In your piece for The Stranger’s Queer Issue about RuPaul, you mention your 2018 album The Ginger Snapped, which is fantastic. I have been listening to it nonstop. What’s your favorite song on it?
“Cartoons and Vodka” is my favorite song on that album, and it’s my favorite song to perform. The sound is heavily inspired by early No Doubt, which was my main inspiration for the album. No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom was like my anthem album as a teenager. When I started doing drag, I performed almost every track off that album. [She laughs.] The way to achieve that Tragic Kingdom sound is to involve horns and brass instruments, to be just on that edge between rock and ska, and “Cartoons and Vodka” is heaviest on the horns. And then of course, other influences include Amanda Palmer, Lady Rizo, and the B-52s, and to have Amanda Palmer, Lady Rizo, and Fred Schneider all be featured on the album was amazing.
Are the stories you tell about yourself on the album true?
Most of the songs on the album loosely pertain to personal stories from my own life. In the last few years, I’ve been embracing the fact that I, like so many queer people in my demographic, deal with mental health issues on a day-to-day basis. The album and the cabaret show The Ginger Snapped are both Jinkx destigmatizing the idea of mental illness, and destigmatizing seeking help for your mental health. It can be something we embrace and don’t have to feel ashamed about doing.
That’s beautiful. I just assumed the title The Ginger Snapped was supposed to be funny and kicky—but it sounds like it has a serious side too.
I wouldn’t say it makes light of mental health issues, but it is a tongue-in-cheek look at Jinkx’s own personal experience, and that’s what I really wanted to do with the live show too. What I’m really proud of, what I think I’ve accomplished, is I don’t tell anyone else’s story except for my own. I don’t give you any kind of generalization about mental health or mental illness. I don’t give you statistics and I don’t tell you how to feel about mental illness. All I do is share my own stories with you. And then sing songs about it.
I haven’t seen the live show yet of The Ginger Snapped. What’s it like?
The idea for the show is that Jinkx is kind of at a low point, even though we’re supposed to be doing a live concert of the album. We’re supposed to sing you the new songs from The Ginger Snapped and that’s it. But Jinkx comes in and she’s kind of at the apex of having a mental breakdown, and Major Scales points out to her that the best thing to do if you’re feeling at the end of your rope is to seek professional help. And Jinkx decides: “Okay, we should do that. Right now.”
So Major magically transforms into Jinkx’s therapist, and the setting stops being a rock concert and starts being a therapist’s office. Then the whole show is basically watching Jinkx have a psychotherapy session onstage for the benefit of the audience. It’s me being extremely honest with my audience about different things I’ve dealt with, before and after Drag Race. You know: “This is a problem I’ve dealt with.”
What kinds of problems?
I’ll give you an example. I felt like maybe after I crowned Bianca Del Rio as my successor, my career was over. [Laughs.] No matter how successful you are, there will always be someone who’s going to come up next, who’s going to break the glass ceiling in a way that you didn’t think possible. It was amazing because Bianca came to opening night in Provincetown the first time we ever did the show. So I dedicated part of the show to the astounding success of Bianca Del Rio. But it’s not like a pity party, it’s actually very much celebrating that I have this friend who’s wildly successful, and me not comparing myself and my successes to someone else’s.
Maybe I just don’t keep up, but I can’t think of a single thing Bianca has done since she won. And I could name three live shows you’ve written, two original albums you’ve recorded, and a web series.
Well, that’s because we all focus on the queens we’re most inspired by.
Touché. Guilty as charged.
But the big thing is not to compare yourself. Bianca and I are apples and oranges. BenDeLaCreme and I are best friends and we’re two different entities with completely different journeys and skill sets. Even though we’re all drag queens, we’re also all multifaceted, extremely diverse people.
But what glass ceiling did Bianca break?
Bianca has literally toured the world for the last four years doing sold-out venues in huge, huge houses that you would normally have to be, like, a movie star to fill. Bianca can sell out a venue that it would take seven other Drag Race girls together to sell out, just doing her standup comedy. And that’s fucking amazing. She really honed in on her artistry, and her craft, and she had a game plan, and she’s gone on a lot of TV shows, and she’s just had her second full-feature movie that she stars in come out. But it’s funny to me to hear you say: “How did she break the glass ceiling?” It reminds me that the only reason I feel competitive at all is because I am looking at it through my own lens. To someone on the outside, they might not see any difference between me and Bianca. And that’s another thing you train yourself to remember: My success to someone else might seem like more than it seems to me.
