Drag Race star on how we can do more for Black trans lives

Peppermint was among the first queens to come onboard. (James Michael Avance)

Since the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race aired more than a decade ago, 153 queens have shantayed, sashayed and sissied that walk. And only one of those 153 queens has been openly trans.

Her name is Peppermint, the legendary queen from NYC and OG lipsync assassin – sassy, never shady. She built legendary status brick by brick and she did not come from a YouTube clip.

Yes, there have been Drag Race alumna who’ve come out as trans or non-binary since leaving the show, one of whom, Gia Gunn, competed openly as a woman in All Stars. But Peppermint is the only queen to join the competition first time around living openly as a trans woman.

The fact that less than one per cent of the contestants on a show that brings inclusivity and diversity to the runway have been trans goes to show how vastly underrepresented trans people are in our entertainment industries, in our media, in business, in education and, yes, in our LGBT+ community as a whole.

One area trans people are not underrepresented though are in the murder statistics of Donald Trump’s Fractured States of America. In 2019, barely a week went by without PinkNews soberly paying tribute to yet another trans person whose life had been extinguished due to the very fact that they were trans.

Just days before we speak with Peppermint, ahead of her hosting the first-ever It Gets Better: A Digital Pride Experience, a two day extravaganza of Pride performances, webinars and appearances to support the LGBT+ community during coronavirus lockdown, two Black trans women have been murdered.

And of course, while the world mourns the loss of George Floyd, we must also remember to say the name of the Black trans man killed in cold blood at the hands of a white police officer: Tony McDade.

While Black Lives Matter rises up around the world, intersecting with Trans Lives Matter – because, of course, All Black Lives Matter – Peppermint is one of many Black trans people who’s exhausted, but she’s one of many Black trans people refusing to give up the fight. Forget your crowns and your reality shows, this is about basic human rights, decency and dignity for all. And whether you’re named Donald J Trump or JK Rowling, people are starting to wake up to the fact that racism, transphobia and white supremacy have no place in a civilised society.

If you think otherwise, your time is up.

An interview about tongue pops, death drops and wig reveals, this ain’t. School is in session and – for you cis, white gays especially – Peppermint is here to teach.

PinkNews: You’re going to be the esteemed host of It Gets Better: A Digital Pride Experience. How does it feel to be front and centre of such an incredible event, which, in this age of coronavirus is necessary to help people connect to other people their community?

Peppermint: I think it’s really important. We’re obviously in the midst of an immense amount of change. It’s probably an understatement to say there’s a lot of change happening. We have to get used to a new way of connecting, both in a digital perspective and with everything in terms of the coronavirus.

But also, globally, there’s a bit of an awakening going on right now. There’s a paradigm shift happening on many, many fronts. And it’s great to be able to figure out how to achieve some of the things we want.

Peppermint poses with Rubem Robierb’s new sculpture dedicated to the transgender community In New York. (Noam Galai/Getty Images for Mastercard)

PinkNews: Coronavirus really has changed the world and everyone has to get used to this new normal, this new way of life. People have no choice but to get inventive and creative in terms of keeping connected. And it feels like there’s fewer communities who’ve been more inventive and creative as the queer community.

Peppermint: I think it’s a testament not only to the human spirit that has overcome and triumphed in many situations, but also a testament to the spirit of queerness, and the tradition of queerness, that we have found ways to subvert, and to revolutionise, and to really fight back and respond in a radical, revolutionary way.

It’s a mix of those thing and, I think, those things are our queer history, you know?

Totally, there’s no one who knows how to fight back more than the queer community.

Let’s talk about this paradigm shift. We’re seeing the Black Lives Matter movement rise back up, quite rightfully, in anger all over the world, from the death of George Floyd, Black trans man Tony McDade and the countless Black people who’ve suffered at the hand of systemic racism. 

What’s been your experience with the movement?

