Her drag persona is based on all the ladies she used to see at church growing up. But famed actor and drag performer, Ginger Minj’s early days doing drag, in her small town of Leesburg, Florida, was anything but peaceful. “We used to have to park in the ditch across the street from our shows, because if you left your car in the parking lot, the ‘good ‘ole boys’ would come and vandalize it or would wait to beat you up,” she said.
A lot has changed since those early days. Minj recently starred in Virgin Voyages’ Facebook series, International Waters, created exclusively for travel partners or First Mates. Widely known as a finalist in the Emmy Award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she lip sync’d for her life right into the hearts of the nation, Minj is also is a lead voice actor in an animated drag superhero Netflix series Super Drags and appeared with Jennifer Aniston in the Netflix film ‘Dumplin’.
As it is for Ginger Minj, drag is a way of life for so many, yet the art was not always widely accepted. For decades, drag performers were pushed into more of an underground society. But what was once a subculture, is now a thriving part of popular culture, thanks to phenomena like RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show largely credited with the worldwide drag awakening, right down to the vernacular. Hot mess or not, you may have noticed, drag queens are everywhere. And we love it.
On board Virgin Voyages, we believe our greatest strength comes from our diversity and one-size most definitely does not fit all. We consider ourselves to be a category of one in sea travel. Ginger Minj often describes herself the same way, which may attest for why she’s such a natural fit for the Virgin Voyages family. In a week where we will also announce our partnership with Atlantis Events, the largest producer of vacations for the LGBTQ+ community, we caught up with Ginger Minj, who will be joining us, alongside Richard Branson, as we proudly and loudly, prance our way through NYC’s World Pride celebration. Low and behold she had a few things to say about her story, her time on Drag Race, participating in World Pride, her partnership with Virgin Voyages and the church ladies who, without realizing it, paved the road to her finding herself.
You got your big break participating in RuPaul’s Drag Race. What was that like?
Everybody always says it takes decades to become an overnight sensation. That’s really how it was for me. I worked for 15 years in drag, seven days a week, for years before Drag Race and all of a sudden I get on a TV show and everyone around the world knows me.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself before Drag Race?
Ginger as a persona, has always been the same. I based her in all of the women I knew growing up in the church. Personally, I’m a pretty reserved quiet kind of a person and I don’t like being the center of attention. Ginger is what kind of gave me the courage to explore the other side of that. The courage and the mask to go out there and be somebody else.
Was that hard to do or did it come naturally?
The very first time someone gave me a microphone and told me to go talk to the crowd, I was petrified. It wasn’t until I started putting myself in the mindset of these church ladies, and quoting my mother and my grandmother that it worked.
What was it like where you grew up?
I’m from Leesburg, Florida. It is as small town as you can get. Everybody knows everybody, the population is very small, everybody is in each other’s business, and everybody better see you at church praying for your sins on Sunday because they know what sins you’ve committed.
What were you like back then?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to grow up to be a housewife and mother. Like whenever we were playing house, that was my role and that’s how I imagined myself. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a gay man or to be transgender but I think there really is something to this gender fluidity movement that’s happening right now, because I’ve never seen myself fully as a man or a woman, and I think that’s why I kind of gravitated towards drag as a career. It was really difficult when I was a kid. I was very outwardly feminine. And my father was very military, as were my two older brothers and my older sister was very straight-laced, prim and proper. Here I come along ten years later tap dancing and singing my way into the hearts of our locals. I was told very quickly by my dad to sit down and shut up, not to embarrass us. Because it was embarrassing for him. He didn’t know how to handle it. The only people I could see stand up to my dad and put him in his place were these church ladies. I think that’s why I really gravitated towards them. They had no qualms about calling everybody out on their bullshit. And I wished so hard sitting in the pews of that church that I could be that too. It wasn’t until years later that I got the courage to do that.
It’s as if you were drawn to their power so young.
