Ginger Minj is an icon within the drag community, and the work she’s doing this year only continues to cement her status as one of the greatest there is.
I Am What I Am, a queer rights campaign launched by Ginger, seeks to defend the LGBTQIA+ community from the ongoing discrimination occurring on a government level. With the help of the ACLU Drag Defense Fund, the campaign provides queer people with resources and support, aiming to create a better safe space for the community.
To support the campaign further, Ginger recently dropped her highly anticipated rendition of “I Am What I Am” from the hit musical, La Cage aux Folles, with all proceeds from the song going toward the campaign.
Additionally, Ginger also hopes to spread joy through the release of her upcoming lifestyle book, Southern Fried Sass, releasing November 7. It’s part cookbook, part memoir, and part tell-all, fully encompassing all aspects of Ginger’s career and personal life in an authentic, inspirational, and relatable way.
Ginger Minj spilled the tea to Pop Crave about her I Am What I Am campaign, what filming Hulu’s Drag Me to Dinner series was like, and what she’s most excited for fans to read in her upcoming book, Southern Fried Sass. Keep reading for the full interview!
Hi Ginger! I’m honored to be speaking with you today. First of all, congratulations on the release of “I Am What I Am.” Your rendition of the song is absolutely beautiful. What made you choose this track as the inspiration behind your campaign?
I’m a theater baby, and I have been my whole life. I always loved La Cage aux Folles when I was growing up, so when I aged into doing cabarets, I started closing my set with that every time. It’s a song that I’ve always found very… Even in its saddest moments, it’s still very hopeful. Flash forward to getting older after Drag Race, we’re getting ready to do All Stars 2, and I’m asked to sing that song with some of the other girls for the Trailblazer Awards. All of a sudden, it’s like the song I’ve been singing for years and years, the whole rest of the world kind of opened their eyes to. They kind of heard it for the first time.
Doing that performance on the Trailblazer Awards was one of the most transformative moments in my life. It’s something that I, for years now – it’s been what, like seven or eight years since we did that? – everywhere I go, that’s one of the main things people want to talk about. “You sang that song for Harvey Fierstein, you sang it at the [Trailblazer] Awards, it was so good! When are you going to record it? When are you going to record it?” And I always thought it’s one of those things that I feel is so visceral in the moment that when you’re singing and it’s such a shared experience, I didn’t want that to get lost in a recording, but then all these laws start coming out this year, and all of a sudden we’re being called names that we haven’t been called in a little while. It felt like with our whole community under attack, now was the time to record and release the song like people have been asking for for almost a decade, but also to really put a fresh take on it and put some fresh eyes on it.
For your fans who don’t know, could you explain the I Am What I Am campaign and what its mission is?
Absolutely! So, 100% of the proceeds from the T-shirts to the hats to the actual purchasing of the download of the song goes to the Drag Defense Fund, which is run by the ACLU. I’ve been working with them since the beginning of this year, trying to make sure that anybody who is affected in the LGBTQIA+ community has resources, that we are fighting the fight against all of these nonsensical laws that are coming out against us, and it’s making it so that this country can be a very safe space for our entire community – not just the queens in it, but the people who also love and adore us and want to continue to kind of circle in our orbit.
The I Am What I Am campaign is one of the many things bringing positive energy to Pride Month this June, but to many, this Pride Month still feels much more dreary than usual. Are you feeling a dark cloud over Pride Month this year? If so, how is that affecting the way you’re celebrating this month?
I mean, yes and no, but I also remember a time before Drag Race when we were marching in these parades, still being called every name under the sun, and having things thrown at us. The point of a pride parade is to smile and have pride in yourself, in your community, and in the face of every force that’s against you. I don’t want to say that we’ve gotten complacent over the last decade or so – I don’t mean that at all – but I also think that even if it’s an unhappy reminder, it’s definitely a reminder that takes us back to our roots of what pride is really about. There have been moments that I have encountered in this pride season that I found scary or overwhelming or sad, but it also just kind of fueled me a little bit more to go, “No, absolutely not! We deserve to march and be proud, and we deserve to smile, we deserve to share our gifts with the rest of the world, and the rest of the world deserves to see what we have to offer.” So, that’s why we’ve created this particular campaign, because it’s not about anything but the individual that it affects. I am exactly who I am. You are exactly who you are. She is exactly who she is, and they are exactly who they are supposed to be. We should celebrate all of those things, because those are the beautiful little pockets within the overall community.
You are doing so much for the queer community, with the Drag Isn’t Dangerous Telethon being a great example. What was that experience of doing a telethon like?
