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 wen I was in New York a few years later, I met a friend who was doing drag and we both ended up moving back to San Francisco at the same time. 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, that I really looked up to, making all my clothes for me. To this day I’ve only worn Mr David. That’s twenty-six years of drag and over three thousand pieces of clothing – from hats to gloves, shoes, corsets and undergarments. I also had such a great slew of hairdressers who wanted to do my hair.
What’s changed over the years? I think that I care about people and that I have my feet on the ground. The waistline has changed but those things have stayed true.
If the personality has stayed the same, has the look changed?
The look has constantly evolved, yes. Because I have worked with Mr David from the beginning, that’s part of our creative artistry together. It’s evolving for Mr David too because he doesn’t want 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. It’s special for me because I love it and I think it’s special for the audience too 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 first time, which is always fun. There’s also Beatpig which we’ve been doing for seven years. It’s one of the best parties. It has great music and hot boys. That just seems to work!
I had a weekly in the Castro for seven years called Booty Call Wednesdays which was super successful and fun. 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 we had a gorgeous photo booth every week, a different artist created a different 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?
Well The Castro definitely has so much history for the queer community. But I’m definitely seeing a change there and I hope it gets guided back to something more inclusive and diverse. I just see it as being really stagnant.
Also property is so expensive and that’s really the foundation of how to keep things queer both socially and politically, by having queer people owning and running businesses. The first generation of queers that came here in the late 70s, are coming to the time when they could sell their property or see what to do with it when they pass. In most respects they probably just want to sell it to someone with the most money. That’s not me. So there’s going to be another big shift in the Castro in the next 10-15 years for sure.
Do you think gay youth are coming to SF 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 centre has some great new programmes. Lyric and GSNetworks are both awesome. I started a housing group on Facebook to help get people better connected, to share rooms and find reasonable housing. People are just bombarding that group with requests to join, as people are coming and need a place to live.
You do a lot of nonprofit work. Tell me about it.
I’ve been doing non-profit stuff for close to 20 years. I’ve worked with a bunch over the years, but in the beginning I started to search out some of the city’s needy organisations, like the Tenderloin AIDS resource centre, who were really focused on the low-income and people who were HIV positive. I’ve also helped queer youth and queer elders. To me those two are extremes because they are both ends of our lives and probably the most important. Youth are going to be my voice in the future and queer elders are important because at a certain point they just become invisible. It’s interesting because especially in my neighbourhood, it’s very transient, a lot of studios and one bed apartments. There are a lot of elderly people living alone. 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) lives here. We’re all close. I think the whole drag community is close in SF but different pockets and groups feel more comfortable performing in different bars.
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 coquettes, I mean, just style-wise, it was late 60s/early 70s and it was thrift store shopping so they were able to get clothes from the 20s/30s/40s and mix it in with something from the 60s. That really represented what they looked like, which was 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. That was happening then and it still happens now..
SF is always a place to me where you can come and be yourself. You can change who you are here and it’s totally fine. Everyone is going to accept you for being yourself. 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.
Drag Race is awesome and has done wonders for a lot of people. 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 12 minute live, jazz track called ‘Never make your move too soon.’ I just love 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 in the show. He wrote the part of José Sarria for me. I got the script way in advance and that was all I listened to 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. This is the main event for me, where I focus all my energy and raise as much money for nonprofits as I can. Last year we raised $70k which was awesome. We split that between the LGBT asylum project and the Q foundation. This year our beneficiary is called Truth, a joint collaboration with GSNetwork and the Transgender Law Centre in the Tenderloin. It’s a young new organisation that is young kids telling stories about being trans and hopes to change people’s minds about what it means.
That’s my biggest project, but I’ve also decided to add a second party to my weekend which is crazy. We have Gavin Rayna Russom from LCD Soundsystem playing. Kim Ann Foxman too. This is her third time DJing for me. She told me she keeps coming back because she loves that I am doing such great things for the community which is nice.
What is your favourite Mariah Carey song?
‘Butterfly’ was one of my favourites. I love the original but yes, I think I have performed the remix. I don’t know how good it is. That could have been a drunken night. Last year I was a butterfly for Pride. Last year we released 49 butterflies in honour of the victims of the Orlando club massacre. We released them and they all just wanted to stay on me! It was so emotional, it just freaked me out.