For me, Jinkx Monsoon has always been the queen of all queens. Years before I watched a single episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Jinkx’s show The Ginger Snapped was the first drag performance I ever saw. Life-changing is often more an expression than a truth, but this performance truly changed my life. It provided me a love of a drag — and a love of self — at a time when I needed them most.
Jinkx’s unique sense of humor and killer voice have long made her a favorite in mainstream drag, on the cabaret circuit, and in her local Pacific Northwest. But in the decade since winning Drag Race’s fifth season, Jinkx’s humor, voice, and MILF hotness have been joined by a newfound confidence and even more beauty. No wonder she returned to Drag Race this year for the All Stars All Winners season and won the whole damn thing.
I was lucky enough to chat with the Queen of All Queens about growing up as a queer kid, working out demons through drag, and her new show, Sketchy Queens.
Drew: You’re in San Francisco doing Drag Becomes Her?
Drew: Great. Well I have a question about Death Becomes Her, so let’s start there. I want to talk about camp or what I might call accidental camp. Movies that were made by straight men that were maybe intended to be misogynistic and instead the actresses stole the movie and they ended up becoming iconic. I think a lot about how good queer people are at finding ourselves in work not necessarily intended for us.
Jinkx: It’s funny because accidental camp sounds like it applies to Death Becomes Her, until you think about the fact that Robert Zemeckis also directed Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Drew: That’s true!
Jinkx: And that movie gave us the gay icon of Jessica Rabbit. So there’s this part of me that wonders is Robert Zemeckis an outwardly straight man who has queer tendencies that he expresses through his films? Or is he just a straight man whittling women down to archetypes and then the actresses realize that they can make it something more through subtext or satire? I don’t know. But I do know there are a lot of films that were made for straight communities that are really kept alive today by their queer, cult following. And a lot of them are horror-tinged. I wouldn’t call Death Becomes Her horror, but it has horror elements. I think when you work in horror or comedy, the stakes get so much larger than life, that camp is just a natural landing point, you know?
Drew: I like this “Robert Zemeckis is queer” truthing.
Jinkx: (laughs) Maybe! I don’t know.
Drew: You never know. It’s interesting because I feel like some of his work has such a conservative streak and then some of it is very fun and campy.
Jinkx: I mean, just the scoring in Death Becomes Her. The hook that they use any time that something supernatural is happening — DUNNA DUNNA DUN DUN DUNNA DUNNA DUN DUN DUN DUN — there’s just something about that. There are drag queens working behind the scenes on that movie. It’s just obvious. There were probably queer stylists on-set, there were probably queer choreographers. You can tell that there’s queer sensibility all throughout that movie, even if it’s not spoken. And that’s Hollywood in general. Queer people are running Hollywood and not getting the credit for it. That’s how it’s always been.
Drew: That’s a really good point. I mean, I think about that with a lot of classic Hollywood films. Where it’s like, well those actresses were hooking up with each other and a lot of the filmmakers behind them were either out gay men or closeted gay men. The queerness was always there.
Jinkx: And even someone like Bette Davis had lots of queer friends. She was such a dominant force on-set and she was probably bringing things she learned from drag queens and queer men into her work. Straight men can’t recognize that stuff so they’re not realizing that Bette Davis is bringing in queer sensibility. (laughs)
Drew: I love that.
I want to go back and start from the beginning. I know that you grew up in Portland. What was it like growing up there? And, more specifically, what was your relationship to your queerness and gender as a kid?
Jinkx: Growing up in Portland I was given a lot of privileges that you don’t necessarily have everywhere in the country or the world. Portland is this liberal bubble. I was taught by my aunt what it meant to be queer. I think I came out to my friends at 13 and by the end of middle school everybody knew. I experienced some taunting and teasing, but not really. I went to a really small arts magnet middle school. Most of the families that the kids came from were very bougie and pretentious and with that bougieness and pretension also usually comes a more open mind toward sexuality. (laughs)
My family was very good about it. Like my mom had her moments that weren’t the best, but my grandma and my aunt always knew I was queer and when I came out they didn’t bat an eyelash. So I had the support of my family. In high school, I got some taunting and bullying as a freshman and the teachers decided to move me fully into honors classes. I kind of became a straight-A honors student just so I wouldn’t have to deal with bullies in high school. I had no intention of taking honors classes or becoming a studious academic. It was just what happened as a result of not wanting to be called faggot all through class. (laughs)
Drew: I like that the honors kids were like, “We’re too nerdy to get away with calling the faggots faggot.”