Yeah, when I think of Bianca, honestly I think: Well, Bianca can’t sing. Yeah, she’s funny, but so are you. Yeah, she looks great, but you look better.
Yeah, that’s something you have to train yourself to remember: I’m only seeing my perspective of this. And so many people would look at my career and be jealous of me. It’s funny because, when I was in my depression, my career was also kind of at its lowest point after Drag Race, where I felt like I wasn’t getting the big-ticket gigs I used to get, and I wasn’t working on any new projects. It was like because I was so steeped in self-doubt and self-hate, the work was suffering. That only made it worse, because then when the work suffers, then I suffer more because my work is my favorite thing about all this.
So I really had to get to a place where I pulled myself out of that depression, and suddenly the work started getting better, and now I feel like, six years after filming Drag Race, I’m at my A-game. The projects I’ve taken on have gone wonderfully. I’m selling out venues all across the UK right now. Major Scales and I are working together the best we have been since we created The Vaudevillians and took it to New York for the first time.
I love that you’re destigmatizing therapy by having Major Scales play your therapist.
Thank you. Yeah, I spent two years on antidepressants and then eventually weaned myself off of antidepressants when I realized they were not helping. They were actually making the symptoms worse. But it took me a long time to realize that because I do believe they helped at first. For whatever reason, I don’t know the science behind it, but I felt like they helped me for a long time, and then I felt like they stopped helping, and then I felt like they started going in the opposite direction, and I was feeling ten times worse. But the best thing that antidepressants gave me was when I did need them, and they did help, they kind of helped my brain for the first time differentiate between rational thoughts and destructive thoughts.
I’m impressed you could write a show about all this.
The only reason I was able to write the show The Ginger Snapped and work on the album was because I was past it. I think if you’re currently going through it, the art is going to be kind of skewed by the fact that you’re still in the midst of it. I feel really good performing these shows because it’s stuff that I’ve already tackled, and already conquered. So I’m able to enjoy the performance without it drudging up anything or triggering me in the midst of a performance because I feel like I’m on the other end of it. And I would recommend that for any other artist. If you’re in the midst of what you’re dealing with, and you’re performing about it, then you are doing therapy—and therapy isn’t necessarily the best thing to put onstage. Even though my show is about seeing a therapist. [Laughs.] But it’s me on the other side of it, being able to comment on it, rather than me currently going through it in front of my audience.
It must be hard to be a celebrity in the era of social media. People must talk shit constantly.
Oh yeah. I had never paid attention to the social media until I went on TV, and it was explained to me whether you like social media or not, it’s going to be a big part of your career now because your online presence is important. Being a reality TV celebrity is very different than being an actor on TV. You’ve got to maintain a public presence where people continue to feel like they know you, because when you do reality TV one of the things that draws in your fan base is the fact that they’re meeting the real you, and they feel like they know the real you.
When you’re an actor on a series, fans know the character and they might love you because they love the character, but they may not now too much about your personal life. Also, you don’t have to play to your online persona so much because you’ve been cast in a show and your job is secure whether your fan base loves you or not. But when you’re a reality TV celebrity, and you have this overnight celebrity thing happen to you and you go on tour, you’re only going to be as successful as how many people want to come out to see your shows.
I never had any interest in social media until I had to, basically. I find it crazy and not the best place for someone with depressive thoughts and self-destructive thoughts. But after six years of doing it, I’ve found a way to contribute to the social media world and to be a public persona, but not take in a lot of the negativity that comes with it. And that’s just something that you train yourself to do.
It’s hard not to take feedback and insults personally.
Yeah. I have to remind myself constantly: Everyone’s opinion is valid, and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not every opinion is equal. I can already see that being written out as a tweet, and I can already see the people being like: “How dare you tell me my opinion isn’t equal to yours!” What I mean is, I’m not going to go down to the concierge in my hotel right now and ask them if this mole looks cancerous, you know? They might have an opinion on a mole on my back, but their opinion is not equal to a dermatologist’s opinion.
So yes, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but no, everyone’s opinion is not equal. If I see negative comments about my artwork, from someone who essentially has no credentials to be telling me this, then I have to look at the fact that I’m the drag queen who has been doing drag half her life, and my opinion about drag does mean a little bit more than some random person on the internet’s opinion.
Totally. I love what RuPaul says: “What someone else thinks of me is none of my business.”
Absolutely. And she also says, “If they’re not paying your bills, don’t pay them any mind.”
Ru also talks about the inner saboteur—do you have that?
