An Exclusive Interview With Peaches Christ, San Francisco Drag Royalty

As drag races across our airwaves this TV season, I’ve set out to interview some of the most influential drag queens out there. Peaches Christ is a staple of the San Francisco drag scene, putting the whore in horrifying while vamping for audiences at Midnight Masses for over 15 years.
I was very fortunate that Peaches graciously agreed to be interviewed. Hear what she has to say about what makes San Francisco drag culture unique, the evolution of Peaches Christ, and the intersection of cult horror films and drag. Her answers are nothing short of a scream!
image - Flickr / DoNotLick
image – Flickr / DoNotLick

TC: What are the origins of Peaches Christ?

Peaches was born in my senior thesis film, Jizmopper: A Love Story. I was studying film production at Penn State University and the actor we’d hired to play the drag queen in the movie I was directing didn’t pull through for us so Peaches was born and stepped in to play the part. My advice to first-time drag performers is always- “Try not to put your first-time drag on 16mm film or in a movie so that people can discover it forever”.

TC: Tell me about the very first Midnight Mass.

It was the summer of 1998 and the first ever show we did was with a screening of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I came out as Peaches and held a “Mass” that concluded with a Tura Satana look-a-like contest. I was terrified nobody would show up, or worse, nobody would enter the contest. But we had a great turnout and some great contestants. Drag star Putanesca won when she cart-wheeled across the stage and karate chopped me. I couldn’t have imagined then that some years later I’d be doing shows with the actual Tura Satana!

TC: How has your relationship with film influenced your approach to doing drag?

I’ve always been super inspired by movies and so much of what I do with drag is informed by my love affair with cinema. I’m also inspired by underdogs- the “others” of the world. I like to think that Peaches Christ leads a cult of devoted followers who worship the cult movies we all love. It’s my job to create events that celebrate these movies, and I borrow lots of ideas from other cults like the Catholic Church. I think for us, the cinema is our church and we earnestly believe in these characters. We are the nerds, the freaks, and weirdos with a wicked fierce sense of humor. We’re the Dawn Weiners who grew up to become the Dawn Davenports. Both Dawns are Saints to us.

TC: Would you say Peaches Christ is more closely related to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Troll 2?

Definitely TCM because it was a movie I watched and loved as a kid. I didn’t discover the merits of Troll 2 until I was an adult and it became a “thing” but TCM shocked me and I loved it and watched it repeatedly as a pre-teen. I was obsessed with the horror and camp of it.

TC: Doing Midnight Mass you’ve had the opportunity to work with a ton of amazing talent. Is there anyone you’ve always wanted to work with but haven’t had the chance to yet?

Yes. Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Berkeley, Gina Gershon, Kathleen Turner, and Paul Reubens to name a few.

TC: Of all the drag queen film directors you have to be the most famous. How did drag influence you when making your feature film All About Evil ?

I’d say that one of the biggest influences was my ability to work together as a team, juggle lots of personalities, and direct performers because I’d been doing that for years at Midnight Mass as Peaches. In many ways making All About Evil was the logical extension to what we’d already been doing. Another way drag influenced the making of the movie might have been that I could relate to the actors as a fellow performer.

TC: Cult horror films and drag both have devout followings, but not necessarily followings you’d think overlap. By attending Midnight Mass, do you think more drag fans have been turned on to cult horror films, or more cult horror film fans have been turned on to drag?

That is such a great question! Honestly, I’m not sure I know the answer to that because I’ve definitely seen it happen both ways. I think for a long time we attracted a more cult movie audience who then recognized that they enjoyed drag and really got that we were performing sketch comedy onstage and they became fans of our drag characters through the movies they loved. Now, with the success of things like Drag Race I’d say we get drag fans as well who come for the drag and stay for the movie and find they really enjoy and “get” things like Grey Gardens that they may not have really understood before. Maybe it’s even at this point?

TC: What are the biggest similarities between horror films and drag?

