Why Peppermint No Longer Has to Choose Between Being Openly Transgender or a Broadway Career (Exclusive)

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Head Over Heels
Image by Joan Marcus / Art Design by Erik Shute

ET is looking back on LGBTQ pop culture milestones in celebration of Pride Month.

 

When Peppermint takes the stage at the Hudson Theatre on June 23 for the first preview performance of Head Over Heels, she’ll make history as the first openly transgender actor to originate a principal role on Broadway.

“First of all, it’s Broadway! That’s a dream come true for me,” Peppermint gushes to ET. “I would have played a tree!”

A longtime New York City drag queen who rose to fame as the runner-up on the ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race where she became the first contestant to compete on the series after coming out as transgender (“On one hand, it feels historic and it feels great and it feels monumental. But on the other hand, it feels like I was just being myself,” she previously told ET about her time on the show), Peppermint, plays a gender non-binary oracle named Pythio who delivers a prophecy of doom to the kingdom of Arcadia in the new jukebox musical. Directed by Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening), the show featuring the hit songs of The Go-Go’s officially opens on July 26.

“An opportunity for me is great, but it really highlights the times that we're in are changing. The truth is, it's a shame that there have been such few opportunities for queer folks, especially for trans people of color, on Broadway and in Hollywood, but also even working a regular day job,” Peppermint explains, speaking to the larger importance of what her debut means for transgender visibility.

But Peppermint is quick to point out that while she’s part of something historic, she’s certainly not the first transgender performer nor the last to appear on Broadway. Jess Barbagallo is currently part of the ensemble in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, while Kate Bornstein, who identifies as gender non-conforming and has appeared on I Am Cait, and Native American performance artist Ty Defoe, who identifies as two-spirit, will both make their Broadway debut in Straight White Men opposite Armie Hammer when the comedy opens in previews on June 29.

“We are all shattering that glass ceiling together,” Peppermint says. “I think it's a participation of people on both sides: the people charging through the gates and the gatekeepers. That's why this is such a remarkable moment.”

But Peppermint doesn’t want what she’s achieved to be “a token moment,” she says, hoping that transgender performers will become more present and represented onstage. “I want it to be a moment that shows the change in time, and then it shows that we fit into the arts and we always have and always will.”

Telling stories of how she used to dress up like Boy George and Violet Beauregarde as a kid (“I would put on my mom's blue jumpsuit and stuff it with pillows and roll around on the floor,” she recalls), Peppermint says that she’s always been a theatrical person. She performed in community theater, took dance lessons and even attended musical theater schools. As an adult, Peppermint became a fixture of the New York City drag scene, recording music with Cazwell and Jonny McGovern and finding viral success with her video parodies of Azealia Banks, Beyonce and Lady Gaga songs.

“It was really through drag that I was able to find out who I was: the type of performer I am and even realize my transness,” Peppermint says. While drag led her to RuPaul’s Drag Race and an even bigger platform, it didn’t distract from her goal of appearing onstage.

It was her identity as a transgender woman, however, that made her think a Broadway career wasn’t possible. Casting directors didn’t know what to make of her and there was a lack of roles she identified with. “I went to musical theater performance schools and we learned certain roles that would be good for us and there were none for me,” she recalls, only truly identifying with Angel, a drag performer who uses both pronouns from the rock musical Rent.

“I never really saw a reality where I could be openly trans and accepted,” Peppermint continues. “The two things coming together is great because there was a moment in time where I thought I would have to choose between living my truth as a trans person or living my passion out as a performer. I thought I would have to choose between those two things.”

Now, thanks to Head Over Heels, she no longer has to make that choice. “Being able to realize that on the Broadway stage is icing on the cake,” Peppermint says.

 

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