I feel like you just know when you’re young what you are, even if you don’t understand it. You just kind of feel what it is. My father and I didn’t speak for the better part of 10 years before I was on Drag Race. I was standing on the stage during the finale, because I was in the final three, and this video comes up of my father talking about how he felt sorry for all the things he had done to me in my life, and how he is so proud of me whether I believe it or not. I realized that the father that I grew up with never would have put himself into the public eye, on a show that celebrates not only being gay, but being a drag queen. That opens him up to ridicule from the people in his circle, so I knew that it was a huge thing for him to do. We've been slowly building a relationship over these last five years. I would say we’re at a point in our lives where we appreciate each other for what we bring to the relationship and are happy that there just is conversation there. It’s a huge step for me and for him too. I never thought people could really change until I saw the leaps and bounds that my father has gone to try to make this work.
Drag is such a part of pop culture now and you've been a part of that. What are your thoughts about how far it’s come?
I remember when I first started doing drag I was getting paid twenty dollars and two drink tickets, at our local gay bar in Leesburg. We would park across the street near a ditch, because parking in front of the venue was dangerous. We’d go running across the highway in full drag, from the ditch to the bar, and there were still people who would throw rocks and bricks at the queens and the patrons going into the bar. It was really dangerous. And to think that we sacrificed safety for twenty dollars and two watered down Bud Lights just to go in there and try to be who we felt we were, explore our artistic side and try to have some community in this town that made it very clear that it didn’t want us, is really amazing. It’s strange to go from those days to where we are today. Like now, my biggest fan bases now are children from six to twelve years old and middle-aged housewives. Which are two demographics I never thought I’d be playing for. It’s not better it’s not worse it’s just really different than it used to be. There’s a lot more social responsibility now.
You have the power to help so many with this audience.
I went from a bar-wide platform to a worldwide platform and it’s insane. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to really stop and think about how if I post this tweet right now, saying exactly how I feel, there’s going to be some kid in Singapore who’s going to see it, and it’s going to affect them in some way. I get messages from kids from all over the world who are experiencing the same changes that I went through and it’s really kind of empowering and comforting to be able to say I know exactly how you feel, I was there, I did the same thing, and I’m here to tell you it’s going to be ok, it’s going to be amazing. And you’re going to be amazing because of it.
This is such an important year for the LGBTQ+ community marking the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and a half-century of LGBTQ+ liberation. What does being a part of this Pride celebration signify to you?
For me, I’m just glad I went through the things I went through so that the kids now don’t have to. I’m happy to bear that burden as long as I can grab them by the hand and drag them to the light and say hey, you’re gonna be fine, I promise. That is why pride is important to celebrate. Also, a lot of people will slap a rainbow on anything without understanding why we adopted it. To be completely honest I didn’t fully understand it until a recent conversation. What stood out to me the most was that the yellow in the rainbow symbol signifies sunlight and that’s because the gay community was forced to into these dark bars, the only places they were free to be gay. The Stonewall riots signify us being able to bring it into the streets, out into the light, where everyone can see it.
In International Waters, you talk about being a category of one in your life. How did doing things differently affect your life?
I spent so much time trying to be all of the people that I found to be so entertaining or so wonderful. I wanted to be them and not emulate them. But as soon as I started embracing the things that were comfortable for me, and that made me feel pretty, I started finding bigger success in a much wider platform. I think that’s because people sensed authenticity. You can look at somebody and tell if they are being genuine or not. And there was a time in my life when I wasn’t. But I also come from the school of thought that you’re never too old to stop learning. I think it’s so important to really learn from the people around you and just be open to that, but still maintain the essence that made you, you in the first place.
How did you get started working with Virgin Voyages?
I always loved the brand. I had seen Richard Branson speak and eventually became really interested in the brand and its approach. One thing led to another and it’s been incredible. Virgin has always treated me with so much respect and with so much understanding. A lot of people right now are trying to jump on the drag train like, ‘Oh because this is popular let’s try to shoehorn it into something we can use’. Virgin did not approach me that way. I have turned down a lot of other partnerships because it didn’t seem authentic, but Virgin comes from a good place and was very careful about taking and understanding my point of view and finding a way to integrate this so it makes sense. I felt very heard from the beginning.
Well, you are more than heard Ginger Minj, loud and clear, and we are excited to be welcoming you into our fun and creative Virgin Voyages family. World Pride Ahoy! See you there!