Doctor Who ’s Newest Villain Might Drive Some Viewers Away. Good Riddance.

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Jinkx Monsoon is no stranger to firsts. As the first contestant to win RuPaul’s Drag Race not once but twice (the second as the “Queen of All Queens” in an All Stars season), Monsoon was also the first queen to bring Little Edie of Grey Gardens fame to the iconic Snatch Game segment and the first to doze off in the confessional booth. More recently, she became the first drag performer to portray Matron “Mama” Morton in a record-breaking run of the musical Chicago on Broadway. This month, in addition to being the first trans woman to star as Audrey in the current off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors, she will become the first drag artist to appear in Doctor Who. In the new season of the beloved British series, which hits Disney+ Friday, she plays a heinous villain named Maestro, decked in a black cape with a piano key–patterned collar, an orange wig, and blood-red lipstick. The whole look gives suitably camp Bette Midler–in–Hocus Pocus–meets–Glenn Close’s–Cruella de Vil vibes.

How did an American drag legend ended up being cast in TV’s longest-running sci-fi production, a show that has been airing on the BBC intermittently since 1963? Russell T. Davies, who also wrote shows like Queer as Folk and It’s a Sin, was the original showrunner and head writer of Doctor Who’s 2005 revival. He wrote for the series until 2010, and returned in 2023.

“I’m such a big Russell T. Davies fan—we’ve been friends for many years,” Monsoon said, explaining that Davies got the idea for her Doctor Who character after seeing her show Together Again, Again!, in which she plays herself in her 80s.

“So, here’s this drag queen getting in the mind of this prolific writer who writes for a predominantly straight audience who probably don’t even realize the person in charge of their favorite sci-fi show is queer,” she said. “And so this wonderful thing is happening where people from the straight, heteronormative world are finding out their favorite things were created by queer people. Queer people have been in entertainment the whole time, but we’re just only recently getting to be very loud and vocal about it.”

Slate caught up with Jinkx Monsoon between shows to chat about Doctor Who, her views on transphobes, and what it means to be straight famous. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Slate: The Drag Race fandom is well versed in your acting prowess, but you’re what’s known as “straight famous” now. What has that been like?

Jinx Monsoon: I guess I am! In Chicago and Little Shop, some nights we’ve had Drag Race fan–heavy audiences, but we’ve also had high school groups, and they’re just as enthusiastic! That’s something my head is still trying to wrap itself around: I have straight high school student fans, straight male fans. That’s crazy to me because I remember the straight boys in high school being fucking bullies. And now we’re at a time, 20 years later, where a queer trans person can be straight famous. It’s really surreal and beautiful, and I don’t want to question it! I just want to fight to keep it going.

As a queer transfemme person operating in the mainstream in this political climate, how do you feel about the backlash against the roles you’re taking on?

It feels frustrating to constantly have to justify your existence when other people don’t have to explain why they are where they are. It doesn’t feel good that there are people out there who don’t want you to exist, who don’t want you to succeed or to have the same rights. But I also have tons of hope because those people are shrinking in numbers. This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve experienced popular opinion being in favor of the queer community, and that gives me a lot of hope. And it gives me hope because I know the younger generations see through the bullshit that is heteronormativity, they see through the tyrannical gender norms that we’ve been forced to live by.

Everyone is damaged by it. Even the people who appear to be benefiting from it, those are the most damaged people. They’ve lost their humanity.

What kind of response to Maestro are you expecting from the traditional Doctor Who fans?

Russell T. Davies brought Doctor Who to everyone. He brought it back because he was passionate about it. To the people who have issues: The show that you love was created by a queer person. Get over it! A lot of people are going to really love this, and I think this season is going to create a lot of new Doctor Who fans. And if we lose some of the transphobic ones, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

There’s a lot of toxicity around the gender and the trans conversation. In the ’70s, it was the conversation of queerness, the gay conversation. We overcame it once and we’ll overcome it again. To the people who are upset about it, boohoo, cry your fucking tears. It’s not your world exclusively. We all live here, so get over yourself!

I know a lot of people might not even watch this season of Doctor Who because it’s taking such a decisively queer step. However, if they watch it, I think they’ll see that we’re just actors playing characters. And if they don’t watch it, then who needs ’em? I truly believe that for every fan we lose to transphobia, we’re going to have two to three more coming in because they’re excited for trans representation.

