The RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Five winner talks Ab Fab, witches and narcolepsy…

Jinkx1 (3)

© José A. Guzman Colón

The name Monsoon was inspired by Absolutely Fabulousone of our favourite shows of all time.

It’s definitely one of my favourite shows too. I don’t know what age I started watching it, probably nine or ten years old. My mum and her best friend had gone on a trip to London and brought back a lot of British television for me. I started watching Ab Fab at such a young age that a lot of the jokes went over my head. I’ve been re-watching it over and over at major intervals in my life and every time I watch it I get another joke, more of it makes sense to me. And now that I’ve spent so much time in the UK, there’s a ton of jokes I get that I never got before.

It appealed to a lot of queer kids.

Absolutely. We’re drawn – especially people who grow up to be drag queens – to strong female characters [who are] extremely independent, unique and have many idiosyncrasies for us to latch onto, but also have certain tragic flaws that make them feel approachable and relatable to us – especially since so many queer children grow up with a certain amount of self-loathing and a little bit of fear of being themselves. I was enamoured with ‘Little Edie’ from Grey Gardens because she’s not only strong and independent, but she’s got this tragic story and kind of tragic air about her. Even though she seems over-the-top, glamourous and like a goddess to me, she also seems like a human being.

You know your musical theatre. Is there a show everyone seems to love that you simply don’t?

There’s a handful. For me, a lot of the classics don’t stand up. I think we are now at a time where we are so evolved and have progressed so much from when some musicals were written, that the only way for them to still have a place today is if they’re completely re-imagined, turned on their side, maybe looked at through a satirical lens. I’ve always felt like Bye Bye Birdie would be amazing to bring back if we played with the casting and had some same-sex relationships put into it; if Mr and Mrs MacAfee were both played by women, if Conrad Birdie were more of a Justin Bieber-type and we’re making a little bit of a commentary on social media and pop culture today. But the one musical I just don’t think has a way of surviving these days is, I have no problem saying it, The Pajama Game – one of the most ridiculous musicals I’ve ever sat through.

You were raised Catholic – how complicated is your relationship with Catholicism?

I was baptised and raised with a loose understanding of the principles of Catholicism – I can probably count on one hand the number of times I went to church as a child. From the moment I was born to my teenage years, my family was steadily pulling away from the church for a lot of different reasons. My grandma, mum and I would go to church and they’d just cry the whole time because they felt so guilty about things – like my mum having me out of wedlock and my grandma having gotten divorced.

My aunt was like a second mother to me. She educated herself on religions of the world, never really adhered to one specific religion, and taught me a lot about Buddhism. So I always had an understanding of a lot of different religions growing up. And then in my teenage years I realised that even though the women who raised me called themselves Catholic, the only things they really subscribed to were the superstitions and rituals. There was a day when my mum and I were driving home from school, and she stopped at a graveyard so she could get some scrapings off a tombstone to put under her pillow – to try and win the lottery. In that moment I was like, “Oh my gosh, the women in my life aren’t Catholic… they’re just witches.”

Then when I was 18 we found out that our heritage is actually Jewish. We were like, “Well, this whole time we’ve been Jews practicing Catholicism – and we don’t really believe in anything but being good people.” At 18 I realised I don’t really subscribe to any organised religion. I’m just happiest believing in nature more than anything else.

© José A. Guzman Colón

© José A. Guzman Colón

It’s a few years since you won Drag Race, how fondly do you look back on that time?

Very fondly, even though I remind myself all the time how difficult it was. I had studied to be an actor, I had been working as a professional entertainer for six years before I did Drag Race, and I was ready for the competition aspect in it – to bear my claws and go up against other strong drag queens. What I wasn’t ready for was the isolation. Drag is a community thing; it takes a village to raise a drag person. When I had to do it all on my own without any feedback or insight from my friends or collaborators, when I couldn’t talk to my best friend about ideas I was having, it was very isolating – that to me was the most challenging aspect.

Anyone watching would have learnt of your narcolepsy – how are you coping with that at the moment?

It’s become a lot easier to deal with these days, mainly because I get to set up my life to accommodate the symptoms. The time it was hardest was when I had a very rigid schedule. When I was going to college, I had to work in the morning from 5-10am, then I went to all my classes, and then rehearsals for shows – there was no time to accommodate. The only way I was able to get through my days without a complete breakdown was to be open with everyone in my life about the disorder and the things I needed to do to make it through. That’s basically my philosophy: you can still do everything you want in life, even when you have something that gets in the way, but it requires you being really honest with yourself about what you need, and with the people in your life about the best ways they can help you. I had friends who would nudge me if I was dozing off in class, I had teachers that completely understood and were very patient with me. I didn’t ask for special treatment, only awareness.

You’re bringing your show The Ginger Snapped to Birmingham in April – what’s it all about?

It primarily features music from my new album of the same title. It co-stars my music partner Major Scales who wrote all the original music for the album. It’s a very personal show; it only pertains to stories from my own personal life to do with mental health issues. I’m not making any blanket statements about mental health – I’m only talking about my own experience in an effort to destigmatise mental health issues. All that said, it’s very light-hearted, and extremely comical. You’re going to learn a lot about me and the darker side of drag fame, odd stories from my sex life – everything. We’ve really tried not to come off as preachy or sanctimonious, just sharing titbits about my life so that you can try to understand the duality of being a queer celebrity in 2019.

Hopefully it will add to the conversation about mental health which has grown in recent years.

Maybe one of the more detrimental aspects of the Catholic religion that did stick with my family, was that there wasn’t much room to have conversations about what was out of our control. It was more that if you were having a problem, it was your own fault and you had to find a way to deal with it on your own. My family always supported each other but we were also constantly keeping secrets from each other, not wanting to upset or offend anyone with what we were going through. I think just having the conversation is extremely important.

Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales: The Ginger Snapped | Birmingham Town Hall | 3 April, 8pm

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