It was amazing! It was so much fun! You know, it was so hectic that I didn’t have a moment until it was over. We were in the car driving back to the Airbnb, and I was like, “Oh my God, we just raised half a million dollars! Did you see who was there?” You can say whatever you want about the drag community, but when it comes to fundraising, when it comes to protecting their own, they really just go, “Okay, the drama is at the door! I can pick it up on my way out. We’re here to do a job, let’s raise this money, let’s put on a show,” and that’s exactly what it is. We walked in and from the second we passed through the door, it was like, “Go, go, go!” Everybody just worked together so beautifully. There was no drama. It was just this great big celebration of love and making sure that we were okay to raise the money and to continue to spread that love.
Drag queens have been given a spotlight more than ever before, with shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, Queen of the Universe, and movies like Hocus Pocus 2. Do you think the increased representation has played a role in why we’re now seeing so much backlash against the community?
Well, of course! It’s always the squeaky wheels that get the grease, you know? When we weren’t making any noise, when we were just kind of in our own little underground pockets, people weren’t either aware that we existed or were out of sight and out of mind; they didn’t even think about us. Now, I do want to point out that with the LGBTQIA+ community, this is not new. Attacks against the community are not new, and it feels like every couple of years, there’s a different section of our community that comes under scrutiny and becomes the new punching bag for those who don’t like us for whatever reason. For the most part, we tend to be used as a distraction politically against any other thing that the other side is trying to do. I always hate saying “the other side.” I hate picking sides, because I feel like that just furthers the divide between us, but I think there’s a definite side between those who appreciate us and those who don’t. Those who don’t tend to latch on to one thing, whatever narrative they’ve created in their mind, to punch out and use this as a distraction to throw out in the middle of the hungry sharks. You know, “Here’s a little chump for you! Just circle around that for a while while we do what we want to do over here.” It’s not new, but I think drag having hit such a mainstream place in the world – not just this country, but the entire world – I think it was inevitable that we eventually became the focal point of that.
I think what they didn’t understand when they came after the drag community is that we’ve been fighting fights from the moment we came out of the womb just to be who we are, just to feel safe, just to cultivate and create this community where we have a safe space, where we can be who we are. Now that we’re letting other people into that safe space to kind of enjoy it with us, the one thing that I’ve been saying all along since all this started was now’s the time for the allies to come in and help us fight the fight, because it takes more than showing up to a brunch and wiggling a couple of dollars in front of our face – which we do appreciate. It takes more than doing that to be an ally. If you want to celebrate in our spaces, you have to help us keep them safe. That’s why when we created the I Am What I Am campaign, we were very adamant that we had people from every community. We have our straight allies who come in and they’re like, “Yes, this is who I am as well, and the side that I’m supposed to be on doesn’t appreciate that, but I stand with you and want to let them know that it’s totally worthy, valid, and beautiful to enjoy this community even if you’re not a part of it.”
Speaking of visibility, you’re also part of Hulu’s Drag Me to Dinner series! When you were asked to join the cast, what was your favorite part about the concept of the show?
This whole thing was pure chaos! Pure chaos! I got a phone call from David Burtka, and he was like, “Hey girl, we’re working on this new show! It’s gonna be a cooking dinner party show but with drag queens,” and I said, “Okay, that sounds fun!” I’ve got my lifestyle book coming out, which is part cookbook, and so I said, “This would be a good time to go and show people that I know how to cook!” And then we get there, and the whole day was nonstop from sunup to sundown. Pure chaos. We actually cooked everything, and we set up the parties. When they watched the finished product, they didn’t even realize that because it’s cut together so quickly. It looked like we’d never be able to get those things done, but we did them! So, I want the world to know that we actually were responsible for making that awful gelatin mold with the hot dogs in it. It’s one of those things where it was so much fun! I don’t think you could ever recreate it again, because nobody really knew what they were doing. They just caught the pure chaos of the moment, but it was nice to be a part of a competition where there was nothing at stake. We could just go out there and be silly, be happy, and be fun and create.
What’s your favorite memory you have from working with Nina West as your partner on Drag Me to Dinner?
Nina and I have known each other for a very long time, and it’s one of those things where we run the same circles, but we always run opposite directions because of our schedules. When they called and said, “Hey, we’ve got Nina and we’ve got you, and we really would like to put you two together,” both of us immediately said, “Oh, absolutely! Yes, this is the chance that we’ve been waiting for!” And there’s just something about Nina that’s so effervescent. She’s just bubbly all the time, and she doesn’t have a down moment. In my world, even in something silly like Drag Me to Dinner, I tend to feel like I have so much to prove that I get bogged down in the details. I’m like, “No, no, no, we have to make sure that the meatloaf is good! We have to make sure we stack those things,” and it takes somebody special like Nina to go, “Hey, guess what? We’re gonna do all of that, and we’re gonna have a good time!” She’s always that reminder that if you just breathe and let loose a little bit, everything’s gonna fall into place… I’m glad to have friends like her in my life.
