This is the first of a series of Beauty Beyond Binaries interviews where contributing editor Janet Mock sits with cultural figures to discuss their relationship to beauty culture and their journey to being confident in how they present in the world. She also gets a look at their routines and snatches a few tips and product recommendations along the way.

Peppermint entered the Allure offices in One World Trade Center wearing a long red coat that trailed slightly behind her with a matching red lip and a shoulder-grazing midnight blue bob. Ever the showgirl, Peppermint’s look resembled Madonna’s ensemble in her “Nothing Really Matters” video.

The Delaware native, who began performing drag in downtown Manhattan nightclubs 20 years ago, is conscious of how she complicates what it means to be a trans woman, a drag queen, and a trailblazer on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Peppermint made it all the way to the finale on the hit Vh1 series, which snagged eight Emmy nominations, then sashayed away as the uber-intellectual bald beauty Sasha Velour was crowned the show’s ninth winner in June.

Peppermint, who prefers to be called by her stage name and to keep her chosen name close (for now), is only the second openly trans contestant to compete on Drag Race (though many queens revealed their trans identity after sashaying away), and shared with me how “afraid” she was initially to audition for the reality series.

“We hadn't seen a celebrated example of a trans woman on the show prior,” Peppermint told me. “Monika Beverly Hillz historically came out on the show, and she was gone the next episode…I felt like I needed to hide my transness and kind of downplay a lot of that [during my audition].”

As soon as we sit down, Peppermint takes off her wig and places it in her handbag, revealing shorn coils that she dyes blonde at home using her preferred Clairol lightening powder and 40 volume developer. “I'm feeling golden,” she says, rubbing her palm across the top of her head.

It is this realness mixed with her sweet demeanor and fierce lip-syncs that carried Peppermint to the Drag Race finale, enabling her to reach heights on the show that no other trans woman has been able to reach. This includes trans alums like Kylie Sonique (Season 2), Carmen Carrera (Season 3), Stacy Layne Matthews (Season 3), Kenya Michaels (Season 4), Jiggly Caliente (Season 4), Monika Beverly Hillz (Season 5), and Gia Gunn (Season 6).

“I hope from this moment on, the trajectory of Drag Race has forever changed in terms of how it relates to trans women,” she says with pride. “I'm sure that there will be a trans winner on the show. I'm sure that more trans women will be invited to be on the show if their drag can get through. It is about the drag. I made it to first runner-up. I almost won. I think we've done it.”

Below is our edited and condensed “Beauty Beyond Binaries” conversation in which we discuss Peppermint’s beauty journey as a trans woman who used the art of drag as a means to make a living, experiment with her looks, and unveil her identity as a woman.

JANET: What I love so much about this moment in culture is that the girls are in so many different spaces, from Amiyah Scott on Star to our mutual friend Laverne Cox’s trailblazing career. How do you see your work as a drag performer affecting the ways in which trans women are seen? What is the relationship between visibility and combatting the stigma and violence facing trans girls and women?

PEPPERMINT: I want to be able to add another voice. I think the public has a narrow view of trans people and usually can only fit one vision for us. I'm happy to show people, "Look, you can be a Queen and an entertainer and be a trans woman.” You can be all these different things, and you can also choose not to have surgery that you think trans women have to do. Drag Race is also a large platform where I can speak about trans issues and bring light to the struggles of trans women like Islan Nettles or Eyricka King. It's helpful.

J: Do you find speaking about trans issues to be part of your responsibility?

P: Absolutely. Coming through the New York nightlife scene as a drag queen, I always felt a strong connection to activism and drag. The Queens were always here, always speaking on stage, giving some sermon. I've always believed that as an entertainer, and as a drag queen, and of course as a trans woman whose visible now, it's…I don't want to say it's a duty or responsibility. It's my passion to inform those who are uninformed or misinformed.

J: Since 2013, after years of being known as a drag entertainer, you've been open about being a trans woman. And you decided after three years to share your transness not just with loved ones, but on a —

P: TV show! When I was coming out on RuPaul's Drag Race, I considered it as coming out to a room full of people. I knew that I was gonna be on TV, but I didn’t realize some viewers would perceive that as though I was kind of coming out to myself in that moment as well.

J: When you entered the competition, were you trying to blend in with the rest of the contestants or did you feel it necessary to vocalize that you were trans in the workroom?

P: Well, it didn't come up when I came in the door. Everyone else on the show was entering the workroom door and saying their names. Why do I have to come in with something so heavy in the door? I was afraid of people trying to qualify or disqualify my dragness versus my transness, and try to have one cancel the other out. Since it's a drag competition, I wanted my talent to speak for itself, first. I really wanted to establish myself as a competitor and I wanted to become comfortable with the people that were in the workroom.

I always felt a strong connection to activism and drag. The Queens were always here, always speaking on stage, giving some sermon.

J: When did you know it was the right time to open up to your fellow contestants?

P: Even before I actually said the words and came out to these girls, something felt different. They just felt woke to gender and body image issues. I've never heard these topics discussed all together in one program — let alone on Drag Race before.

I wasn't even the first person who spoke about gender or the binary, or gender fluidity in the room. It was Trinity and Sasha who started that conversation. I was like, "Well, damn. It's time." Sasha and Shea were instrumental in making me feel very comfortable. I felt extremely safe.

J: The core dynamic of the show — and part of its appeal — is that the viewer gets to see a person’s transformation from the workroom to the stage. So, I thought it was generous of you to show up as you are, literally waking up like this on national television and allowing us to watch as you underwent your beauty routine.

P: When I made the decision to go on a reality TV drag competition, I knew that I was gonna be seen out of makeup. I knew that I was gonna be seen in my natural state. So, for me, my natural state, in front of the mirror, of course…I still see this woman that I've always seen that kind of radiates from the inside. But other people are gonna see something, to them, that looks like a man. It was very hard for me to have to expose myself.