I don’t know if this is something that people can understand, but this the notion of police brutality, and different things like that… they’re not news. These are things that’ve really been plaguing humanity probably since the beginning of the time.

The problem with systemic racism is that it works its way into everything – every industry, including the police. Every murder. Every time we’ve seen police brutality. Every time we’ve seen injustice.

But those moments in the past have never really gotten the same reaction that they’re getting now.

So if you can imagine how much grief and pain that’s built for us to move the world into a conversation that they’ve never really, honestly, at this level, you can understand how unbelievably soul-depleting and exhausting it is.

Even after George Floyd and Tony McDade and Layleen Polanco and Breonna Taylor… that’s just one or two or three or four of them that we can mention. There was a Black gentleman today who was shot by the police and died.

I just hope people understand that this conversation, this pain, started more than 500 years ago.

Each one of these situations has its own set of circumstances, but the one firm line is racism. And so it’s extremely… extremely… I don’t even know the word. Anger. Saddening. Maddening. I don’t know the word. I didn’t think that it would be possible for me to feel this amount of sorrow and depression and pain, especially considering these are my beloved family members and people that I’ve met. But I choose to continue.

On that same note, it’s encouraging that finally, it seems like folks are taking it seriously, because there’s no difference from the death of George Floyd than Emmett Till.

[Emmett Till] was brutally murdered 50 years ago and left in a ditch. It’s no different, his life is no less valuable.

But for some reason, which is a good thing, people are starting to see it and realise. I just hope people understand that this conversation, this pain, started more than 500 years ago; the American version of this pain.

The conversation and the effort to dismantle it, the pledge to dismantle it, is real. The promise is genuine, then the conversation will continue for 500 more years.

Peppermint attends the opening night of Head Over Heels on Broadway. (Noam Galai/Getty)

PinkNews: What do you think is different about right now? Is it just a case of we’ve reached a breaking point and enough is enough? Is it the case of the person who’s in the White House and how that is encouraging more people to mobilise?

Peppermint: I don’t really know. The only thing that is unique about all of this is that now it’s 2020. Maybe it means enough is enough?

There are some people who may read this and think, ‘Well, different people of different races and everyone are murdered all the time.’ And that’s true.

But we’re not talking about the murder. We’re talking about what caused the murder and we’re talking about the circumstances and the authority figures and the individuals that were connected to that murder, that didn’t give the individual the benefit of the doubt the way that they would have as if they were a white person.

You know, when someone is pulled over, carrying a bag of Skittles, as Trayvon Martin was. If someone was wearing a hoodie, if someone were sleeping in their house, like Breonna Taylor, what can we do to defend ourselves from being murdered?

We know that trans people of colour are the most victimised group of people in the United States. And it’s that’s not hyperbolic. That’s just a fact. A large majority of the people reading this will have no idea what it’s like to go through this walking in your shoes.

Yes, it’s really tough. And it’s like you said, just regarding Black Lives Matter alone, it feels like people are finally starting to get it and see it. When Colin Kaepernick was kneeling during the football games, people were not wanting to acknowledge the murder and racism. They wanted to make it about patriotism and the flag.

And the same thing has happened with trans women being murdered, people not really taking it seriously or attributing the conversation to something other than this person was murdered unjustly.

And so we have a little further to go with trans issues both in and out of the queer community. Frankly, I think we are in a new moment where we are able to converge Black Lives Matter and Trans Lives Matter and LGBT+ equality, and hopefully, even address the patriarchy.

It seems like that’s happening in every country or conversation that’s happening across the world. And if that’s true, then we have the opportunity for a sort of global enlightenment that I don’t think anyone of us were expecting.

The other thing that’s different now? Social media and the internet.

We’ve seen the worst of the internet, especially coming from the United States president and his tweets, but now we’re seeing people being able to use the internet to spread information and share information so that we can contribute to getting further in the movement.

But it’s also thanks to the internet that a white former billionaire like JK Rowling can use the height of the Black Lives Matter movement to launch a really abhorrent attack on trans people.