Jinkx: They were preoccupied with their studies!
Jinkx: But in Portland, what made the hugest difference for me is I spent all my time at a place called SMYRC — The Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center — a drop-in center for queer youth. I think it was 23 and under but most people stopped going there when they were 21. It was essentially a hangout center, a resource center for jobs and housing, food, there were all these resources for queer homeless youth. But it was also a place where we just hung out.
We had steering committee meetings where we were talking about what resources we wanted to provide at the center. We had open mic nights. Amateur drag shows. Summer parking lot barbecues. It was an amazing place. And at 14 years old I met other queer and trans people who were my own age. And I always say because I lived in a city where it was safe to come out in my teenage years and because of resources like SMYRC, I got to go through puberty and adolescence as a queer person. Whereas when I meet people who didn’t get to come out until later, it’s like they went through puberty and adolescence pretending to be straight and then come out and go through a second puberty. It’s like they’re teenagers again, only now they’re queer. I’ve known so many people in their twenties going through a second adolescence.
Drew: Having experienced that, I can confirm.
Drew: It’s interesting that not only were you around other queer people, but you were talking about political issues, and you were around queer people who didn’t all have the same economic background. I feel like you’re pretty political and outspoken. Is that where it formed?
Jinkx: Yeah because different people got different things out of the center. Some people were just there to hang out with friends. Some people were there to affect change. Some people were there starting their own grassroots things that they carried on into adulthood. It wasn’t until Trump was running for president that I started getting concerned with politics at large, but from an early age I was involved in queer politics and queer issues. And yeah I think a big part of that is I met people who were 16 and transitioning. And this was 20 years ago. That was the normal for me since I came out. It’s pretty typical for trademark gay men to have never met a trans person until adulthood. There aren’t a lot of places, especially 20 years ago in America, where it was safe to transition in your teens. So I’ve just always been having conversations about gender and trans issues and trans rights and human rights. And I feel very privileged for that. I’ve had a leg up on certain conversations that we’re now having at large because I’ve been having them since I was 15.
Drew: You also mentioned learning about queerness from your aunt. Can you talk more about that relationship?
Jinkx: I always say I was raised by three moms. I have my mother who gave birth to me, my aunt who was my spiritual mother, and then my grandma who was my guardian and protector. My aunt always felt like I was her child. It’s this weird family legend essentially. But my mom was pretty young, I was unexpected. My aunt told her, “Well, you’re not ready for a baby but I am.” My aunt was like 13 at the time. (laughs) My aunt also has a bunch of health issues and found out at the same time that my mom was pregnant that she wasn’t going to have kids. And she felt like this was a sign that her mom was having a kid for her. (laughs)
My aunt is very witchy woo woo and since I was born was filling me with knowledge that she had acquired. She was like the Lisa Simpson of our family. She was always up on human rights issues. She went to college for anthropology. She just taught me about everything outside of Portland essentially. And she also knew I was queer from like speaking age. She was the first person in the family to really see it within me and to remind me multiple times throughout my life that I could talk to her about anything — always hinting at the same thing. And by 13, I came out to her. And she was like, “I know! I’m so glad you finally figured it out!” (laughs)
Drew: (laughs) So you came out at 13. When did you see your first drag performance? Do you remember the first time you were like oh THIS is what I want do?
Jinkx: I came out at 13 because I met other queer people at my middle school and I felt safe to have the conversation. Then I found SMYRC and that’s where I saw my first drag show. And the first drag show I saw wasn’t that remarkable. It was an open mic night at a queer youth center. But they had invited some of the drag queens from the local bars and clubs to pad out the evening and there was this one queen named Abby performing… I think… a Tina Turner song? There was a moment in the number where she pointed directly at me in the audience and the lyric was like, “YOUUUUU.” And there was something about her making eye contact with me and pointing directly at me. It was like she went, “YOUUUUUR A DRAG QUEEN.”
Jinkx: And it wasn’t long after that because I did drag for the first time at 14 or 15. I started doing female roles in some of the ballets and plays that I was in at the time. Like I filled in for someone on a day that she missed rehearsal for this ballet I was in. And then she missed two more rehearsals and had to leave the project, so I filled her role and that was technically my first drag role.
The first time I was doing drag like what we know drag to be, I was 15 and did it for fun one night. The response was so energetic and I felt so electric that from that point on it was like every weekend. A year after doing drag for the first time I ran for an under 21 title, Rosebud of Portland, which is the longest running under 21 drag pageant in the country. And I won. So it was like I started drag, a year later I won a pageant, and from that point on I was working every single weekend. Drag was my after school job. Straight-A honors student during the day day, drag queen pretending to be older than I was so I could perform in gay bars and nightclubs during the night. That was my high school experience.