J: Has there been push back with your presence as the first trans woman to go so far on the show?

P: Some think my coming out on the show was a stunt, and it's been surprising to hear some Drag Race sisters say that I'm not real or convincing, or a proper representation of a trans woman. I’ve heard some say, "She doesn't have any surgeries. She’s not on hormones. She doesn't have long hair and makeup and nails. She’s not presenting what I feel is a woman."

It's ironic because drag queens are supposed to be gender rebels. We're supposed to challenge ideas of the binary. Yet here we are, stuck in the same old rules that we were fighting against to begin with.

J: RuPaul has been instrumental in my own journey. I remember seeing him on the M.A.C. billboards in the malls growing up. To see a blonde black drag queen occupying such a mainstream space was instrumental to me coming to my identity as a trans girl. RuPaul also has an interesting perspective on identity, which he has called “a hoax,” which I understand in theory, but it struggles with my own lived reality. How have you reconciled with his outlook and the past controversies of the show?

P: Certainly, I will never speak for RuPaul. She has very close connection to trans people [Candi Cayne, Chaz Bono, and Our Lady J have all appeared on the show]. I think she's from a different school and different era. A couple of years ago there was controversy around certain words on Drag Race. I saw a lot of my gay friends saying, "I can say [she-male and tranny]. I'm gay. I can't possibly be discriminating against anyone in my community."

It’s important for all of us to check our privilege because we all have it in some way. Gay men have been at the forefront of the LGBT struggle [for so long], especially with marriage equality, that they forgot that there are others in the community who still have further to go and that we need their help. And that they need to be sensitive. I do want to reiterate that I felt very supported on the show, and when Ru was speaking to me, she was extremely sensitive without my prompts.

We're supposed to challenge ideas of the binary. Yet here we are, stuck in the same old rules that we were fighting against to begin with.

J: Let’s go to the beginning: What brought you to drag?

P: Before I moved to New York from Delaware, I thought, "I'm gonna be with my people," whoever they are. I hadn't really articulated to myself my transness yet. I'd started performing in drag and was excited about being part of the queer community.

Then I come to New York in 1997 and there's like a section for every little group – the twinks, the Chelsea boys, the Daddys. Every group was so segregated. I had a hard time. I could not find anyone to connect with on a personal level, on a romantic level. I couldn't find where I fit. I was like, "Well, the only way I can fit in is if I'm on stage taking their money, so that's what I'll do."

J: Like many trans women, you were concerned with fitting in, with survival and safety. How did you develop and learn tools to feel confident in how you present on a daily basis?

P: My beauty journey has been rocky because I had to struggle between the image in my mind and the reality of whatever my body was able to support. My drag existence and my transness were always closely connected. Early on, I would stay away from really campy drag because I wanted to protect the vision of this woman that I wanted to be.

I was really secretive about outwardly expressing my transness, too. Drag is the only profession and career that I have. I cherish it, and I depend on it. I wanted to protect that. I've seen other trans women working in the context of drag. Some of them naturally changed jobs [once they transitioned], but some had those options taken away from them as performers. I've overheard conversations where cisgender people calling the shots in the gay bars say, "Oh, she's not a queen anymore. Let's get rid of her. She's just a woman." All of a sudden her talent must've just disappeared because she's a woman now in their eyes. It’s misogyny, and I didn't want that to happen to me.

J: What's the difference between Peppermint on stage and Peppermint off the stage in terms of aesthetics?

P: I was very, very conservative and very traditional with my drag up until around 2012 when I was able to come to my own self-realization about my transness and work through that a bit. I had to come to terms with my transness: What does that look like? What kind of products do I use? Do I use the same lipstick as I wear at night as a drag queen? I have all these female clothes, but they somehow don't feel right for my transness. I had to kind of sort through all that.

My [daytime] aesthetic these days is no makeup, maxi dress, no hair. I used to always rock braids, but now it's just short blonde hair, a maxi dress, some highlighter, and I'm good to go.

J: Do you remember the first time you wore makeup?

P: It was actually with my grandmother who had no qualms about dressing me up as Boy George. I was infatuated with Boy George and Culture Club when I was younger. She made a little wig for me and made this little outfit, and put all this white makeup on me to make me appear pale, and lipstick and eyeliner. She thought I was being Boy George. I was being Miss Thing!

J: How has drag influenced your beauty journey?

P: Drag created a safe space for me to try different things. You can wear any kind of hair. You can wear any of dress. It can be kooky, artsy, slutty, and for the sake of the show, people will accept it. Maybe as a trans woman, not so much, and I certainly did not have that confidence when I was starting my transition outwardly.

J: It seems like there was safety under the veil of the night to be read as a drag queen versus when you're presenting as yourself, a trans woman, on the street.

P: Yeah, there is. People know what a drag queen is, and they're more accepting. You have that permission that trans women aren't afforded. As a drag queen, I am in control of the room and what I say goes.

As a trans woman, a lot of times, that's not the case. Leaving the house was terrifying to me [when I began my transition], even though I'd been doing drag for years. I stepped out of the house in a gown every night. And during the day, I was shaking with terror and fear. Is this gonna look right? Is it gonna give me away? Are people gonna scream at me? I was very conservative and didn't feel like I even had the right to experiment with beauty and try different things out to see what would work for me as the trans woman I am. The only way that I felt like I could really do that is through my drag. That's mostly how I've done it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Each cultural icon interviewed in this series will fill out the below questionnaire, complete with product recs, fun facts, and beauty tips — after all, we are Allure. This is Peppermint's edition.

You can follow Peppermint on Instagram and visit her fundraising page to learn about her upcoming documentary.

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