Oh absolutely. I mean, I think I also just call it being a Virgo. [Laughs.] I mean, my big thing is, like I said, comparing myself to others. I know what I want in life, and sometimes it’s hard when I see someone else getting it if I feel like I haven’t quite gotten it yet.
It’s hard to say to yourself: You know, that’s just because it’s not the right time for you yet. Or just because you haven’t made it to this point, that the point you’re at right now isn’t also wonderful. The best example that I can say is: I really want to be in a Broadway production. I want to be on Broadway someday. So any time I hear about another queer performer who may be adjacent to me making it on Broadway, my first thought is: Why them and not me?
And I’ll be completely honest. Peppermint is going to be originating a role in this new show on Broadway, and we both auditioned for that role. And my first thought, even though—don’t get it twisted, I’m so proud of Peppermint, and Peppermint and I have gotten close, and I’m so excited for her, still—my first thought is: Why didn’t I get it? You have to train yourself to stop thinking that way, essentially. You have to train yourself to realize that there are a million and one reasons why this person got the role instead of you. And just because you didn’t get the role doesn’t mean that you didn’t do the absolute best you could have possibly done. And a step forward for one person in our community is a step forward for all of us, you know?
Peppermint is a trans woman of color. That’s a huge step forward for our community. And so you have to start training yourself to stop thinking of yourself as one person against the world. Especially as a queer person today, you have to think of yourself as one part of the queer community. A step forward for one of us is a step forward for all of us.
Yeah, and I bet when Peppermint’s hanging out with you, there’s some part of her that's like: “Why did she win Drag Race and not me?”
Yeah! And that’s the thing. You’ve got to take yourself out of your own head sometimes and look at the larger picture. At the end of the day, I’m so excited and so proud of Peppermint. As a performer, jealousy and competition are just a part of this show business world. But you can’t live in that. You can have moments of that, and you can recognize it and acknowledge it, but if you can’t pull yourself out of it, then you can’t work in show business.
Everything in that song is based on a real experience. My other favorite story to tell, which we talk about whenever we perform the song, is that the part where it’s about going to the doctor.
The lyric goes: “Now when I’m at the doctor for a little old check up / And he says I’ve marked the wrong box, and I want to yell ‘Step up!’” After we posted the music video for that song, even though you shouldn’t be reading the comments, I was curious, and the only thing that pissed me off was people saying: “Jinkx, I’m all about you celebrating your gender, but when you go see the doctor, you do have to tell them your actual given sex, so that they know how to treat you.”
And I’m like: “Wow, you made so many assumptions there, I don’t even know where to begin.” I ended up writing something like, “Yeah. I know. I always tell the doctor the fact that I have a penis and I’m male-bodied. That’s not what happened. And thank you for assuming that I’m an idiot who doesn’t know how to go to the doctor.”
I think what they thought is that I didn’t want to mark a box because I’m gender nonconforming and that I didn’t want to adhere to either gender, blah blah blah. What actually happened, and why that lyric exists, is that when I was living in Seattle, I went to see the Country Doctor because I was having an STD problem—
Haha, good for you! Get it girl!
Thanks! [Laughs.] And you know, I’m extremely femme presenting. I get called ma’am all the time. Sometimes even when I have like two days’ worth of stubble on, people call me ma’am—mainly because of the way I dress but also because I kind of just exude a feminine energy. And I never care. I actually take it as a compliment when people call me by female pronouns.
So I go to the doctor, and I must have been particularly femme-presenting that day because I fill out all the paperwork, and I mark “male” for sex, and then I go in and I see the doctor, and the doctor is asking me a list of questions. You know: “Do you smoke? Do you drink? When was your last sexual encounter? When was your last period?” And I said, “Oh I’ve never had a period.” And the doctor said, “Oh, is that because of a medical condition, or what?” And I said, “No, it’s because I’m a man. It’s because I have a penis. So I’ve never had a period.” And the doctor goes, “Well, I just assumed maybe you were in some form of transition and that you were female-bodied because of this.”
And the doctor showed me the paper, and the box marked “male” had been scratched out, and then “female” had been checked. What had happened is the receptionist who took my paper thought that I marked the wrong box because of how incompetent I was, and then “corrected” it for me. As if it was like: “Well I’m not going to mark a box, because I’m gender nonconforming and fuck this gender-phobic doctor’s office!” No. I marked that I’m a male-bodied person with a penis, and then some other person decided that I didn’t know what was best for me.
God, I can’t imagine what that would be like. What about the other songs on the album? Who wrote “Sugar Mama”?