You have recently started being far more vocal about your own identity and gender journey. How has your self-conception evolved over the years?

It’s never been difficult sharing who I was with the outside world. I think for so long the only one limiting my gender expression was me. I always knew I was feminine. I always knew I resonated with feminine energy. My whole life has been about negotiating how to get enough of that. As I’ve aged and grown, my need for my feminine identity has changed and grown. It’s funny, and I’ve talked to a lot of other trans women about this too, and it seems like, somewhere in your mind, you know you’re going to transition eventually—you’re just waiting for the time when it feels right.

For me, I first came out as nonbinary, and then it was like, OK, I can work with this. I’m expressing myself more femininely. People are calling me they/them instead of he/him—this feels right. And then, after a while, I was like, You know what? I really just want to be seen as feminine. So I started dressing and presenting much more feminine. And the more I did, the more it felt like I was stepping into who I always saw myself as. When I recently made the decision to begin my medical transition, it just felt like I had taken another step in the direction I was already going. It’s like I’ve essentially been transitioning at a snail’s pace since I was, like, 25.

I identify as a transfeminine person, as a trans woman. I don’t even really identify as a woman. My transness is my gender identity. I’ve always been me. I am just changing the frame.

To what extent do you think drag has brought you to where you are today?

I think it’s similar to a lot of people’s story, and it’s why I think drag is so powerful. When I first discovered drag, I knew there was something about me that was not being expressed. I’ve basically known my whole life that I wanted to be a woman, but it was about negotiating that with what I thought was possible. At first I was into acting because I could play different characters. But then I realized all the characters I wanted to play were female, but I was perceived as male. I started doing drag at age 15 because it allowed me to play male roles in my high school play and the roles I really wanted on the weekend, at the drag club.

In acting school and later in local theater in Seattle, directors started casting me in female roles because of my drag experience. They weren’t leading ladies, more like character roles: Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray, Mistress Quickly in Henry V. But to get to where I’m at now, it has required a lot of chipping away at things and a lot of working against the stigma of being a drag queen. We’ve been put in a subset of entertainment for so long, but what we’re doing is no different from any other performer. We are just doing it in drag.

When someone eventually gave me the chance, there was the pressure of, like, OK, put your money where your mouth is, baby! Luckily, it was an objective success. And I only hope that audiences are ready to celebrate this and to see authentic representation of all different types of people.

Can you tell us about your chosen name, Hera?

So, Hera is the queen of the gods in Greek mythology. When I was an awkward, lonely child, because of being so obviously queer, I was really into Greek mythology. And maybe it was because she was the queen of the gods, but Hera was always my favorite.

My birth had been very traumatic. Both my mom and I almost passed when she was giving birth to me. So the name she chose for me was significant, and I was really nervous about how she’d take it when I told her I wanted to change it. I was trying to think of something that incorporated letters or sounds from my given name, Jerick, and I was playing with Jira. I told my assistant, who knows about my love of Greek mythology, and he goes, “Oh, just name yourself Hera—you know you want to.” And I went, “Oh my God, I do!” And that was that. And she’s the queen of the gods.

You’ve been quoted saying that Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors is your dream role. Now that you’ve made it happen, what’s your next milestone?

Lately, the one that has been most on my mind is Sweet Charity. Charity in Sweet Charity just keeps coming up. And I don’t know, but when something keeps coming up, it’s usually a sign that I need to lean into it. So, if it keeps coming up, I’m going to take that sign.

Everything seems to be happening at once for you, in the sense that you are taking on some pretty big roles while also undergoing a major personal transformation. How are you coping?

I was really nervous about it, honestly. I had my facial feminization surgery in February, and when I started rehearsing [for Little Shop of Horrors] in March, I still didn’t have full mobility of my jaw and mouth. So I was having trouble getting all my lyrics out, or my mouth would kind of lock up on a line. So I was definitely nervous.

Now all the nerves are gone because this has actually been a beautiful moment of synchronicity and coalescence. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to take my estrogen before showtime and then get onstage every night and sing the words “Learn how to be more the girl that’s inside me.” It feels like this beautiful moment! I never could have guessed that A) this would all be happening at the same time and B) it would all be perfect. I feel very fortunate and full of gratitude, and I’m knocking on wood constantly because I’m scared something’s going to come along to break up this good thing. But right now I’m having the time of my life.