For me, I’m always that woman, so I’m 100 per cent that bitch,” she adds with a laugh.
On being a trans activist
According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 2021 is on track to be the deadliest for transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States. Although there aren’t currently Canadian stats available (likely because trans and gender non-conforming people are being left out of reports on femicide, according to this CTV News report), the dangers to marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community are just as prevalent here.
In recent years, there has been an influx of trans activists using their platforms to speak out against these acts of violence and anti-LGBTQ+ policies, specifically in the US. When asked whether or not she feels it’s her responsibility, as a trans celebrity, to speak out on these issues, Peppermint mulls it over.
“That’s a tough one: yes and no,” she says. “When I think of the word ‘responsibility’ I tend to think of it as something you have to do. You must do it and be held accountable for doing it even if you’re not connected to it. At a job, I’m responsible for locking the doors or cleaning the windows, but I don’t have a passion for it.”
She breaks it down further: “The only responsibility that I have to speak out on transgender issues is the fact that I’m in the trans community and I want for myself the same things I want for others. I’m invested in making sure that I have as many equal opportunities as possible. There are certainly trans people who don’t wish to speak out for various reasons — fear of retaliation, feeling like they don’t know how [to speak out] — and certainly I’m sure doing drag entertainment has enabled me more [to speak out] in terms of confidence and taking to a stage, whether it’s an activist stage or a nightclub.”
Peppermint cites one particular groundbreaking 2008 book: “Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History, tells us that minorities and people from marginalized communities… are generally more political because we have the least to lose,” she says before adding, “Quite literally, in the United States, there are several anti-LGBTQ — specifically anti-trans — policies and legislation that is coming through, so when it feels that grave of course I’m going to continue to speak out. But I don’t know that I ever wouldn’t. I feel compelled from the inside. It’s not your responsibility to eat or breathe or blink, we just do it.”
One thing that comes through when speaking with Peppermint is her confidence — in who she is as a trans woman and what she believes in. “For me, I wasn’t an insecure person who had surgery and felt better — I was always a trans woman, a trans femme, since birth. What I’ve been struggling with is to get others to understand how to treat me. That’s always been tough. I’m not saying I’ve never had moments of insecurity, I think we all do. But the tools that I rely on to be a confident woman today are the same exact tools I relied on when I was six, seven, eight, nine, 14 years old… I think I was born with a strong sense of self and security in myself which allows me to genuinely connect with others.”
I wasn’t an insecure person who had surgery and felt better — I was always a trans woman, a trans femme, since birth.
She adds with a laugh, “My mother tried to teach me whatever she could and whatever she didn’t teach me, I must have picked up in the placenta.”
On whether or not she’d return as an All Star on ‘Drag Race’
There’s no denying it’s a question she gets asked often, but enquiring minds (and a rabid fanbase) want to know: would she ever return to RuPaul’s Drag Race as an All Star?
“Of course I would, I’m a huge fan of the show,” she says. “I love All Stars, I love the girls that come out of it and I would consider doing it.”
Aside from that iconic aforementioned lip sync battle against Cynthia Lee Fontaine, Peppermint also made “herstory” as one of the first openly trans competitors on the show. “Overwhelmingly, it was a great reception and folks seemed really excited by it,” she recalls of the initial fan reaction. “I was able to connect with so many people who my journey on Drag Race really resonated with. Of course, there were criticisms here and there — some from some very unexpected people — but for the most part it was a really good reception and I’m grateful for the time I had on the show.”
As for any parting words or pearls of wisdom she might have for trans youth today, she says: “There’s no race, there’s no rush. Do it in your own time.” Spoken like a true Mother.
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