Every time I see Jerick Hoffer, I’m surprised by how tall he is. Perhaps it’s his soft-spoken, almost demure demeanor that makes me think he’s shorter than he really is.
I first met Jerick over a year ago, when I had asked him to host an Academy Awards fundraiser as his drag alter ego, Jinkx Monsoon. I had seen Jinkx perform, and had been blown away by her voice and charisma. Meeting Jerick, then, and seeing how quiet, almost shy, he was, came as quite a surprise. Jerick is friendly, though, and thoughtful. We’re hardly close friends, but we always hug when we greet each other. Today is no exception.
He starts out by apologizing for being late. “Now that I’m drawing my eyebrows on, it’s important that I get them right,” he explains. “I don’t think I did this time, though,” he adds, laughing.
The past year has been a good one for Jerick’s career. Highlights include: being brought on board as the “hostess with the mostest” for Le Faux at Julia’s on Broadway (a role once filled by Shannel, another former Drag Race alum), a successful run as Angel in the 5th Ave Theatre’s production of Rent, and headlining in Balagan Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Moore. Currently, Jerick is starring in season five of RuPaul’s Drag Race, as Jinkx Monsoon, of course. His success is well deserved.
Jerick’s turn as Jinkx has been met with an outpouring of support, but it hasn’t been without criticism. Drag Race judge Michelle Visage has frequently criticized Jinkx for her lack of glamour on the runway, and Jinkx’s portrayal of Little Edie Bouvier in the recent Snatch Game episode, while critically praised, had the other contestants, who didn’t understand the reference, unsure of just what to make of her. The blogosphere went all a-twitter, of course, with the gay glitterati berating the other queens for their ignorance of gay icons.
“I normally stay out of the kind of stuff, social media, and pretend that I haven’t read it all,” Jerick confesses to me. “I finally had to say something publicly, saying that you guys should really calm down. It’s not the end of the world that Roxxy doesn’t know who Little Edie was, and Michelle was just being Michelle Visage, so you should just calm down about the whole thing,” he adds, laughing.
And Jerick, of course, is seeing the show for the first time along with the rest of us. He already knows who was eliminated and when, but, just like us, this is his first time seeing everyone else’s confessional videos. He says it’s a little weird.
“I prepared myself for the worst with this kind of stuff, and so far the worst hasn’t happened,” he says.
Jerick started working, and playing, young. A native of Portland, OR, he has been performing since the age of 12; professionally since the age of 17.
“I came out at the age of 14,” he tells me, adding, “and I became sexually active at age 17.” He wasn’t active without a proper sexual health education, however. “I was lucky to grow up in a neighborhood where there was a resource center for queer youth, so I’ve known about safe sex practices and sexual responsibility since I came out to the world as a gay man. At an early age, I learned that it’s not about what you do. It’s about doing what you do as safely as possible.”
Having all of your dreams come true, becoming a famous reality TV personality, that’s a wonderful thing. But it feels really rewarding to give a special thank you and a shout out to the people who’ve helped me out along the way.”
While growing up, his family wasn’t well off, but he was well cared for.
“My family went bankrupt somewhere along the lines of my childhood,” he says. “I grew up in a fairly modest setting. My aunt, my grandmother, and my mom did everything they could to make sure that I wasn’t wanting for too much as a child. So, I know the kindness of others, and support and help from the people that you love, whether they be family members or friends, or people that just kind of believe in you, it can supplement your livelihood when you don’t have a lot to draw on yourself.”
“That’s a convoluted way of saying I was po’,” he adds, laughing, “so now I appreciate everything that life hands me. I was raised to just believe that you get what you give, and if you’re willing to be generous, kind, and selfless to others, then you’ll receive that same kind of kindness in return.”
It was this experience then, of relying on the kindness of others, that taught him the importance of giving generously. Giving back for Jerick includes, among other things, volunteering for an ad campaign reminding people of the importance of getting tested for HIV and STDs for Gay City Health Project, a Seattle non-profit that provides free, anonymous or confidential HIV/STD screening.