Drew: Were you pretending to be older to the extent of being a MILF? Did it start then?
Jinkx: Some bars I was pretending to be 18, some bars I was pretending to be 21, but I just always looked older in drag. I put on drag and I look ten years older than what I am no matter where I’m at in life. So I think that’s where the MILF thing started, but it’s always because my drag persona was born out of me doing an impression of my mom. And my mom and I have the same curse. She’s always talking about this. She’s like, “I don’t go for younger men! Younger men go for me! I can’t help it!”
Jinkx: And I’ve heard myself say this in my adult life. People tease me. They’re like, “Oh you like twinks.” And I’m like, “I don’t even like twinks! They’re just who is interested in me!”
Jinkx: My mom was always a cougar, but begrudgingly. I guess I found that interesting enough to make a whole drag persona out of it. (laughs)
Drew: It’s interesting knowing that you were around trans people from such a young age. But it seems there’s a difference — watching season five and watching All Stars — in your relationship to your gender. How has your relationship to drag changed as you’ve become more self-assured in your gender out of drag? Or maybe self-assured isn’t the right word…
Jinkx: No, I think that’s an accurate read. Because, as I was saying, I was having the conversation around nonbinary gender identities at like 14 years old. But we had different words for it. Twenty years ago. the words weren’t nonbinary or nonconforming, at least around me. It was agender or non-gendered. I remember when I heard nonbinary for the first time, it resonated with me. I was like, “Oh that’s what I am.” And I always knew people who were nonbinary, but there’s this like fear that it didn’t apply to me.
I can boil it down to this. For a long time in my life I felt like I wasn’t trans enough to come out. I felt like, “Oh I’m just an effeminate gay man and I have to find peace with that.” When the nonbinary conversation started happening, it became very clear that there is a classification for the kind of trans that I am.
I’ve always said that I feel like a woman in a man’s body who doesn’t feel trapped there. And that’s when I started identifying as transfem nonbinary. I present femme. I’m a feminine person. I want you to perceive me as feminine. And also I don’t feel the need to modify my body or my outward appearance to achieve the feminine person that I am. And that’s just my own personal journey with my gender. It’s a conversation that started in my mid-20s and now I’m in my mid-30s and I’m still finding the best way to communicate that to people.
But yeah I feel very self-assured now. And I think that translates in my drag. Like Jinkx is still hyperfeminine. The joke is that Jinkx is a cis woman posing as a drag queen because that’s the work she can get. This was born from people mistaking me for a cis woman doing drag when I was younger, before Drag Race. People would either be excited to see a cis woman doing drag or be like what’s this cis woman doing here. (laughs) There were lots of different reactions, but it was pretty consistent that people thought I was a cis woman. So that became a part of Jinkx’s story. Like a Connie and Carla thing. She couldn’t get work as an actor, so she’s working as a drag queen.
I think what’s changed the most in my drag since coming out and living my truth is that I’m not fulfilling a part of my gender through drag anymore. Drag has very much become my passion, my art form, and my career. But I don’t get personal gratification from drag in terms of my gender expression. I do that now in my day-to-day life. Which means I’m not putting the same… like drag can be just me playing Jinkx now… rather than me having to… me finding certain validation and gratification through drag.
What I’m mainly speaking about is I used to hook up in drag and now I don’t anymore.
Jinkx: (laughs) There was a part of me that needed that validation, that needed my femininity validated.
Jinkx: So there are certain bars I used to go to. I’d do a show. I’d stay in drag. I’d pick up a chaser. And that validated my gender identity. Now I don’t need that. Drag is not getting blurred with my personal life anymore. It’s very much my art, my medium, my career.
Drew: How does sobriety factor into that?
Drew: Because alcohol has been such a part of Jinkx and I wondered if it was an added challenge to get sober when that’s so tied to your character. Was it easier because of the separation that started to form?
Jinkx: So I didn’t drink until I was 22. But I started drag at 15, and Jinkx has always been an alcoholic. That’s always been a part of Jinkx’s story. And I think a part of that is growing up around alcoholism. There was a part of me that needed to work through it. I always say that I get my demons out through Jinkx on-stage so that I don’t carry them with me through my day-to-day life. My lucky audiences get to work through my demons with me. I grew up around alcohol, I grew up around alcoholics, I grew up around alcoholism. So not only did I have a lot of character study, but I had things to say. Even though they’re light-hearted, satirical things, I’m still getting my demons out.
