Editor-in-Chief Chris Ahjem sits down with RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon to discuss their new show, LGBTQ+ issues and whether they’d return to Drag Race.
Jinkx Monsoon is known primarily for their winning stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 and more recently for their voice acting in Steven Universe and later appearances on Drag Race. They are also notorious for the quality of their music albums – The Immaculate Concept and The Ginger Snapped, co-written with creative partner Major Scales – alongside their constant global tours including shows based on their albums. So, when I found out I’d be able to bag a phone interview with such a legend I legitimately squealed like a child at Christmas.
So when the chance finally comes, I’m settled down in the URF studio with URF exec Ed Aplvor as we prepare to recieve the exciting phone call. My mobile rings, excitedly startling us both, and within seconds I hear the familiar tones of Jinkx Monsoon’s voice over the phone. We immediately get into spilling the tea on their show, on their creative process, on LGBTQ+ life as students and on whether they’d return to TV anytime soon.
This year in April through to June you’ll be touring with your Together Again, Again tour which sees older versions of yourselves reuniting on stage after 45 years. Tell me about your show, what can the audience expect from these aged alter egos?
Yeah, I describe the show as a retrospective of things that haven’t happened yet. [Laughs]. So, even if you’ve never seen a Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales show you don’t have to worry because you’re not missing anything and it’ll all be explained. But, yes, it’s set in the future. It’s Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales in their eighties. They haven’t spoken to each other in years and they’ve come together to have one last moment on stage before they inevitably die.
The whole show is kind of reminiscent and looking back on our lives but its all things that have happened after 2020. So, it’s all hypothetical. You don’t have to come in with any pre-knowledge of us.
That sounds brilliant, I suppose an older version of yourselves having faded into obscurity perhaps feels narratively fitting following on from The Ginger Snapped in which Major acts as a therapist for a Jinkx who is worried that her best years were behind her. Was this intended?
When I hear you think about them back to back like that, I guess it reflects how I’ve been feeling that it keeps coming up in my writing like that. It’s funny that my last two shows have been about my fears of obscurity and of the direction my career might go in but actually these shows have been some of my most successful and I’ve been very very happy with my career over the last few years. So, I think what it is that even though the material is about my career fading but the honesty may be that she only sees the audience. And that audiences with which I’m communicating with they add something to that.
Well your career is legendary, for starters, so there’s no risk of fading. But maybe audiences can expect a further age advancement in subsequent tours? Will your next tour feature you both in a nursing home or even in a coffin?
Well, I think the next show, from what Major and I have talked about, is going to be almost in another universe. Because when we talked about all the shows we wanted to write and all the things we wanted to discuss on stage – well, we’ve done a lot of it. And now we’ve got this idea. I don’t want to give anything away because we haven’t set anything in stone yet. But basically, what we’re going to do now is start playing with the power dynamics in our relationship. In every show its always that Major is just trying to keep Jinkx happy. And this next show is what would it be like if it was the other way around and what would it look like if Jinkx was kidnapped by Major Scales and had developed Stockholm Syndrome. So, that’s the first glimpse of what our next show will be but we’ve got plenty to do with Together Again, Again.
The Ginger Snapped tour was paired with a new album alongside it. Can we expect another music release for this tour or in the future generally?
I can tell you that there are a few songs in Together Again, Again that we wrote specifically for the show. There is also a handful of covers. Typically, every other show we write is based on an album. Our first show was the Vaudevillians and our next show was called The Inevitable Concept which was based on our first album. Then we did a couple of shows with one show about Trump running for President and I was running against him vis a vis obviously Trump and Hillary. We had a show that was about my sex life and then we wrote The Ginger Snapped which had an album.
Now we’re doing Together Again, Again. Whilst, this summer we are once again working on a new album which we are creating it knowing we are going to build a show based on the album or a show that uses the music of the album. So, we’re going into this next album knowing we’re going to write a show about it and into the next show knowing we have an album throughout it.
Here at Sussex University we’ve got a very active and large LGBTQ+ community of students including the UK’s first-ever Drag Society. Would you have any advice for these students, many of whom are only being just living freely as themselves?