“I’ve heard the success stories of queer youth in very same situations to me,” he says. “I’ve heard the success stories of queer youth who were kicked out of their house just for coming out to their parents, and had it not been for the charity of others, who knows where they would’ve ended up, who knows how their life could’ve taken a turn for the worse, and instead they’re now fully happy, healthy, full-grown adults living their lives whether or not the rest of their family accepts them. They’ve found a chosen family in their community that’s helped them get through the hard parts. In my own moments, of my own life, I know that, had there not been certain resources or certain friends out there, who knows where I’d be right now? I hope that some of the things that I do and some of the ways that I give back will provide the same kind of success stories for others in the future.”
It’s this same generosity of spirit that RuPaul herself is known for, I suggest.
“I felt that way, too,” he agrees, adding, “and meeting her I felt that I was right about assuming that. She’s a tough judge sometimes, but her mission statement is clear and she really lives up to it.”
Jerick’s hard work is clearly paying off. His plans for the year include auditioning for another piece at Balagan Theatre, as well as a couple of potential projects under negotiation at 5th Ave Theatre. “I probably shouldn’t say what until they’re official,” he admits. This year is really all about Jinkx, however, with the publicity he’s been receiving with his Drag Race appearance.
“Having gone on RuPaul’s drag race, a lot of opportunity has opened up for me to travel a lot. I’m hoping that through traveling I’ll get the opportunity to shift the focus, to hold up the magnifying glass a little bit to Seattle and the wonderful things that we have here.”
Jerick is keen, however, to ensure that his time in the spotlight includes the recognition of the people that have been there with him along the way to his success.
“We have some amazing drag talent [in Seattle],” he says, “like Ursula Android, Dina Martina, Jackie Hell, Robbie Turner, and Ben Delacreme. If I get to help their notability, because they’re the kind of people who inspired me on my way to auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race, then I’ll be happy.”
Again, for Jerick, it’s about a generosity of spirit as much as anything else.
“Having all of your dreams come true, becoming a famous reality TV personality, that’s a wonderful thing. But it feels really rewarding to give a special thank you and a shout out to the people who’ve helped me out along the way.”
I think the number one message I would give to queer youth today is to be smart and to be safe, and that’s in all areas of life.”
It’s also important for Jerick to use his platform as a way to bring a little hope to the queer kids out there that may be watching him or even idolizing him. It’s inspiring, really, to hear him talk about what he wants kids, and even people in general, to learn from him. Where most people might want to push their latest iTunes download, he wants people to know about his drag friends. He wants people to be kind to one another.
“I think the number one message I would give to queer youth today is to be smart and to be safe, and that’s in all areas of life,” he says, thoughtfully. “That means being responsible, it means being tested, it means being friendly and courteous to people, you know? I think to be smart and be safe means to take responsibility for yourself, examine situations from all angles, never put yourself in jeopardy, even if you’re so angry inside that you want to punch a hole in the wall. And I’ve been there.”
“I couldn’t do it because of my nails,” he jokes, showing off his delightfully turquoise painted fingertips.
Jerick is speaking from experience, of course. Being out in high school, even in an open-minded city like Portland, can have it’s share of trouble to deal with. But Jerick is one of those people who’ve used the troubles of their past to make them an even stronger person today.
“I’ve been harassed and attacked in high school,” he admits. “I’ve felt that kind of rage that can only come from having a bunch of hate thrown at you. I went to high school as a queer teenager. I’ve had all kinds of things said to me. I’ve been harassed, I’ve been threatened, and I’ve been physically attacked before. I know that can fill you with a certain amount of rage. The hardest thing sometimes is to let that rage go and continue to be the kind of person you want to be.”
It’s not that he’s without fear, insecurity, or anxiety, of course. Even on the show, the distress he feels when he’s dressed down by the judges or queens for his “lack of glamour” is apparent.
“I think it’s easy when you get a lot of hate thrown at you to turn around and throw that hate back into the world,” he explains. “I think the more that we can reflect upon ourselves and accept that that’s not who we want to be, that’s not the energy we want to perpetuate, then we can put that kind of hate to rest.”
If you have the opportunity to catch Jerick performing, whether on stage or as Jinkx, you’d be crazy not to do it, because this guy is definitely going places. For more information on Jerick, check him out at jinkxmonsoon.com