You recently revealed the book cover for Southern Fried Sass! What recipe do you think you’re most excited to share with the world?
Ooh, there’s so many! There literally are so many that are a big part of my life, because they all come from mostly my grandmother, my mother, and my husband. They’re people that are very important to me. I think the one that I’m most excited about is the one that everybody makes me make for them. It’s called biscuits and gravy. It’s my grandfather’s recipe, and you don’t get more southern than that. It’s one of those things where it’s when you take a bite of it, there’s something very familiar about it, but it’s like putting the biscuits and gravy in drag. There’s a little extra kick here, there’s a little extra secret over here, and it just heightens it. Everywhere I go, if there’s an Airbnb, whoever’s in town will be like, “Girl, you’re gonna make the biscuits and gravy this week, aren’t you?” And I do! I’ll run out to Target, I’ll get the stuff, and I’ll throw it together. It’s one of those things that just never disappoints, even if it doesn’t turn out how you want it to. It’s just still so warm and comforting.
We all have that one recipe that really sticks out!
That’s the thing! Every family has a recipe, whether it’s salsa, biscuits and gravy, or something that’s so pedestrian, really, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s through your years of the family that you’ve kind of added a little bit here, taken away something there, and makes it something totally different and special. That’s when people go, “Oh, I have never had salsa like that! I have never had biscuits and gravy like that!” That’s what makes recipes so special, and that’s why I really wanted to share that with the world. Every [recipe] that’s in my book is something familiar but in a way that you’ve never experienced before.
What are you most excited for readers to learn about you from the Southern Fried Sass book?
Well, it’s my entire life story. I feel like when you watch something like Drag Race, even having been on it three times – actually, especially having been on it three times – I feel like if you’ve watched all three of my seasons, you get an idea of who I am, but each characterization in each season is kind of opposite of the one before it. I feel like the book helps to tie those pieces together, because I’ve been on a journey in my life these last 10 years since I started doing Drag Race that’s taken me to become an entirely new version of myself. I won’t say I’m a new person, because I still have all of the qualities that I loved and didn’t love from back then, but I’ve learned how to deal with them in a different way.
I also feel like it will help people who are on their own journeys kind of realize how to overcome obstacles. It sounds so ridiculous when you say, “I’m going to overcome obstacles and live a happier, healthier life,” and whatever it may be, but it definitely is my type of self-help. This is how I helped myself, but it may not work for you, you know what I mean? I don’t want anybody to tell me what to do. I want to hear stories about people who tried different things, and it led them to where they are now: good, bad, or indifferent. I feel like we can all learn something from that, and that’s what my book absolutely does, I think, beautifully. It shares my story, the ups, the downs, the triumphs and successes, and the really, really bad fails. It does it in a way that’s funny. It’s very heartwarming. There’s moments where I read the final draft and just cried, because I felt like I was reliving it again but from an outsider’s perspective. I could actually see the growth in the story. There’s so many juicy tidbits about Drag Race that people don’t know, and not just Drag Race but Hocus Pocus and Dumplin’, and all these projects that I’ve done. There’s just so many details to kind of color in the rest of the picture of who I am.
Well, I’m so excited for people to get their hands on it. I think it’s going to be such an authentic and inspiring read for people.
You know, that is the most perfect word to describe this! It’s so authentic, and I say whether people love me or hate me, they’re going to appreciate the book. I’ve also been encouraging people: buy a copy for yourself, and then buy one and send it to somebody who needs to hear a story like mine. Maybe it’s your homophobic aunt Helen, or maybe you send a copy to Ron DeSantis, or send a copy to Donald Trump! I don’t give a shit, but get it into the hands of people who really could benefit from hearing a story like mine.
It is personal, but my story, I feel, is so universal. Even if the details are different, even if the colors that we’ve used to paint the story are a little bit different from the ones that you chose or that she chose or that they chose, the throughline of the story is something that we all struggle with day-to-day, and we could all learn a little bit more about it if we just shared our personal experiences.
Ginger Minj’s cover of “I Am What I Am” is out now.
Learn more about the I Am What I Am campaign here: https://www.whatiamcampaign.com/
Pre-order Ginger Minj’s upcoming book, Southern Fried Sass, here: https://linktr.ee/GingerMinj?lt_utm_source=lt_share_link#285562745