Peppermint Reflects on 'Traitors' Run

Peppermint Reflects on 'Traitors' Run

By Joan SummersJan 25, 2024

Can somebody please cast Peppermint in a horror movie, like, immediately?

I’m serious! Once the finalist of RuPaul’s Drag Race and house mother on Call Me Mother, The Traitors was the performer’s re-entrance into the world of reality television. For the uninitiated: the murder mystery competition show pits the likes of Real Housewives and Survivor stars against each other as they fight to survive the night and, hopefully, not get “murdered” in their sleep. Each day, the “faithfuls” attempt to root out the “traitors” in their midst.

From the minute she hopped out of that G Wagon and onto the grounds of the Scottish castle that serves as the backdrop of The Traitors, it was clear the multi-hyphenate had come ready to play. Fresh off a comedy special and a role on Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest, girls and gays around the world tuned in to see her hopefully dominate the game — alongside their favorite housewives, of course.

Early on, Peppermint became the fixation of former The Real World star Trishelle, who spun a wild yarn about an overly dramatized interaction that resulted in her near-unanimous elimination. Before she left their sight forever, though, Peppermint delivered a now iconic address: “I came into this game because I’m a huge fan, but the bigger reason for me to come here is because I’m trying to put all my energy, and use my platform, to advocate for our transgender community. I will keep being myself. That will never stop. But in this game, I think some of you all have been led astray.”

The moment, of course, caused an uproar online. In the wake of her controversial early exit from the show, PAPER sat down with the multi-hyphenate to talk about what was left on the cutting room floor, her iconic reality television wardrobe, a union for drag entertainers, Janet Jackson and so much more.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You've talked about being a fan of horror and murder mysteries and being a fan of The Traitors going into the show. What were you expecting as a first time contestant in this format?

I think one of the things that really turns me on about shows like The Traitors is the ensemble element. Being a part of a team. That's probably something from my childhood, about being included or not. I also obviously had seen the show before. I've seen every season, with the exception of the Netherlands, which nobody has uploaded for me.

In Vulture, you mentioned that going in, you knew a lot of these contestants before, but that none of them immediately recognized you, or acknowledged where they might have known you from. Did that make you feel isolated from the rest of the cast at all?

I think they were just dealing with me at face value. Like, I walk in the room and the first thing you see is that I'm a tall person with — right now — dark hair. Obviously, I look the way that I look. And whatever that means to whoever it means. I think that they were just treating me at face value, meaning I'm going to treat you like a Black trans woman that I don't know. That's what I got. I certainly didn't get a lot of excitement about Drag Race, or about anything that I’d done. I don't know, because no one expressed that to me, but I wasn’t around long enough for people to have the ability or time to take much of an interest.

But for those who might have needed a little bit of... getting to know a drag entertainer before they decided that they’d want to ask more about her life — that didn't happen, either. I think they thought that I was a man dressed in drag coming to the show.

As an audience member and a trans woman, I had to check myself! Like, do I really live in a bubble where literally everyone knows Peppermint? Have I become that detached from the mainstream?

We’re 100 percent in a bubble! I gotta tell you, queer fame is cheaper. I know I’m not lecturing you, but in the case of our personal stories, and tragically, in some cases our lives, our fame is valued at a much lower rate.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

Was that something you’ve encountered in your professional career beyond The Traitors, transitioning from being so well known in nightlife to the World of Wonder machine and beyond?

I mean, there's some circles where your reputation will precede you. I'm sure if I had been on that duck hunters show, then gone to some fishing convention, you're gonna run into people who knew me. The good thing about entertainment today is that there's something for everybody. It's just a big collection of a bunch of niches.So I can understand that a lot of people don't know about Drag Race. I didn't expect them to, necessarily, but I thought there would be at least one gay person in the house who recognized me.

It’s interesting that the Real Housewives and people like them have gone on to become de facto gay icons, because of how people respond to them on TV and online, when it seems that isn’t often reciprocated.

Queer folks are oftentimes quick to identify really good content. It’s no surprise! I’d also point out that their hairdressers and their makeup artists are often queer. You can’t necessarily argue with the fact that even these people pay money for the opinions of queer people. We know that queer people are often involved in the tastemaking. I was pleased, though, to see that there were many fabulous queer gay men on the set of The Traitors.