For me it’s about extremes. I think both things offer participants (creators as well as spectators) a place to confront their fears and exercise their anxieties in a safe, outrageous, and creative way.

TC: You started your drag career many moons ago on the Trannyshack stage. If you put that Peaches Christ next to 2014’s Peaches Christ, what would the biggest differences be?

I’m definitely not as angry as I used to be. I think when I began performing and named myself after Jesus and started Midnight Mass or performed at Trannyshack I was a lot darker, angrier, and more punk/grunge/goth. It was all blood and guts and spooky and it was an artistic hobby that I never imagined would become a career. It was gritty and I was definitely unpolished. I think I’m more driven by comedy these days and use drag to make bigger projects that explore different ideas versus just being pissed off about how the world is unfair. I’m still pissed off about lots of the same stuff but I work with the anger in a different, less overt way. I like to think it’s more transgressive but who knows? The character of Peaches Christ has evolved for me and I had to let go of certain ideas I had and find the comedy and figure out a way to perform as the character over a longer period of time than I’d originally anticipated. Part of letting go of the anger meant letting go of my own self hatred and internalized homophobia. Whoa! Do you want me to write you a check for this therapy session?

TC: Your artistic ties outside of drag are mostly to film, but a lot of drag queens seem to be trying to make it big in the music industry (dance music, specifically). Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because so much of the drag world and culture exists in gay nightlife. That’s where it’s most popular and where the money is and those queens are probably smart to pursue that financially. I’m sure I’d have a bigger bank account if I weren’t doing these movie events. It’s expensive producing events in cinemas, paying for film exhibition rights, etc., so getting on a nightclub circuit makes a lot of sense for queens already regularly performing in gay bars.

TC: Drag culture varies a lot by city – what makes San Francisco drag culture unique?

I think one thing that makes it unique is the sheer amount of it and diversity of it. From the Trannyshack style and culture to the Imperial Court to the Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence it’s really an “anything goes” town. I always say you’re not really a San Franciscan unless you’ve got a spare costume in your closet. Even straight people do drag here. They run their annual marathon here in costume. It’s just a city full of drag. I think people associate the idea of “San Francisco Drag” with Heklina or myself or Juanita More or the Sisters because we tend to get the most attention for what we do, but the reality is that every kind of drag is here. I guess one thing that’s different from other places is that even boogers can become beloved successes. Just look at Martiny.

TC: What is the ideal future for Peaches Christ?

I’d love to keep producing events and movies here in San Francisco and then take these films and shows out onto the road. I really love the group of talented artists and creative collaborators here so I think if we can just keep doing what we’re doing, getting bigger and better, that would make me really happy.

TC: If someone were to make a pie chart of all the drag merchandise in existence, I’d be willing to bet that pie would be full of Peaches. At what point in your drag career did you realize you had created a brand?

We probably started making merchandise before we should have! I think our first Midnight Mass t-shirt came out in 2000. There’s so much Peaches merchandise out there that even I can’t keep track of it. A big part of my desire to “brand” Peaches came out of my obsession with Elvira and her being the queen of merchandising.

TC: There are many well-known drag queens whose looks are based on being “fishy.” What does being fishy mean, and how important do you think it is?

I think it means you look like a tuna or that you are a capable swimmer and can breathe underwater right? It also means you don’t smell very good. I don’t think it’s all that important really. I guess you’re looking for me to acknowledge that it’s a descriptive term used for queens who look “real” or super pretty. I love beauty as much as the next person and I love gorgeous, “fishy” queens but for every gorgeous beauty out there doing drag such as Courtney Act, I’m still attracted most to those unconventional beauties like Christeene or Dina Martina… or Heklina.

TC: What is the message behind Peaches Christ?

How about “be afraid, be very afraid”? I don’t know that I have a great answer for this other than to embrace your inner nerd, find your chosen family, laugh at life and not take yourself too seriously. Oh, and wear glitter on your face.

Find out what’s new with Peaches at Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog