Peaches Christ and Mink Stole vs. Death

Peaches Christ Mink Stole feature image - images of the two performers are overlapped against a purple backdrop.

Art by Autostraddle, photos by Mettie Ostrowski

No one wants to talk about death. As I prepare to meet drag legend Peaches Christ, this is the thought I chew on like hours-old gum.

During Peaches’ appearance on the podcast Sibling Rivalry, Bob the Drag Queen calls her the San Francisco drag queen. “Now that, you know, Heklina died,” Peaches adds.

Bob chokes on a laugh, before explaining the long-time creative partnership of Peaches and Heklina to a listenership who may be unfamiliar with any drag queens who haven’t appeared on Drag Race.

“I don’t want you to relive anything you’re not comfortable reliving,” Bob says after Peaches asks if she’d like her to tell the story of Heklina’s death.

“You would think that I’d get asked about this all the time because it was such a big event not just in my life but a newsworthy event. But I think because death makes people uncomfortable, for obvious reasons, people don’t really ask me about it.”

It’s no surprise that Peaches Christ has the ability to confront tragedy with dark humor and a matter-of-fact attitude. After all, she’s best known for creating Midnight Mass, a much-copied midnight movie drag event that began in 1998 at the now-closed Bridge Theatre in San Francisco. During this event and beyond, Peaches has embraced the macabre, a drag persona fixated on darkness but with a light touch.

These interests continued in 2010 with her Natasha Lyonne-starring horror comedy, All About Evil, a rare entry in the genre that actually succeeds in both humor and scares. It’s the work of someone who has made a life out of midnight movies, who has studied everything from classics of Old Hollywood melodrama to the grimiest of grindhouse curiosities.

It’s fitting, then, that the movie co-stars an icon famous for some of the original midnight movies: John Waters Dreamlander, Mink Stole.

By 2010, Peaches and Mink were friends and collaborators. But a decade earlier, Peaches was just a really, really big fan.

Peaches Christ in a sparkling black dress poses in front of a purple background

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

The year is 1988, and a little boy who will someday be known as Peaches Christ is renting Pink Flamingos from a place called Mom’s Video on Kent Island. He’s less than 50 miles from Baltimore, where John Waters shot the filthy classic, where Waters’ first foray into the mainstream, Hairspray, had just premiered.

Alas, Baby Peaches would get in trouble for renting this homegrown queer creation.

“I, of course, loved all of it,” Peaches shares with me. “I loved getting in trouble. I loved that it was scandalous. I loved that it was made in Maryland!”

Pink Flamingos would change her life. She’d never seen anyone like Divine. Never seen anyone like Mink Stole’s Connie Marble. And this led her to seek out other John Waters films like her all-time favorite movie — not favorite John Waters movie she clarifies, all-time favorite movieFemale Trouble and the trio’s earlier collaboration Multiple Maniacs.

Like Mink and John, Peaches was raised Catholic, so it was this film that left the greatest mark. “There is a scene that is so sacrilegious,” Peaches says, speaking of the famous rosary job, “I swear it’s the reason I became Peaches Christ, do Midnight Mass, do shows called Idol Worship. I’ve never gotten over it.”

Idol Worship is the name of Peaches’ latest show created with and celebrating Mink Stole. It is the work of a fan uplifting her fave, a friend giving flowers, and a reminder that despite their storied lives, both performers are still at the peak of their talents.

The show is like a live Q&A between these long-time collaborators, but with written jokes and breaks for songs. There are clip montages from John Waters’ films and All About Evil and another queer classic featuring Mink, But I’m a Cheerleader. It’s a joy for long-time fans of either artist and more than enough to create fans out of any newcomers.

During the show, the performers talk about their first meeting when Peaches invited Mink to attend a Midnight Mass screening of Desperate Living. But I wanted to know how Peaches convinced Mink to attend this screening in the first place.

“Oh I never hesitated,” Mink tells me. “I’d never heard of Peaches Christ, but I thought, well sure. A) San Francisco? Yay. B) Interviewed in front of an audience? Yay.”

The event turned out to be more than an excuse to visit the Bay. “It totally exceeded my expectations,” she says. “I thought it would be a subdued crowd and we’d have the same conversation about what it was like to work with Divine. That was the question everybody always asked me. But it wasn’t that at all. When I walked in, it was all about me. That had never happened before.”

