"RuPaul's Drag Race" season five contestant Monica Beverly Hillz made history on Monday, February 4, when she revealed to the show's judges, her fellow drag queens and the world at large that she is transgender.
Though other "Drag Race" stars like season three's Carmen Carerra and season two's Sonique came out as trans once taping had finished, Monica Beverly Hillz is the first queen to do so while actively competing on the show.
We caught up with Monica to chat about her controversial revelation, what happened behind the scenes once she came out, what she wants the world to know about being trans and more.
The Huffington Post: When you were applying for "Drag Race," did you foresee this moment happening on the show?
Monica Beverley Hills: I wasn't even thinking about it. I thought I could get on the show and not worry about it and take it from there once I was done with the show.
Was there a particular moment that proved to be the breaking point for you?
It was when we were getting judged. There are certain things that [the judges] noticed -- I wasn't being myself and I was very uncomfortable and the cameras picked up on it.
Did it surprise you that you couldn't just "not worry about it" once you were competing?
When you're around certain people, these people are opening up their hearts and telling their life stories and I'm doing the same thing but I felt like I was leaving something out. It's kind of weird -- you feel like you have to be this certain person and you feel like you're lying and deceiving people and I'm not that type of person. I'm very honest with myself.
Were you freaking out about how the judges might react?
That was the main reason why I didn't want to say anything. I took a huge chance. That could have been my ticket [off of the show].
The judges responded to your coming out but then moved on and seemingly judged you solely based on your performance. They treated you like any of the other contestants. Did you think they were going to make a bigger deal out of your revelation?
Oh, yeah. I thought they were going to rip me to shreds!
And what about the other queens?
They were very supportive. That was shocking to me. I thought, Oh my God. This is it. They're going to start talking and this is when the cattiness and judgements are going to start. It was not a good feeling.
Another contestant, Jinkx Monsoon, said that you're her hero.
That's all fine and dandy, but I didn't sign up to be a role model or anyone's hero. I signed up to find more of myself and to get in tune and get some help. But I'm honored -- that's a beautiful thing, for someone to think I'm a hero.
Did you think it was ironic that when you were forced to "lip sync for your life," the song you performed to was Rihanna's "Only Girl In The World"?
[Laughs] Yes, but that's how I've always felt. I am the only girl in the world, so that's perfect.
What do you say to people who claim that because you're trans, you shouldn't be competing in the competition?
I don't think they have the right to say that. I'm just as talented as any of the queens on that stage. It doesn't mean that just because I'm trans that I shouldn't be allowed on the show. I don't get any of that.
When I heard you came out, I instantly thought of the trans Miss Universe contestant, Jenna Talackova, who was told she didn't belong in the competition because she wasn't a "real woman" and, conversely, how some people believe that you don't belong on "Drag Race" because you're not a man doing drag. Both situations really highlight the precarious positions that trans people are put in every day -- both by mainstream society and the queer community.
It's frustrating. I've dealt with this over the last seven years of my drag career -- I've always had judgments like I'm not drag enough or I'm a tranny. I've been doing it for seven years and it's gotten me this far, so obviously I'm very good at what I do. I don't think me being trans has anything to do with it.
You said that you didn't feel like you were "you" when your gender identity was a secret and that's why you felt like you weren't on your game. For most drag performers, they're putting on a persona different from the one they present off stage. Is that not the case for you? Does being trans change the way that you approach drag?
Certain drag queens are different when they're in drag and when they're out of it. I'm the same person. I don't see myself as different [on stage] -- I just have more makeup on.
Some people believe that drag can be derogatory towards or mocking of trans people. How do you respond to those accusations?
I don't think it is. I think it's a form of expression. Some people just love to entertain. It's not a mockery for me.
The words "tranny" and "ladyboy," which are also considered offensive by many trans people, are often used by drag performers.
I don't like those words. They're offensive to me.
Did the use of terms like those on "Drag Race" (like the phrase "You've got she-mail!") bother you?
[Before I came out as trans on the show…] Being on set, people referring to me as "he," using my "real" name -- those things added up.
Did you feel like you had to educate people on set about what to say -- or not say -- once you came out as trans?
No. No. Before I came out, they would use "he" but after they used "she" and "Monica." I was really shocked by the support I had on set. At first I felt so alone, but after I came out I felt so much support.
The HuffPost Religion Editor recently did an interview with RuPaul and Ru had some really profound things to say about drag and spirituality. Did he help you with this experience?
I never thought of her as [a spiritual person] but the energy that she brings and the way she looks at things -- meeting Ru and hearing her words and having her push me to do the things that I haven't been able to do, I'm forever grateful.
What do you love the most about doing drag?
The reactions. How I can move somebody with my number. Just the way I feel when I'm on stage. It's indescribable. It's a beautiful feeling. For so many years I felt like I was an outsider -- dropping out of high school -- finally actually doing something and believing in myself and having people love me for it, it's a great thing.
What do you want people to take away from your story?
They should always believe in themselves and always stay true to themselves. Never let anyone put you down and always have a voice. And at the end of the day, always be you. And for every person who thinks that they want to be on the show and it's going to increase your booking fee and yadda yadda yadda -- think again. This show will change your life and teach you a lot of things that you never knew or that you forgot.
It was a hugely emotional experience for you.
This has made me grow up. This has gotten my family back together. This has done a lot of things for me and continues to do a lot of things for me.
Do you think it's getting better for trans people in this country?
It does get better -- but then it really doesn't. I have trans friends that have it really hard. I do think it's getting a little bit better. I think about how it was back in the day and [if I had lived then] I'm not sure I would have had the courage to come out and have a normal life and do those day to day things. It has gotten a little bit better but it does need to be better and bigger.
Are there other trans women who inspire you?
["Drag Race" season three star] Carmen Carrera [who came out as trans after she was on the show]. Amanda Lepore. Calpernia Addams. Maria Roman. Looking up to those women, I think if they can do it, I know I can. But it took me a while to get enough courage to do it.
Finally, what would you want someone who has never met a transgender person to know?
First of all, it's not easy. What people see and what I see are two different things. People sometimes don't get it. They think, That's just a man wearing women's clothing. There's a lot of horrible things people can think about us. Just be aware that we have feelings and we're trying to make it all make sense. At the end of the day we're just trying to find out who we are.
Have questions for Monica? Speak with her live via Spreecast during a very special “Elimination Lunch” hosted by Michelle Visage at 1:00pm ET today.
"RuPaul's Drag Race" airs on Mondays at 9pm ET on Logo TV.