I was reading an old interview where you talked about how in the modern entertainment world, being in “high glam” is akin to being in drag, which I thought about a lot when watching the Real Housewives on this show. You and the Real Housewives definitely elevated the fashion sensibilities of this show. How did you go about dressing for it?

I'll give you a little blind item: it was interesting that one of the cast mates on the show knew of a drag entertainer who they mistook as someone who dedicated their drag career to impersonating this person that was in the castle with me. They also didn't remember this drag entertainer’s name. It took a while for us to realize who they were talking about, and I believe they were mistaken. They think this person is an impersonator of them, even though this person has done performances that reference them once. But the bulk of their career — and anybody that knows this drag entertainer, if I said this drag entertainer's name, they would know — is doing their own thing. They are not impersonating someone who was in the house with me.

I see, I’m trying not to blurt out a name but I’m putting it together.

That really told me where I stood in terms of the consciousness of the people in the house. Where I thought that I could offer something to the show was my humor, my personality, and also my fashions. Granted, I am not a fashion girl. I don't understand it. I'm not around it. I don't go to the fashion shows, I never get invited to the fashion shows. But I do like to look nice. We all do. These are all people that are on TV, and I think you can tell everybody went out and went shopping and tried to put together some ensembles.

I had every single garment made by hand, measured for my body. I don't know how many people on that show could say that. To Parvati's point that she made in a different interview: half these people are known for being on Survivor with, like, a loincloth. This is a different kind of situation for them. So they had the opportunity to wear some cool clothes.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

Your exit look was iconic for this reason! Coupled with the moment you found yourself in during your exit, it was a level of trans and drag excellence that was lost on them.

Yeah, it was. But I do think that there was a message that wasn't entirely lost on them. I mean, the opportunity for them to see what I might have had to bring was going out the door. But I did have the opportunity to express something to people in the room that didn't make it to air.

Do you mind sharing?

I expressed to them in so many words that I believed they were in a mob mentality. The optics of it were not very good. And it was very much in line with the experience of a lot of trans people in our country right now, who are fleeing from certain states, trying to figure out how they're going to get access to the healthcare that they've been blocked from in over 20 states, who are trying to figure out how they're going to gain access to sports. There are bathroom bills that have been reintroduced.

Using the notion that trans people are perpetrators, that we're here to lie and cheat and steal our way into sports, into the bathroom, through healthcare, that we are going to victimize cis women, they are using lies about our community, things that are definitely not true, in order to sell this to the public. And then they are allowed and able to achieve their goal of eliminating trans people from those spaces.

There are so many socio-political parallels between what's going on in the world and what happened to you in that room. Did you know you wanted to give that speech going into the competition? Or was that something you decided on doing at the moment?

I knew that I wanted to deliver that to inform the viewing public. I don't know about the viewers, but many Americans, according to polls, say that they don't know someone personally who's trans. So I knew that I wanted to deliver the information to let them know, and give them the opportunity to see that we weren't all these things that these politicians are saying about the LGBTQ+ community. We're not groomers, we're not trying to harm your children at drag queen story hour. I wanted to provide a counter to that.

I think these kinds of motivations play out in a lot of competition shows, but there’s something about The Traitors that seems to unlock these biases faster in people. In the aftermath of it airing, it seems people on the show have issued varying levels of apologies, but prior to it airing, did you hear those apologies from anybody?

No, I did not hear from anyone I didn’t already know going into the house. I've maintained an open line of communication with the producers, of course. I already had a pre-existing connection with Johnny Bananas, because I've been on his show several times. We have a really great rapport. And Alan, I've known him personally from New York City nightlife. So he and I were texting immediately the night I left. There were a few messages from some of the other classmates. Sandra, Parvati, Tamra, Maks, or I think I reached out to Maks. Those are the people I’ve been sort of in contact with. The night we were promoting, essentially premiere night, I apparently received a message from Trishelle. Or, I was tagged in a post by her that said like, I reached out to Peppermint but she never got back to me. That was the same night as the premiere. [Laughs] I acknowledge that it appears as though she reached out.

