Jinkx Monsoon spoke to PinkNews about growing up trans, being a voice for the community, and why Drag Raceis still excluding trans queens.
It’s been seven full years since Jinkx Monsoon won season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and in that time they’ve earned a reputation as one of the most interesting stage performers in entertainment.
And after wowing audiences last year with The Ginger Snapped, a musical comedy hour all about “coming to terms with mental health issues and de-stigmatising the idea of getting help for them”, Jinkx and their musical partner Major Scales are returning to the UK with Together Again, Again.
Their shows use drag as a medium to explore their own psyche – something they say feels like a natural fit to them.
“You’re already dressed as this hyper-femme, impossible creature, so then to take it a step further and go into the realm of emotional absurdity, it makes it more palatable,” Jinkx explains.
“I have a lot more confidence now, I’m more willing to go further with my own comedy and my own aesthetic. You cans see, in the seven years since I won Drag Race, there’s been a big shift.”
It’s impossible to talk about Drag Race without touching upon the show’s continued exclusion of trans queens
Despite vocal criticism from fans and Drag Race alumni alike, the show’s attitude towards trans queens has become something of an embarrassment.
“I think the fact that the conversation is still being had is the disappointing thing,” Jinkx tells us.
“We’ve been having this conversation as a community for years and we’re still here, asking why aren’t there trans queens on Drag Race?”
Jinkx Monsoon came out as non-binary after winning Drag Race.
Jinkx was among the first batch of Drag Race queens to come out as trans or non-binary back in 2014, following their crowning as winner.
Like many queens they didn’t mention their identity on-screen, but told the world after winning: “My gender does not fit into the box assigned to my genitalia. I lie somewhere between the lines.”
They say that this was something they released at a very young age.
I knew at five years old that I wasn’t going to grow up to like women. I knew at five years old that I was a f**king misogynist!
Cackling, they stress that their realisation was one of sexuality. But at the same time, they also started to understand that their gender didn’t align with the one they’d been assigned at birth.
“I knew that I wanted to wear dresses, I knew all of this stuff about myself is at a very early age.”
Growing up in the Portland, Oregon in the 1990s, Jinkx was fortunate enough to meet a few “leading trans people”. But they were all much older, which led them to believe that coming out as trans was “something people go through in later life”.
At 14, they befriended a few trans kids of a similar age to themself.
“Thats when I realised you can transition at any age, that it’s not something you have to age into. That ifyou know this to be true about yourself at 14, you can transition at 14. It changed my whole perspective on everything.”
Drag Raceroyalty ‘didn’t have the words’ to explain their gender.
Today Jinkx identifies as non-binary, but at the time they didn’t have the language to explain this to others.
“I would say to people then that it was more than not just feeling like your typical boy, but less than wanting to become a woman.
“I didn’t really have the words to explain how I felt, and I didn’t use the word trans for myself because I didn’t think I was ‘trans enough’ to identify that way.”
As discourse around gender evolved over the years, Jinkx began to feel more comfortable using terms like non-binary and genderqueer.
By the time Drag Race rolled around they described themself as trans to friends, but hadn’t used the term in the public arena until they were challenged to do so.
Jinkx Monsoon was 24 when they competed on Drag Race. (WoW)
“Right after I won was doing an interview and I was weighing in on transphobia in the media, and someone responded to my thoughts on the issue by saying: “You don’t really get to have an opinion on this because you’re not a trans person.
“That’s when I said to the person, I actually do identify as trans. It was kind of around the time that gender non-conforming, non-binary and gender-fluid were becoming words we used, and were being popularised in such a way that I felt like, finally, I have a way to explain to people the way that I feel and have always felt.
“So I explained that to the person and they said: ‘No, if you’ve only been self-identifying as trans the whole time, and you identify as gender non-conforming or non-binary, then you really owe it to your trans brothers and sisters and trans family to come out as trans.
They basically challenged me to use my platform, my voice, my notoriety, as a way to shine more light on the issue.
Jinkx acknowledges that this manner of coming out, of being prodded to do so, isn’t right for most people.
“But in that moment that person saying, ‘You know, we could use your help,’ really spoke to me. I became an out and proud non-binary person and advocate from that moment on, just simple as that.”
Sadly, in the context of Drag Race, Jinkx’s forthcomingness has done very little. For every step forward – Peppermint competing openly as a trans woman in season nine, for example – there has been a step backward, like RuPaul insinuating she was only allowed to do so because she hadn’t undergone surgery.
Jinkx Monsoon is a seasoned musical performer. (Santiago Felipe/Getty)
Jinkx is reluctant to be too critical – they have friends who work on the show, and know that the cast is filled with “good people” – but acknowledge there is an issue.
“I just think that they haven’t figured out the best way to include people,” they explain. “I don’t know. I don’t think they are actively trying to exclude people.
“What I love about Drag Race is that the creative team is all queer people, but maybe the reason why the show had a trans contestant on is because a lot of the people working on it are cis gay men and lesbian women.
“Maybe the reason – and I’m definitely giving them the benefit of the doubt – maybe the reason that they are worried about bringing in trans contestants is that they don’t know how to help those trans contestants tell their story earnestly.
“Maybe the solution is bringing on a trans writer for the show, bringing on a trans producer, someone who could be mindful of that so that they could effectively help share those stories as well.”
Despite all the shortcomings, Jinkx is encouraged by the fact that the debate is even happening.
“I never thought in my lifetime I’d see the day that drag queens were on mainstream television, and then everyone would be saying: ‘We need to include trans people too.’
This is a radical time to live in and I’m really happy about that.
While it is indeed heartening to see the LGB community rally behind its trans siblings so vocally, it’s impossible to talk about trans inclusion without mentioning the vitriol that the community still finds itself facing.
While Drag Race struggles with giving trans people a platform, there are major forces in the world – the president of the US chief among them – intent on stripping away their rights entirely.
For Jinkx, a major area of concern is the assault on and policing of young trans people, specifically the war on puberty blockers.
They say that they have seen firsthand how the treatment – which a recent study called “safe, effective and totally reversible” – can be life-saving.
“I know what it’s like. I know what helped my friend who was 14 years old and trans. Being able to go through the puberty of their true identity later in life, I know that that helped them.
“It can actually improve that individual’s safety and well-being later in life. I think a lot of parents are concerned for their child’s safety, but I think they need to see that for a trans child transitioning early is the safest option.”
For parents who remain skeptical, Jinkx has a simple message.
“You’ve got to put more faith in your children knowing themselves.
“I think the big thing that parents are worried about that it could be a phase. They think children want one thing this year, the next year they want something different.
“But phases to me include what sport you’re interested in, or what colour you want to dye your hair. Those things are trivial. Your gender identity is something you have a sense of from a very young age.
“The only reason it took me until I was 14 to start admitting [my transness] to myself and then until 24 to really talk about it openly was because of the society I lived in.
“It had nothing to do with me being unsure, it had nothing to do with me not being 100 percent certain that this was true for me.
“So I’m just gonna say to any skeptical parents out there, any people who are worried about their child’s safety, if your child has the ability to delay puberty so that they go through the puberty of their true gender, they are going to have a much better life. You need to see the it’s the safest option for them.”
Jinkx Monsoon is touring the UK from April 7 – June 8 with their musical partner Major Scales, debuting an all-new show, Together Again, Again. Tickets are available from Soho Theatre now.