Seattle’s Jinkx Monsoon is back for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’

From the club scene to burlesque to cabaret, the Seattle drag scene is known for its diversity.

It’s a place where self-proclaimed misfits, like our guest, have been allowed to flourish.

Jinkx Monsoon is known all around the world as the season five winner of the hit competition show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Now, she’s back for a competition of past champions in “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.”

Not too shabby for a kid born in Portland who came to Seattle to study theater at Cornish College and who honed her talents at the 5th Avenue Theatre and the Seattle Shakespeare Company.

But who really is Jinkx Monsoon? Turns out, she’s like a lot of folks who see themselves as a reflection of those they love the most.

KUOW’s Angela King sat down with Jinkx as the All Stars season kicked off.

This interview with Jinkx Monsoon has been edited for clarity.

Jinkx Monsoon: I started drag at age 15 in earnest. And at first, Jinkx was just me in drag. But after I went to Cornish College and studied the Commedia dell’Arte clown form, that really informed — I always hate the way I sound when I say when I studied the Commedia dell’Arte clown form, but it really informed the way I, like, approached my drag.

I’m very inspired by old Hollywood, how there was a tinge of tragedy and all the glamour in old Hollywood. And I’ve definitely felt like, in my work, I’ve taken all of the hard things that have happened in my life and all of the hard things that I know about the world and trauma and tragedy — and I take all of that and I filter it through this kind of absurd drag lens and take some of my hardships and turn it into comedy.

Angela King: I’ve heard that from a lot of drag queens, and we hear this a lot about comedians taking the dark side of their lives and addressing it through their comedy. Things are so different now, when it comes to comedy and how things are accepted or not. We’ve seen comedians coming under fire for so many things. What’s your take on that?

Well, I think comedy, like any art form, has to evolve and reflect the community that it serves. And you have to know what your audience is going through. To a certain extent, you know, you have to consider what the world has been through. And I think that what we’re finding is comedy at the expense of marginalized people is not funny. And when it was considered funny, if you look back on it, you’re like, “I don’t even know that this was ever funny.” We were just conditioned to think it was funny, you know? You evolve to be mindful, and you evolve to reflect the sentiment of your community.

I’d like to talk to you more about that in just a bit. But I also wanted to talk about your mother and your grandmother. They had a big influence on Jinkx herself.

And I don’t know that it ever made it to air much, but I was actually raised by three women: my mother, my grandmother and my aunt. And I like to joke that I was raised by a small coven of witches who never would have self-identified as witches.

My mom’s a hilarious, really sweet, very kind person who just had a really long, rough time. And in the last like five years, my mom has gotten to a much better place. That also informs my view on, like, the strength and power and resilience of a woman.

My grandmother, she was a very, very sharp-tongued, sharp-witted person who loved her family fiercely. And she was also very, very goofy.

And then my aunt kind of opened my mind up to so many things that I wouldn’t have learned about if I didn’t have someone in my life teaching me about it. You know, it’s funny, because all the people in my family are very, very progressive. But they also hailed from Georgia, and my grandfather was in the military. So, it’s this dichotomy of being raised in a very loving, very accepting family and still having a lot of conditioning to undo and a lot of conditioning to unpack. But throughout it all, I had these fiercely protective, very loving, very caring, very funny women who taught me everything that I know.

I’ve heard you talk about your grandmother and how she would kind of give you the once-over before you’d go to the drag club. You would ride your bike to the club, at 15 years old. And you say your grandmother would have gotten mad at you for riding your bike but not the fact that you were going to the clubs.

Exactly. She wanted me to have a safe ride there and back. She wouldn’t have been happy knowing that I was going on my bike, but the fact that I was going in drag and going to a queer dance club on the weekends — my grandma just knew the importance of me having other people my own age who were going through similar things as I was.

I think when you’re young, when you know that you’re queer very young — which most queer people do, whether they’re able and it’s safe for them to come out or not. You know, most people know that about themselves at a very young age and are either taught to hide it or are encouraged to be themselves. And when you’re able to go through your adolescence as yourself, that is so monumental. Because when you come out later in life, it’s almost like going through a second adolescence, and you have to, like, relearn who you are and how you fit into the world. And we already have to do that as teenagers. So wouldn’t it be great if everyone got to do the teenage thing as themselves?

What would you be doing professionally? If you weren’t Jinkx Monsoon?

Well, I always wanted to be an actor. So, if I hadn’t done drag, I’d probably be taking a more traditional theater acting route. You know, I was having a really great time in Seattle, doing theater works at Fifth Avenue Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare Company. But doing “Drag Race” allowed me to take what I do and do it globally, you know.

But if I wasn’t in the performing arts at all, I’d probably be an English teacher right now, because that was another thing I became very passionate about in high school. I loved my honors English class, and studying Shakespeare from an analytical place and Dickens and the classics, trying to decipher, “How does this fit into the world today?”

Well, from Shakespeare, now to “Drag Race” — I don’t know if it’s much of a stretch, but some people might think it’s such. And now, you’re back for “All Stars,” season seven. Who is your biggest competition?

I like to joke that my biggest competition is my own anxieties, because that’s what causes me the most strife.