I wrote “Sugar Mama” myself, and I wrote it on the piano, with Tori Amos as my main influence. When I sing it on piano acoustically, it sounds like Tori Amos. But then when we took it into the studio and the producer and Major Scales had their way with it, it ended up sounding like Portishead. [Laughs.] It’s so funny because my inspiration was Tori Amos on that song, but you can’t hear Tori Amos anymore.
Is the song “This Town” somehow a coded message about you recently leaving Seattle and moving to San Francisco?
Even though I don’t live in Seattle anymore, I spent 11 years living there, and I really loved Seattle. I feel so frustrated to see the gay community of Seattle and the gayborhood being encroached upon in such a big way. So I thought: I want us to have a song on the album about gentrification, but I don’t want it to sound preachy, I don’t want it to be like, “Dismantle the establishment!” I don’t want to be the same voice that’s already out there. All I want to say is: “Isn’t it sad that these things we used to love are now gone?” Let’s just have it be about the emotions behind gentrification rather than having it be a political argument.
Don’t you think it’s also sad when, like, you know, your absolute favorite performer in the city leaves after 11 years and moves to San Francisco?
[Cackling laughter.] Well, I have to say, it was like this. The decision to move to San Francisco kind of happened with a shrug of my shoulders.
I had lived in the same apartment building for the longest time. I lived in three different units in the Oxford Crest, on First Hill in Seattle, and the most recent unit I had lived in for like eight years. I wanted to rent a house. So I asked my assistant Kenny if he wanted to move, and then I asked Nick Sahoyah, another close friend and my collaborator on the web series Cool Mom, if we should move in together, and also Nick’s boyfriend, Alec White, who’s been doing a lot of my photography lately. The four of us are like immediate chosen family.
They all said, “Yeah, we’re down to do this, but we’re all ready to try a new city.” And I was like, “No, I love Seattle, I’m really committed.” But I’ve said for years that if I ever did move, it would probably be to San Francisco. And they were like: “Well, we want to move to San Francisco, but you have to be on board too.”
I turned 30 this year, and I looked at the fact that people I know who are 28 have lived in like five different cities, and I’m 30 and I’ve lived in Portland and Seattle and that’s it. So I decided if for no other reason than just to have another experience under my belt, I should try living in a different city. And I can’t tell you how much I love my house. We live out by the beach in Outer Sunset, by Golden Gate Park. And we have a four-bedroom house, but the fourth bedroom is just a spare. After living in a tiny apartment in the city, and then moving into a mid-sized house in the burbs, I feel like I’m living in a mansion. I feel like I have a villa in my control. [Laughs.]
I also bought a house in Portland with one of my best friends. My family still all lives in Portland, so I figured if I had my own space there it would motivate me to go back and visit my family more. Because that’s the one thing while I’m touring all the time is, in my downtime I want to be home somewhere I’m comfortable. I don’t want to be in a hotel. It’s sad but I oftentimes don’t get down to Portland as much because we don’t have a family home. I have to get an Airbnb or a hotel.
So I got my own house in Portland and we’ve decorated it to be a little bit of a drag museum. We rent it out as an Airbnb when I’m not visiting there. It’s called Monsoon Manor, and it will be available to rent through Airbnb later this month. If you want to stay in a house in Portland that is completely curated by Jinkx Monsoon and is like a drag-fabulous house—and it’s also 420 friendly and family friendly, and extremely queer-friendly, because it’s been queer-owned for the last like 60 years—you can.
I bought it from a queer friend of mine, and they bought it from a queer person. It’s also a small fight against gentrification because the area it’s in has all these houses that are being torn down and little tiny condo complexes are being put up in their place. We’ve already had like four offers from condo developers, and we’re like: Nope, this house stays a house.
Wait, what? You bought your own house in Portland? What a baller move.
[Cackling laughter.] Yeah. I bought a house with a best friend, and it should be available at the end of this month. We are in the final phases of getting it ready. I don’t want anything unfinished because I’ve stayed in a lot of Airbnbs where someone clearly bought a house, remodeled it just enough, and then put it on Airbnb. So then you’re staying at kind of like a half-finished place that looks really good when you’re booking it, and then you get there and it’s like “Oh this is kind of shit.” You know? So ours is not going to be that. It’s going to be every bit as fabulous as it looks.
Jinkx Monsoon writes about the night she won Drag Race, her friendship with RuPaul, and coming out as trans in The Stranger's 2018 Queer Issue.