There are few queens who are as giving to the queer community as Juanita MORE! She lip-syncs, she hosts, she DJs and on top of all that, she’s been working with nonprofits for the last 20 years. Rewind to two weeks ago when Loverboy was living its best life in San Francisco, we thought it was time we sat down with Juanita to discuss her past, present and future…
What were your first experiences of drag?
Probably in the local bars of the East Bay. The queens were very over the top, loud, pushy and demanding – to be honest I wasn’t that attracted to it when I was a young kid. But when I was in New York a few years later, I met a friend who was doing drag and he ended up moving back to San Francisco a little after I returned. One Halloween I said, ‘Oh, put me in drag!’ He was like, ‘No, I don’t want to, you’re my friend, just stay out of drag please!’ But I insisted and then just never stopped.
How was it starting out?
My drag mother, Glamamore aka Mr David, is an amazing couturier. So I was lucky that right from the start I had a professional drag queen and clothing designer, that I really looked up to, help create Juanita. To this day I’ve only worn clothes created by Mr David. That’s twenty-six years of drag and over three thousand pieces – from hats to gloves, shoes, corsets and even undergarments.
What’s changed over the years? My waistline has changed but everything else stayed true.
Has the look changed?
The look is constantly changing. Because David and I have workedon this project from the beginning, it’s become part of our creative artistry together. It’s evolving for Mr David too because he never wants to make the same thing twice.
Do you lip-sync, MC? What is your gig?
I’ve always joked that I’m not a great MC. I steer away from those type of gigs. I don’t perform all the time but when I do, it’s always special. I really do love doing it and I think it’s special for the audience as I don’t do it that often.
Which bars and clubs do you work in most?
It depends, right now I have two monthly gigs at Powerhouse in SoMa. There’s Powerblouse where we put someone in drag for the very first time and push them onstage to perform. There’s also Beatpig which we’ve been doing for over seven years. It’s one of the best monthly parties in SoMa. It has great music and hot boys. That combo just seems to work!
I also ran a weekly in the Castro for seven years called Booty Call Wednesdays which was super successful. I made so many friends and family through it. It really connected a lot of people which was great. It gave a lot of young queens the chance to experiment with drag. Every week I had different artists create a gorgeous photo booth backdrop – some of the pieces were just stunning. I haven’t done a whole lot in the Castro since then.
What are your feelings about The Castro?
The Castro has so much queer history. But I’m definitely seeing a change right now and I hope it finds its way back to something more inclusive and diverse. At the moment it is feeling a little stagnant, it is in the process of change.
Right now it is so expensive to own property in San Francisco. A good foundation of how to keep things queer both socially and politically is by having queer people owning and running businesses. The first generation of queers that arrived here in the late 70s, are coming to a time in their lives when they need to figure out what to do with it. Many of them have no family and are probably getting approached by billionaires to buy them out. So there’s going to be another big shift in the Castro over the next 10-15 years for sure.
Do you think gay youth are coming to San Francisco as much as they ever were?
They are, but it’s harder to stay and survive. Running away from home and coming to San Francisco with $500 is not going to get you very far. But the LGBT Center has some great new programs and resoucres. Lyric and GSA Network are both awesome. I started a housing group on Facebook to help get people better connected, to share rooms and find reasonable housing. People who need housing are just bombarding that group with requests to join. It’s a great resource.
You do a lot of nonprofit work. Tell me about it.
I’ve been doing non-profit stuff for close to 20 years. In the beginning I started to search out some of the city’s most needy organisations. The Tenderloin AIDS Resource Center, were really focused on supporting low-income HIV positive folks. I’ve also done a lot of work to help out queer youth and queer elders. To me those two represent two spectrums of our existence. The youth of today are going to be the voice of our represent the voices of our past. Our become more and more invisible as they get older every day in our community. It’s interesting, especially in my neighbourhood, it’s very transient, and there are lots of studio and one-bed apartments. If you are not visually aware, you just walk right by them. So I always stop and say hello. I’ve made some great friends that way.
Which other queens are you closest with here?
I have a drag family I am super close to. My drag mother Glamamore lives a few blocks from here. My drag daughter Dulce (above, right) also lives close by, my grandbaby Voo and an entire slew of drag babies. I think the whole drag community is proud of each other in San Franisco. There are different pockets and groups that feel more comfortable performing here or there but we are all supportive of each other’s endeavours.
How has drag changed?
Drag in San Francisco has always been very alternative, which is something I really love. When I look back and think of The Cockettes – I mean, just style-wise, it was absolutely incredible. During the 60s/early 70s and it was all thrift store shopping so you were able to get clothes from the 20s/30s/40s and mix it in with something new. That really represented what they looked like, which was just so fabulous. Now you could look back and think it looked crazy, but it probably wasn’t – it was probably just finding cheap stuff and throwing it together in a creative way. That was happening then and it still happens now..
San Francisco has always been a place where you can just come and be yourself. You can change who you are here and it’s totally fine. Everyone is going to accept you for who you are. I don’t always see drag like that so much in other cities. Sometimes it’s more current, and not as wacky or avant-garde as it can be here.
I think Drag Race is awesome and has done wonders for the masses of drag fans around the world. To date, Honey Mahogany has been the only San Francisco queen so far and she got kicked off wearing one of my dresses! Haha!
What song do you most enjoy lip-syncing to?
An Etta James track called ‘Feeling Uneasy.’ I’ve been doing it for years. It’s a super-beautiful, emotional song with no words. It’s really stunning. I also perform this crazy twelve minute live, jazz track called ‘Never Make Your Move Too Soon.’ I love and believe every single moment of it. I become that person telling that story.
Did I want to get into acting? No I’ve never loved movie cameras. When Dustin Lance Black was adapting ‘When We Rise’ from Cleve Jones’ book, Cleve approached me during Pride and said he wanted me to be on the show. Lance wrote the part of José Sarria for me. I got the script way in advance and that was all I studied for a month. Then I had to send in a rehearsal video and I didn’t get the role! Haha….
But besides lip-syncing, DJing and hosting, I am super busy making things happen in the nonprofit world.
What’s coming up?
I have my big Pride event at the end of June, which has been happening for 15 years now. This is the main event for me, where I focus all my energy and raise as much money for local nonprofits as I can. Last year we raised $70k which was really awesome. We split that between the LGBT Asylum project and the Q Foundation. This year our beneficiary is called TRUTH, a joint collaboration with GSA Network and the Transgender Law Center. It’s a new organisation that is allowing youth to tell their stories in hopes on changing people’s minds and hearts about what it means to be trans.
I’ve added a second party to Pride weekend and have Gavin Rayna Russom from LCD Soundsystem playing, Kim Ann Foxman and Jasmine Infiniti DJing. It’s going to be epic and is being staged at the legendary rock n’ roll venue Fillmore West which is opening its doors for the first time since 1971 just for me.
What is your favourite Mariah Carey song?
‘Butterfly’ is my favourite Mariah Carey song. I love the original but have only performed the remix. Two years ago I was a butterfly for Pride and we released 49 butterflies in honour of each victim of the Orlando nightclub massacre. When we released them, they all just wanted to stay on me! It was so emotional, it freaked me out a little bit.