Oooh let’s see. I’m trying to think of advice that is good and won’t get me into trouble. I do believe that being young and being openly queer is a privilege that we have these days. If you look back just a few years, people didn’t get to come out as they do now. I came out at 14 years old and I think we need to look at it as both a privilege and also as a right and a necessity. Because we’re human beings.
We go through pubity and if you’re queer and going to school around a bunch of cis, heteronormative kids you often hide it even if you come out of the closet. I came out of the closet at 14 but I was still hiding a lot of myself. I had created a version of myself that made me feel like I could be safe walking down a street or walking down the hall of my high school.
I believe that many queer people, in many ways and in many circumstances and situations, miss out on going through their adolescence freely and openly. They miss out on a lot of experimentation and they miss out on a lot of discovering themselves. And then they have to do it in their early twenties, the way that other people got to do it in their teenage years.
So, what I would give as far as advice is: go out there, experiment with everything, learn about yourself, give yourself the freedom and permission to be a kid still, go through the motions of everything. And by doing that, learn about the type of adult you want to be because it can’t last forever.
I think a lot of queer people get to experience their adolescence late. They get to go through their teenage experimental times in their twenties but what’s different is they are adults now so have access to a lot of things they didn’t have as teenagers. As a teenager dealing with stuff, your scope is limited. When you’re an adult going through your teenage adolescence really you can do anything you want and that’s when I see a lot of queer people struggle with substance abuse and people who can’t snap out of that party time, you know.
And I think that it is very important to experiment and try everything and go crazy but you’ve got to have the knowledge and responsibility to pull yourself out of it when you’re ready and become the person you want to be for the rest of your life with everything you’ve learned.
So, we as queer people walk a tight rope in our twenties. That’s my advice: try it all but then figure out who you want to be and don’t get stuck in that pattern.
I absolutely agree. You mentioned that as a teenager you might not be exposed to certain things and that coming into young adulthood queer people should take advantage of that. Similar has happened with myself in education. As a teen I didn’t hear anything about queer subjects but then after coming to Sussex I’ve been able to study a Queer Literatures module so I did want to ask, do you have any recommendations for queer literature and art that we might not have heard of due to a lack of exposure?
First and foremost, there is an author named Kate Bornstein. She is a trans advocate and a radical queer advocate and activist. She wrote a book called Gender Outlaw[: On Men, Women, And The Rest Of Us] which basically, years and years ago, kind of explained how to get towards the attitudes towards gender that we’re starting to have now as a society; that we’re just barely starting to get to.
So, Kate Bornstein has been writing about gender liberation and gender freedoms for way longer than we’ve been talking about it as a society. So, she’s my number one reading recommendation as far as gender studies and queer gender liberation.
And I think that’s extremely important because queer people are often more clued in in terms of whats going on with sexuality and having an open mind, a foreward thinking mind and a progressive mind in terms of sexuality. But basically the whole world, queer people included, has a lot they still need to learn about gender freedom and gender liberation. So, queer people tend to be at the forefront of understanding gender and sexuality and we need to continue that tradition by knowing as much as we possibly can about the progressive gender liberation we are currently experiencing.
I couldn’t agree more. That’s something that Sussex generally does really well with many tutors asking for each others pronouns as standard within seminars or the Students’ Union providing badges with your preferred pronouns on. And I know that you use They/Them pronouns, so, what would you say to people who are trying to understand their gender more around other people who aren’t as receptive to it?
So, I basically came out at 14 and I knew other trans people from the moment I came out so as a teenager I knew other trans teenagers. Back when I came out and was learning about trans identity, different pronouns and different gender identities, we weren’t even They/Them in the way that we are using them now. The terms ‘gender binary’ and ‘gender fluid’ were not as commonly known. We had words for it but they were just more obscure. I knew of people who identified as genderless but I don’t remember hearing the words ‘non binary’ a lot.
It’s funny because I always knew about myself that I was non binary and that I was born with male genitalia yet that’s where my male identity stopped. So, even though my pronouns are They/Them and I identify as non binary, if you want to fully know its that I’m also trans-femme and am basically femme presenting. I’m not female identified but femme identified full time in my life. So, in a way, I’ve known this about myself my whole life.