She really did use the Black Lives Matter movement to instal a platform of that same brand of white supremacy that’s shrouded in feminism. It’s really the only type of feminism that’s comforted by misogyny.

It uses white supremacy as a conduit. That might sound really kind of bizarre and esoteric but, I mean, it’s linked to all of these notions.

It’s not just pure feminism. Holding back women, or any type of woman, based on just her genitalia, is really narrow.

You can’t define a woman by just her body parts. The difference between a man and a woman is not just that a woman has breasts and a vagina. The woman is not just a lack of a penis.

You can’t define a woman by just her body parts. I remember hearing women in the 80s women saying that they didn’t want to be viewed as just the body part. So the difference between a man and a woman is not just that a woman has breasts and a vagina. The woman is not just a lack of a penis. Women are a soul, a being, an energy. It would be nice for people to connect women to that.

I’m sure even JK Rowling would give certain attributes to women based on their behaviour and saying it’s just natural for a woman to do that kind of thing.

I really do think it’s obtuse and very calculated. She’s a writer, she knows what she’s doing. And we will not allow her to play coy or unassuming. You know, it doesn’t appear as though she’s really interested in having a conversation. People who are honestly speaking from the heart, they want to be challenged, their heart to be changed.

Her only play is to discriminate against trans women, she is going to hold onto that for dear life, regardless of what any conversation may develop.

So it’s quite clear that she’s really not focused on the health and well-being and the equality of women. She’s only focused on excluding trans women and defining trans women. That’s what the goal is.

But it comes with a language shrouded in ‘I’m caring about women’. You know, it’s like pushing a baby out of a chair because you’re concerned about the furniture.

Peppermint (L) ripped into JK Rowling's views on trans people. (Noam Galai/WireImage/Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
Peppermint (L) ripped into JK Rowling’s views on trans people. (Noam Galai/WireImage/Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

PinkNews: You’ve said before that there’s a big difference between non-racist and being anti-racist, which we couldn’t agree with more with. What can white people do to be better allies to their Black friends throughout this paradigm shift?

Peppermint: It’s definitely daunting for anyone to even think about changing racism or reversing racism or stoping racism.

What will be helpful for white folks to do is think, ‘How do I talk to my aunt or my uncle about racism? How do I reason with my parents or my cousin? How do I have that conversation?’

That’s the best way to start. If there are people around you who you know disagree with what this conversation is, those are the people that we have to talk to and really try to reason with.

That’s the number one thing, but then expand on that. Whether you’re at work or in social circles or wherever, use that opportunity to engage in that conversation with your white friends.

Saying hashtag Black Lives Matters is important, yes, because it lets us know who you are and how you want to be connected, that you want to do more work.

It’s less important that you reach out to your Black friends to convince them that you’re one of the nice white folks. It’s more important for you to just do the work.

But once you do that, it’s not about calling your Black friends to make sure they’re not mad at you about racism. It’s not about consoling words and text messages, while they might be a nice sentiment.

What’s making us feel bad and tired and scared is racism. It’s not whether or not somebody attacked us. So I know it sounds bizarre, but don’t reach out to your Black friends to convince them that you’re one of the nice white folks. It’s more important for you to just do the work.

Just don’t even advertise it in terms of showing, demonstrating or performing to Black people that you’re on our side.

The real work is going in all white spaces. Because that’s where the racism is born and bred. And that’s where it gets its nourishment. And that’s where it gets stronger. And that’s where it becomes pervasive.

So go there and fight the fight, and win the battle. And don’t come home until you do.

Peppermint will star in It Gets Better Project: A Digital Pride Experience, a three-day live stream event from Wednesday to Friday (June 24-26)

She’ll appear alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Crystal Method and Jujubee and a roster of beauticians and musicians for the digital Pride event, including Rebecca Black, streaming from the organisation’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitch from 2-7pm (PT).


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