Peaches Christ Mink Stole pose in front of a purple backdrop, Peaches is in sparkly black dress, Mink is in a sparkly black suit

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

Mink Stole was destined to be a gay icon.

“I hate the word ally,” she tells me. “It doesn’t even remotely signify my identity. I have been in the gay community and part of the gay community since I was 18 years old. When I first met John, it was a revelation that this world existed of people who were so interesting and creative. And so accepting of me.”

Her on-stage companion agrees. “It’s more of a point of view, more of a shared cultural experience,” Peaches says. “I love, love, love my brother, but he’s not as queer as Mink Stole. He’s gay. But he’s not as queer as Mink Stole.”

In addition to acting in thirteen John Waters movies, All About Evil, and But I’m a Cheerleader, Mink has worked with The Cockettes and been a mainstay of the Eating Out series. She didn’t use her queer beginnings for a mainstream pivot — she used them to get even queerer.

But the queer underground and the mainstream have now crossed paths. The current backlash against drag and gender-nonconformity didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the pathetic grasps of people who were losing a culture war.

Notably for Mink, Pink Flamingos and Hairspray (1988) were added to the Library of Congress, and an expansive tribute to John Waters and his collaborators is now running at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles.

“These are the Oscars people!” Peaches exclaims during their show. “Well, we don’t have any Oscars,” Mink quips back.

True to her community roots, it’s not these accolades that Mink holds onto. It’s the fans, like Peaches, like me, whose lives were shaped by her art.

“At almost every show, there will be somebody who comes up to me and expresses such intense gratitude for the work that I’ve done,” Mink says. People have told her their films got them through the AIDS crisis. One person said he got through the death of his lover by watching Female Trouble on loop.

“As I go into my late years, there’s something really kind of wonderful knowing that something I did did some good in the world. We didn’t know we were filling a need. I mean, the idea that people are still watching Pink Flamingos more than 50 years after we made it, astounds me. Movies come and go. And this one is still here. I find it very touching.”

Gay Twitter often debates which straight pop stars can say faggot, but if any technically heterosexual woman has earned the right to say the f-slur, it’s Mink. And, during our interview, she did, in fact, exercise that right.

Mink Stole poses in front of a purple backdrop in a sparkly black suit

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

“Thank you for coming to our dinner party where the food and drinks cost money,” Peaches begins their show.

“We have nothing to do with the food and drinks,” Mink adds.

Idol Worship has the energy of two friends hosting a (cabaret-infused) dinner party. It also has the energy of Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad fulfilling her dream of appearing on The Corny Collins Show.

“I’ve never stopped being excited about these movies or the way they’ve impacted my life and to that degree I’ve always remained a fan of Mink and John,” Peaches says. “But then there’s this sort of surreal friendship where you relax and do normal stuff together.”

Peaches mentions the strange normalcy of swimming in the ocean with John Waters and her gratitude for moving through any weirdness. John and Mink, as well as Elvira, another idol turned pal, have become genuine friends.

“We’re couch friends,” Mink says. “We can sit on a couch together and talk or not talk.”

By now, Peaches herself has reached a status where she’s experienced this from both sides, even from people like drag daughters Bob and Jinkx Monsoon who are now, themselves, famous. When she first started drag, she created merch as a bit. It felt weird to her when people actually started to buy it.

“The more shows I made, and the more movies I made, the more inevitable it became that I’d have actual fans,” Peaches laughs, “people who admire me,” she laughs again, “and I really had a hard time with it.” But lately, she’s started to accept it — and even, maybe, enjoy it.

“Especially now that there’s a 5 at the beginning of my age and I’m viewed as an older person, and there are younger people inviting me to their towns,” Peaches says. People like May May Graves in Dallas who is now hosting her own Midnight Mass-inspired drag movie nights. “I get to see what it feels like to be the one interviewed on stage and I really like it. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. I love it.” She also loved getting to be a guest judge on Dragula, giving advice to young performers doing horror drag.

Ultimately, these feel like the same impulses for Peaches, the same attitude toward art that led to the start of Midnight Mass and the creation of Idol Worship. Peaches Christ is a fan. She wants to create space to uplift the performers of the past and the present creating the kind of weird, queer art she has always loved.

She wants to make sure artists young and old, dead and living, are properly celebrated. That’s true whether she’s mentoring future Drag Race winners or writing a show with her idol turned friend.