Being someone who has experienced body and gender dysmorphia – but not in the sense that I wanted to become the opposite sex just I knew that I didn’t identify with the sex I was born into-, it took until recently to realise that there are thousands of other people that feel that way and that there are words that we can use to better communicate and express that in ourselves.
I’ve known this about myself since I was around 14 but it took until I was around 24 to come out because I just didn’t know how.
The way that I normalized [their identity] for other people and helped people understand in a non-confrontational way was just to talk about it like its very ordinary. That also means I have to have a lot of patience and compassion with people who don’t understand it yet.
Though I know that sometimes it’s very infuriating and people are actively closing their minds but you can’t take those experiences into every experience that you have. So, if you interact with someone who is very close-minded and ignorant and maybe acting like a jerk about your gender identity, you can’t take that anger and rage that you might feel into the next interaction you have with a person.
If you start the next interaction with someone with yourself ready to explode then that person might pick up on that hostility and then shun away from learning more about it. You have to enter each new experience with people with a new found compassion. You have to reset your empathy and your patience for each new person. I know that there’s lots of radical people that say “No, you’ve been compassionate and patient for long enough. Why can’t they just be learning?”
Well, the fact is that we’re still undoing centuries of conditioning that have prevented people from being open-minded. We have to allow the people who want to learn and be better to catch up to us because they are probably dealing with a whole lifetime’s worth of conditioning that has held them back. But, I have to say, I’m seeing positive changes every single day.
I went to the fabric store two weeks ago here in San Francisco and there was a woman in her sixties who didn’t ask me my pronouns but only referred to me as They/Them. A complete stranger at the fabric store knew well enough from the way I was presenting that I probably didn’t adhere to traditional pronouns and thus decided to use genderless pronouns rather than assuming my gender in that moment. This was someone who, because of their age, you’d think hasn’t taken the time to learn this lingo which then put me in my place to realise that people of all ages and backgrounds have the capacity to be very open-minded and respective in their spots. We have to give them the chance.
Is that a good, meandering answer to your question?
Yes, it’s so interesting to hear you talking so openly about issues such as this. You inspire so many people especially your younger fans that you’ve amassed since winning Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race so honestly I commend you massively.
Oh, thank you!
It’s these fans, me included, who are desperate to see you back on TV in terms of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. You’ve spoken a bit about maybe doing a UK vs US season or an All Winners series. So, myself and the internet wanted to know, have you ever been approached to return like Bebe Zahara Benet was? And if you haven’t been approached, would you do it like genuinely?
Ummm I haven’t been approached but the conversation and the topic has been broached but nothing so finite as “Will you do it?” with the people who could actually make it happen.
My thought is that it really depends on when they ask me and how I’m feeling at the time. There are times where I just don’t want to stop what I’m doing because I’m having so much fun like when Major and I are writing a new show and about to tour something like Together Again, Again. I would hate to pull the plug on something like that to go and film TV even though I love being on TV. I also love the work that I create.
It’d have to really be about what’s going on in my life at the time that I get asked and then it’d just be gut instinct from there. So, I’ve decided that I don’t know if I’d do an All Winners one because it actually has been giving me nightmares [Laughs nervously]. I loved my time on Drag Race and I’m a very competitive person but there is a part of me that would love to never have to compete in that arena again. Not so much because of the competing against other drag queens but because of the aftermath that comes with it. [Laughs nervously again.]
But if there is a UK vs America Drag Race I would do it in a heartbeat.
That’s really good to know. Plenty of the internet believe you’d win from all the winners which I stand by as you’re by far one of the most well-rounded of all of them. So, condragulations on that!
Well, thank you so much. Here’s the thing, I won’t know what I’ll say until the question gets asked. But I can tell you I’m 100% 50/50 that I would do it.
[Laughs] Well I respect that. I hope to see it someday.
Thank you so much for your time. Thank you!
Buy tickets to Jinkx and Major’s Brighton 30th April show of Together Again, Again here