Miss Peppermint Finds Her Light

by Britt Stephens

Miss Peppermint sipping on tea
Photograph by Robert Frashure

Miss Peppermint is a multihyphenate performer, activist, and NYC nightlife fixture who went from RuPaul’s Drag Race runner-up to groundbreaking star of stage and screen. Since competing on the series’ ninth season, Peppermint has become a beacon of hope and hustle for the transgender community. But she’s no overnight sensation: the 43-year-old has been at it for more than two decades, with no plans to slow down. Her new album, Moment of Weakness: Letters to My Lovers, is out now, and soon, Peppermint will embark on her first solo tour. She also stars alongside Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, and Margaret Cho in the new Hulu rom-com, Fire Island, out today.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer,” Peppermint tells me over Zoom. She’s on the road, but still positively glowing against the brick backdrop of her hotel room. “There was a notion that I could do this professionally, and at that point I encountered the barriers: ‘You’ll never be a pretty woman. You’ll never be a believable woman. You’re Black, so nobody wants that on film.’” Those obstacles ultimately gave Peppermint more fight. Little by little, she found her light. “It didn’t just turn on,” she says. “There was a dimmer switch that took 20 years.”

Below, Pep talks about taking control of her career, bouncing back from a breakup, and secrets from Fire Island.

Your work seems very intentional. How does your activism influence your career choices?

I was feeling my way in the dark for a while. Some of the acting roles were, of course, “Hooker #2,” “Dead Hooker #2, “Transgender Hooker #2.” That wasn’t very appealing to me. It’s not so much that it has to feel like activism, but in the experience, we must be able to have some authenticity. Now, we’re able to have these conversations on the back end about the creation of these characters, these stories, and these opportunities. If I were born 40 years earlier, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this stuff: I’d be sitting in my house, talking to myself about what it’s like to be Black [Laughs]. And now that we’ve opened the door, we can’t go back.

Fire Island is a great example of that representation. How did you get involved?

Well, they called me and said, “Will you do this, bitch?” And I said, “Absolutely!” I actually had a couple of shows for years on Fire Island. For people who don’t know, Fire Island is sort of an adult playground: you’re halfway camping, halfway glamping, halfway drunk at a bar for too many days in a row. And then you’re having sex in the woods. That’s what it is.

Oh, I’ve heard the stories.

I’ve never done any of those things. [Laughs] But had this type of movie—which shows the ups and downs of finding love on this strange little island—been made years ago, there would not have been a predominantly Asian American cast. There are so many people of color in this movie, and it feels good to be a part of that.

Do you play a version of yourself?

I’m basically the drag cupid, or drag fairy godmother. Full disclosure: most of the movie was filmed on Fire Island, but my scenes were not. I knew [my scene] took place in the Ice Palace. I was excited to go, and it turns out we were filming in Brooklyn! I hate to ruin the surprise, but they built a scale replica, because we were shooting in the summer and couldn’t shut down the club.

A gag! Let’s talk about your tour.

I’ve been so blessed to take control of telling my story and narrative, and speaking to other folks in the community through my music. I’ve been doing music for a long time, and most of the time it’s about glitter, heels, and “Don’t I look so fierce?” But now it’s changed.

This new album is very emotional.

I was in a relationship, and I experienced being loved publicly. There’s a quote that I remind myself of, by Dr. Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” And that resonates with me, because the numbers of Black trans women who are murdered, usually at the hands of their romantic partners, are going up. And a lot of these crimes are not being solved or investigated properly. It just feels like there’s no love and tenderness in caring about that person. Showing Black trans women love publicly while we’re alive, while we’re thriving, and giving us opportunities is necessary to what will save us from becoming that next victim. I write about that in my music.

After we broke up, I cried for about 10 weeks. And then I ended up with about three full diaries of feelings that I was eventually able to turn into three full albums of music. I’m most excited to see people’s faces when they hear this music live.

Time for the Culture Diet questions. What’s the first thing you read when you wake up?

Google News, which aggregates all of the different sites.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

I just picked up Sonya Renee Taylor's book [The Body Is Not an Apology]. I’ll dive into that when I get home.

What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?

I just binged a full season of Ozark. It’s a brilliant show, and it's just wacky. It makes me feel like I’m living in the Ozarks, dealing with a drunk cartel, and someone’s going to come bang down my door.

Do you remember the last movie you saw in theaters?

It was a movie called X. Which is not about Malcolm X, to my dismay. It’s this ’70s-themed slasher film about a bunch of folks who go into the woods to film a porno—and then all hell breaks loose.

What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?

“Janet tour necklace.” My god, I’m obsessed.

What’s the last song you had on repeat?

“Pains” by Silk Rhodes.

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

“Faith” by George Michael.

Do you have any favorite social media accounts to follow?

I really do love following @theconsciouslee, and @_lyneezy. She does a series every Friday, Parking Lot Pimping. It’s a digest through the lens of blackness. She breaks it down, honey.

Do you believe in astrology, and what’s your zodiac sign?

I certainly follow it. I’m an Aquarius—and a true Aquarian for sure.

What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

My skincare.

Do you have an extensive routine?

I feel like I don’t have an intensive regimen. But when I look by my bed, there are 11 things that I have to do. There are, like, two moisturizers, a serum, a brightener, and a toning spray. And an oil. So maybe that is a lot.