I’m like three years and some change sober from alcohol. And when I quit drinking, it felt very important to me that Jinkx needed to remain an alcoholic, because I still had things I was working through and had things I needed to get out through Jinkx. Around the same time that I quit drinking, I was writing a show about Jinkx coming to terms with her own mental illness and mental health issues and deciding to go to therapy on-stage. That show was called The Ginger Snapped and featured music from the album of the same name.
That’s one of my favorite shows because it was very candid and honest but it was the tongue-in-cheek camp version of what actually happened to me. Friends saying, “Maybe you need to talk to a therapist.” My anxieties and fears around seeing a therapist. Unpacking the conditioning and stigma around mental illness. But I did it all on stage with prop gags and a lot of satire. It helped with the fact that I realized I needed therapy and intervention in my mental health. I was able to joke about that on-stage rather than carrying around the shame I’d been conditioned to have.
Only just recently have I started to think, well now that I’m sober I have things to say about being sober. And where am I going to say them if not through Jinkx? Does that mean Jinkx needs to get sober too? So that I can discuss these things through Jinkx?
And, you know, for so long Jinkx the character and Jinkx the human being got to be different, but Drag Race fuses those two because you see us in and out of drag so frequently and we’re constantly having to bounce back and forth between mindsets. I’ve done standup comedy in full drag talking about my sobriety but that’s not part of the Jinkx character, that’s part of the Jinkx artist’s story. It makes sense when I’m doing standup I’d be candid about that, but when I’m doing scripted cabaret, Jinkx is still an alcoholic and it all gets complicated. But where I’m at right now is maybe I have enough to say about being sober that Jinkx might have to be sober. Or Jinkx might have to go on some kind of a sober journey. So we’ll see! You’re the first reporter I’ve talked to about that. (laughs)
Drew: That’s exciting! Can I tell you something wild?
Drew: The Ginger Snapped was actually the first drag performance that I ever saw in my entire life.
Jinkx: Oh you saw that one!
Drew: I was like nine months into transitioning and I got offered free tickets to Joe’s Pub. And I didn’t want to see a drag show! I knew nothing about drag, nothing about drag history. I felt like I was going to be so on the spot as this gender nonconforming person in a cabaret audience. But I loved The Public Theater and I didn’t want to turn down free tickets. And not to fangirl but—
Drew: It was just one of those like — I think those first nine months of transitioning I was trying to be like a Trans Woman. In a box. Now I’m a woman. This is what a woman is like. And seeing your show, I realized I could be so much more expansive than that. I could be weird and queer, and sure I could be a trans woman, but I could be that in my own way. Like not only did it give me a love of drag, it also just gave me… I don’t know. And it’s such a great show and such a great album!
Jinkx: I’m so happy to hear that. You know, with drag having the influence it has these days, I get asked a lot, “How do you feel being a role model?” And I’m always like, well that’s not why I started doing drag. I started doing drag because I wanted to dress up like a woman, sing songs, and play the roles I wasn’t allowed to play because I had a penis. Drag was for me. I love entertaining. I didn’t get into any of this, because I was like I want to be a role model.
Jinkx: But just through doing the work that I’m interested in doing, I get to do that kind of stuff without actively having to do it. Just by having a loud voice and a lot of opinions, I’ve been able to connect with people. I call it paying it forward. Because that’s what drag queens did for me at a young age. That’s what drag queens have done for me all throughout my life. Inspired me. Given me permission to talk about certain things. Given me permission to even think about certain things. And the fact that I now get to be one of those drag queens doing that for other people feels like a really great added bonus. It’s not why I started doing the work, but it’s definitely why I keep doing the work.
Drew: I want to talk about your new sketch show, Sketchy Queens, because I got to see the first episode and it’s as weird and wonderful as I would expect. When it comes to sketch comedy specifically, who do you look to? What sketch comedy inspires you?
Jinkx: I love non sequitur, I love random, I love when something starts out as one thing and then becomes something completely different. It’s funny because ten years ago when I won Drag Race the first time, I pitched a sketch comedy show. And I was told sketch comedy doesn’t really have a place these days. And now it’s ten years later and there has been a resurgence of sketch comedy. What’s different now is it’s very much independent comedians doing the work on their own and then getting picked up by someone. They know what’s funny and they know what their audience wants to see and then producers are like, “Hey this kid has got something. Let’s get in on this.” I feel like the best comedy is coming out of people doing it themselves and then getting the chance to share it on a bigger platform. The comedians that inspire me the most are the ones who are creating their own work and being adamant about it being theirs.
Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave is one of my favorites. I also just watched the first episode of Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun and that’s right up my alley. I like comedy because there are no structural rules. The only rule is to make people laugh and you get to do that however you want.
My writing partner for Sketchy Queens, Liam Krug, went to the same middle school as me, same high school as me, grew up in the same town as me, but he’s ten years younger. So we’re of two different generations but we’re equally as queer and weird and have all the same reference points and all the same influences because we had all the same teachers in all the same schools. It’s funny because it’s me, a millennial, and him, a Gen Z person, who somehow have this overlapping sense of humor just because of where we’re from and who we are. He became my videographer during the pandemic and we started creating sketches just for ourselves and for me to be able to put stuff out. I was like let’s see if World of Wonder is interested in this. And they picked up the show.
They helped us conceive Sketchy Queens, and then they really let us be in charge. Liam does the bulk of the writing, creates the sketch for me to play around within. The script always becomes optional for me, a guideline for my improv. I like to make decisions while we’re filming and direct from the actor’s seat. And then in the end we have these really weird sketches. Episode one is amazing but, of course, with any show from episode one on we go in every freaking direction and there are recurring sketches and character development and I can’t wait for the whole thing to be out so everyone can watch it as a package. We worked really hard on making this fun, little show.
Drew: I’m so excited to see the rest of it and I’m excited for music of yours to come out. Also, I know it’s a dream of yours to get to be on Broadway in an original role or as The Witch or Mrs. Lovett. I think Annaleigh Ashford was just announced as Mrs. Lovett and I was like… what about Jinkx?
Jinkx: How much louder do I need to be saying this??
Drew: It’s what we all deserve and it’s what you deserve.
Jinkx: (laughs) Thank you. I’m also really excited about our new music. I have to say I get so critical of my own work that sometimes I stop listening to it as soon as it’s done. With my music, with video work. I get so critical of my own stuff that once it’s complete and out there I don’t typically revisit it. There are a few exceptions. The holiday movie I put out with BenDeLa Creme. I never get sick of watching that. Like when I see a clip posted on Instagram I stop and watch it because I’m so proud. And I am really proud of The Inevitable Album and The Ginger Snapped, my previous albums with Major Scales, but I also get really critical. When you’re creating albums, you learn as you go. Unless you were born into a musical dynasty. (laughs)
Jinkx: This new EP — Well, first of all it’s an EP, because I didn’t want to rush this thing we’ve been working on for three years. I was like, let’s just put out five songs right now and give everyone a taste of what we’re working on, so they’re excited for the album when it comes out. I’m so glad I went that route. Because the five songs we just put out, I listen to them just because I like listening to them. I’m so proud of this music that I’m actually able to remove the fact that it’s my music. I can listen to it just as a listener and not be like, “Oh we should’ve done this differently.” We took the time with these songs to let them get perfect. (laughs)
Drew: Everything you just said was the most Virgo thing ever, so it makes sense that it’s called The Virgo Odyssey.
Jinkx: (laughs) Well, it started with this dream to tell an epic, futuristic space rock opera and then through that I was like, well it’s Jinkx in outer space and if she had a space ship it would be the SS Virgo Starship or something. So we called it The Virgo Odyssey because the full album is going to be a queer sendup of The Odyssey, the Greek epic The Odyssey.
Drew: I love astrology, I love references to things that are very old, I love drag. So this is checking a lot of boxes for me.
Jinkx: Oo then you’ll love this Easter egg. The album artwork for the EP is me floating amongst the stars and the constellations behind me is my star chart. Virgo/Cancer/Leo.
Drew: Oh wow. I do love that Easter egg. And our readers will too. Autostraddle is a queer website, but it definitely has a lesbian bent and, you know, astrology is an important part of lesbian culture.
Jinkx: Lesbians like astrology?? (laughs)
Drew: (laughs) A little bit. Just a little. I’m still waiting for like a truly hot lesbian moment on Drag Race. We peaked at the Raja/Carmen lip sync and haven’t had one since.
Jinkx: It’s because Willam started shouting from every rooftop, “Sister dick will make you sick!” So now everyone is scared to hook up with each other. (laughs)
Drew: (laughs) Well, thank you, Willam.
Sketchy Queens premieres September 15th on WOW Presents Plus.