It’s one thing to anticipate backlash as it's looming at the premiere. It’s another thing to actually check in on you after, before anyone had even seen the episodes or knew what had transpired. After how this experience went, would you be open to a show like this again?

I want to follow my dreams. My dream is to utilize art as activism. I don't have a super PAC, I don't have millions of dollars that go into politics. But I’m in the position to see how this anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and these policies can negatively impact someone's life. And so my dream is to use whatever skills I have, whatever I'm good at, to alleviate some of that pain for people in the queer community. We are literally in a country where our existence is being outlawed. It's important to me to be able to use my platform and my skills to show other people that being out and queer is something that has really changed my life for the better.

I also want to say that my life has been enriched by the beautiful cis women I’ve known, like my mom, family members, friends I’ve had. And in turn, their lives have been enriched. It’s not a one-way street. The relationships you can cultivate with the queer people in your lives, the trans women in your lives, the people of color in your lives, your life will be so much better!

I don’t think that’s a notion people consider, or think about. I’d like to help them think about those things with my art, or at least remind them. My opportunity to do that was cut short in the castle. But I would go back on a show like this, but might do it a little differently.

Talk me through some of these other projects you're working on right now.

I'm producing my own content, just trying to generate my own content. I'm so grateful. This is the very first time that I've ever established a GoFundMe to raise money for a project that I was creating and producing myself. I'm really grateful we almost made our goal. It's still open.

Yeah, go donate. Everybody. Please. Go donate.

I'm doing it as a tribute video to Janet [Jackson’s] “Together Again.” I think it’s really timely, she just announced that she's going to be extending her tour called “Together Again.” The timing is just right. Initially, the song was released and proceeds went to AIDS and HIV charity. I'm planning on bringing attention back to the AIDS and HIV community, and sort of eliminating whatever stigma still exists. We're going out to the desert next week and filming on location.

People can also check out the comedy special. I wanted to say, “We are the butt of so many jokes, and there's plenty of comedy specials that seem to make a lot of money talking about us inaccurately.” I'm like, well, if they can do it, why can't I get into it, because it is possible for trans people to be funny. Jokes about trans people in the trans community can actually be funny.

You've obviously been so vocally supportive of trans people, queer people, drag entertainers, in your politics and in the media. Over the summer, you popped up at a SAG-AFTRA picket line with Elliot Page. What has your experience been like in SAG-AFTRA?

I've had a great experience at SAG-AFTRA. That was my first labor strike. Being involved in the strike, you know, as fancy as I feel sometimes, it reminds me that I'm a worker. I am a blue collar worker, I am a laborer. I don't own businesses. I'm a worker, and labor rights are an important thing, especially in a capitalist society. If capitalism and the nature of capitalism totally had its way, then we'd all be overly exploited — not saying we're not already. Exploitation is just par for the course. So, it was great for me to be able to participate in that, and I was proud to do so.

I'm grateful to have been able to do a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race, really live through my drag life, and then also experience what it's like to participate in the entertainment industry as a trans woman. There's still a long way to go.

Speaking of SAG, I've talked to a lot of queens, and many have whispered about a union for the girls. Has that ever crossed your mind?

I think nightlife entertainers should have an organization for nightlife entertainers. For sure. Drag entertainers have oftentimes been brought on, especially in Hollywood’s film and television projects, as one-off day players. Sort of like glorified background entertainers. We've all done background, there's nothing wrong with background. However, drag entertainers are obviously responsible for bringing their own hair, their own makeup, doing their own hair, their own makeup, paying for those things, not being reimbursed for those things, getting their own outfits, designed, oftentimes designing and making those outfits themselves, for whatever project that they’re asked to be a part of. For like $100. But the outfit costs $400. That's how it is for all drag entertainers who get involved into film and television.

Yes, there should be better compensation for these artists. There should be better representation for these artists. There should be better accommodations for these artists. Across the board. Many drag queens I know will tell you many stories about how they had to get ready and get dressed in the bathroom stall. Which, okay, fine. But that's not where the star of the show would be getting dressed. I can guarantee you, when these nightclubs and gay bars were paying Tan Mom and Snooki to come in, they were not having to get ready in the toilet.

Photos courtesy of Robert Frashure