But you know, realistically going into it, I was shaking in my boots to have to compete against Shea Couleé — who is just one of the most well-rounded, just gorgeous, intelligent, funny, drag queens just such a, I mean, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

And then, you know, there’s also queens who are more similar to me who do more similar things like Monét X Change and The Vivienne are both very talented actors and comedians. So really, it’s just a battle royale against everyone. There’s no weak link in this cast. And, you know, through filming, we got to become very close with each other. And that was the best aspect of going back on: to share this experience with seven other people who know what it’s like to have those kinds of pressures and expectations, not only from the audience, but that we put on ourselves.

So, what’s different about Jinkx this season compared to season five, which was recorded, what, 10 years ago?

Yeah, well, I think the fair-weather viewer will see right away that what’s different is Jinkx has had an upgrade when it comes to makeup, hair and wardrobe. You know, I was doing well for myself in Seattle when I went on, but there wasn’t a lot of extra money to pour into drag back then, if you know what I mean. And I was working, you know, like two to three jobs at any given moment before “Drag Race.” So, there wasn’t a lot of time to just zero in on my craft.

Now, drag is my career, and it’s hard to get me to talk about anything else. That’s the thing with being a drag queen: It’s not just going to work 9 to 5, and then coming home and leaving it at the door. Because everything in your life can inform your drag and everything reminds you of your drag and you’re constantly thinking of the next hairdo and the next outfit and the next bit you’re going to do and the next number you’re going to perform. It’s an all-encompassing thing.

RuPaul always ends the show with this: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Was there ever a time when loving yourself was hard?

You know, I’d say it’s always something that I deal with. I think if you ask a lot of comedians, there’s a level of self-loathing that they just deal with on a daily basis. My friends who are comedians, they’re not only the funniest people I know, they’re the most intelligent people I know. And I think with opening yourself up to trying to understand the world better and trying to understand other people’s experiences, there just comes a lot of torment. Because the more you try to see the truth of the world, the more it can weigh you down.

You know, that being said: Do you ever wonder how your experience on “Drag Race” or as a drag queen has prepared you for what we’re facing as a nation now?

I think it’s prepared me in being able to see firsthand how powerful an individual human being can be. To continue through a competition that tests you in every single way, like not just on your talents and your abilities but also on your humanity and your intellect and your spirit, and then seeing queens go through the wringer and then get up and come back for more — I mean, I just think drag queens have always taught me the importance of power within the individual. Like, human beings are capable of miraculous things.

So, it’s how I don’t lose hope when the world and our country is in such a rough place. And I think about the fact that, like, nothing has been done in terms of gun reform to significantly change what’s happening in our country. And every time changes are proposed, people stand in the way for selfish, greedy reasons. And I want to lose hope so much of the time, because it feels so desolate when you see that happen time and time again. But I remind myself that human beings are capable of miraculous things.

So, as long as there are still people out there fighting to make progressive, positive change, in the face of so much terror and so much greed and so much corruption, then I believe that it’s still possible because we are capable of miracles. But geez, like, when is enough enough? I mean, I don’t want to go on a huge rant here. But it’s like — are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?

Well, as you know, you are not alone in that sentiment. I think a lot of people are feeling the weight of the times we’re facing, let alone what we’ve experienced these past couple of weeks. But I hope you know, and I’m sure you do, that your art form, your drag does provide a bright spot for so many people as we try to navigate these dark times.

Yeah, sometimes people do need a moment of levity and a moment of respite. And if I can provide that to people, then I’m happy to do that. I always work in my beliefs and my messages into my work but in a way that we can all feel uplifted and positive and laugh and maybe be a little bit more equipped for the next drama we face in our lives.

“Drag Race” — though it’s, you know, an entertaining competition show — it’s helped families understand their queer or gender nonconforming or trans family members. You know, I always say that the best part of “Drag Race” is it shows the human being behind the drag persona. So, you’re entertained by the drag persona, but then you’re reminded that there’s a human being there, who is a real person who goes through everything that every human goes through. And I think seeing that juxtaposition, between the very presentational drag persona and the real human being who plays her, helps a lot of families understand something they maybe never had an introduction to.

And I always say my favorite part of meet-and-greets is meeting the parents who tell me that they were able to bridge this gap between them and their kid because of “Drag Race” or they still have their kid because of “Drag Race.” And that is something that inspires me always to keep going.

Well, in addition to your successful drag career, you’ve also got a new single out. It’s called “Know-It-All.” What’s that? Are you dropping some sort of social commentary there?

The song “Know-It-All” was written by my music partner Major Scales. And it’s kind of a ska-inspired, up-tempo ditty about toxic masculinity. It sounds kind of like a 90s garage band throwback with very, very contemporary themes.

Sounds like you’re from the Northwest.

Well, Jinkx, I just want to say thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add something that you would like to leave our listeners with?

On season five of “Drag Race,” I had a mantra: “Water off a duck’s back,” which was something I repeated to myself when I needed to let negativity wash off of me or, like, other people’s scrutiny wash off of me. And lots of people have told me how much they enjoy that mantra and how they use it in their own lives.

I’d like to introduce a new mantra that I’ve been living with: “Two things can be true,” or, “More than one thing can be true.” And I think that sometimes helps me get through these moments where I feel stuck, where I feel like, gosh, I’m so angry about this thing. But I also want to feel happy and I want to feel hopeful. And I have to remind myself two things can be true: You can be angry at the world and you can still have hope and faith in it.

And Jinkx Monsoon is still going strong on “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season seven, which airs Friday.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Article Source: KUOW