A close up of Peaches with a full face of makeup and sparkly long nails, she's sticking her tongue out.

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

The final number of Idol Worship is a duet, a take on the Elaine Stritch version of “I’m Still Here.”

While introducing the number, Mink and Peaches name their collaborators who have passed away and helped them get to where they are today. Mink begins, “We’re talking about Van Smith, Jean Hill, David Lochary, and, of course, Divine. And a lot of other people who you wouldn’t know. Chris Mason who did our wigs and our hair. So many people.”

Peaches continues, “And while I didn’t have the good fortune to meet a lot of those folks, Mink did get to meet and perform with a lot of the folks we’ve lost in San Francisco. People like Peggy L’Eggs, Phatima Rude, The Steve Lady, and our dear friend Heklina, who passed away last year. So we just wanted to acknowledge them and say we’re grateful and we hope you’re grateful that we’re all here.”

It was Mink’s idea to end the show with this number. She’s quick to joke about her need for attention and an audience, but she’s even quicker to express gratitude for her collaborators past and present. Peaches loved the idea, a fitting combination of tongue-in-cheek humor and sincerity.

“Heklina was the most pivotal loss for me, because of how close our creative collaboration had been.” Peaches tells me. “Close to thirty years of us collaborating together, so finding her dead was a total shock.”

“I think that loss has really given me the ability to sit back and look at the shows I’m doing with Mink and value every decision we’ve made, every stop we’ve had, every fan interaction, and to really absorb it. And not freak out about the little things that maybe didn’t go right. But instead to go wow I got to go to six cities and do eight shows with Mink Stole.”

Peaches calls the loss of Heklina consciousness-shifting. It’s a shift into an attitude Mink herself has long practiced. “I’ve been losing people practically my whole life, because my father died when I was eight,” Mink says. “My life has been a series of losses.”

The loss of Divine in 1988 hit particularly hard. Occurring right after the success of Hairspray, Mink speaks of this loss, as a friend, as a collaborator, and as a fan mourning the work an artist might have created with more time.

“Divine was gone and then it was over,” she says. “So I’m always aware of mortality, aware of the possibility that today is the last day or tomorrow is the last day.”

But, for now, Mink is still here, and her friend Peaches Christ is making sure she receives the praise she deserves while she’s around to receive it. In that way, Idol Worship is a continuation of that first Midnight Mass show.

When she walks on stage, it’s all about her. It’s all about Mink Stole.

Peaches Christ Mink Stole sit on stage talking, Peaches is in sparkly black dress, Mink is in a sparkly black suit

Photo by Mettie Ostrowski

When Mink and Peaches walked into the venue for their soundcheck, I was waiting in the shadows of the tech booth. In classic nightlife fashion, neither artist had their hair and makeup done. And yet, half made up, their energy was entirely intact.

While everyone else was talking logistics, Mink sat at the piano and started playing a few simple notes. She told someone nearby she had started taking lessons. “After three years, I can almost kind of play a little bit.”

As Mink played a little bit, Peaches encouraged the person operating the lights to have fun and be creative.

Despite all the talk of aging and mortality, neither Peaches nor Mink have the energy of artists at the end of their careers. There’s still that creative hunger, that eagerness to perform, that desire to try new things. If anything, the realities of life have simply freed them to follow these more joyous impulses.

In fact, both Mink and Peaches got married last year. Mink notes it was both her and her husband’s first marriage. Peaches notes that Mink was her officiant — and that the ceremony went viral not because of Mink, but because his nephew, the ring bearer, came out in a Michael Meyers mask to the Halloween theme.

As for Idol Worship, it’s not ending anytime soon.

“I’m fine. I’m not sick. I am fine,” Mink says. “I’m relatively healthy, I’m in decent shape, and I still have a voice. So, as long as I can, I want to continue working. But at a slower pace.”

“We’re not A-list celebrities, we’re not household names,” Peaches says. “But we’ve done all these crazy things. Shoved a rosary up Divine’s rear. Worked with insane drag queens. The height of my glamor is headlining P-Town… We’re grateful to still be here and we can’t take that for granted.”

“And we’re grateful to the people who helped get us here,” Mink adds, one last time.

Stay updated on future Idol Worship performances and other Peaches Christ shows on her website.

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 565 articles for us.

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