As I walked down the incandescent hallway leading to Juanita MORE!’s apartment, I expected that she'd be the first warm-blooded creature to greet me, prior to entering her Nob Hill studio home. You could imagine my surprise—albeit, an elated and joyous and welcomed one—when a French bulldog nuzzled my left leg, instead.
“Oh, Jackson’s not exactly the best guard,” MORE! effusively uttered, cloaked in an gold, animal-print dress and dawning hair spun higher than festival cotton candy; her brows stenciled sharper than a box cutter. Even under the aggressive overhead lighting, she radiated a rare level of positivity and poise.
Juanita MORE! represents both a touchstone and North Star for San Francisco’s drag community. For over two decades, MORE!’s graced literally countless hallowed SF institutions—from the science-centered California Academy of Sciences, occasionally spinning DJ sets at NightLife to the, shall we say, rompy stomping rounds at Powerhouse for Beat Pig.
Growing up on the Lake Merritt-side of the Bay Bridge, MORE! was drawn to art and creative musings ever since she could recall. However, it wasn’t until she laid eyes on a performance of The Neon Woman—a comedic murder mystery centered around a less-than-ideal Baltimore burlesque house run by a retired stripper, starring drag queen Divine—that she had her Oprah Ah-ha moment; it wasn’t soon after when MORE! decided to consciously make the plunge into the deepening waters of drag culture.
Fast forward a decade or…”MORE!,” the perpetually early-thirty-something took roots in New York for a good stint in the late ‘80s, having made a life-changing friendship with Glamamore. (Those who both adore and admire Glamamore already know she would later become MORE!’s, drag mother.)
Glamamore, Princess Diandra, and other tenured drag queens all strutted their stuff at Boy Bar in NYC’s East Village, where MORE! spent a good bit of those transformative years on the East Coast. Glamamore’s mothering was merely an organic outcome of that happenstance.
But MORE!’s far more than just a dolled-up (and naturally gifted) entertainer and promoter, because she’s, first and foremost in my mind, a steadfast symbol for inclusivity and empathy in the queer community. She’s a loving drag mother to a gaggle of both face-beaten, cross-dressing queens and au naturale, queer-identifying ilk; a prolific philanthropist and socio-political advocate; a bastion for creativity in all its many colors and hues; a funneling body for fundraisers, big and small, year-round; a timeless fashion icon.
She’s a gorgeous face who can pull off a pair of sky-high heels with ease. It doesn’t hurt that she can cook up quite the meal, either.
Perched atop her kitchen countertop like a regal bird of paradise, the same one she’s had pots and pans stored in the cabinets above for over a decade, MORE! waxes poetic on her love affair with chef’ing and all things cuisine. Underneath a sprawling bay leaf branch, a size akin to a peacock’s feathered backside, MORE! carefully sips a Bud Light, her beer of choice. “Food is such an incredibly important common denominator for all of us,” she says. “We all eat, and with eating and cooking, comes conversations, which can help break down walls and cross bridges.”
Despite the sobering fact MORE! left The Castro’s newest gastronomic hub, Jones—which is hastily becoming an LGBTQ, mimosa-minded go-to in the neighborhood—the woman in front of me, lined with a vine tomato-red lip, has other foodie endeavors in her future. (But, for now, let’s keep that hush-hush.) “I still think you’re the perfect person to pedestal a Drag cooking show,” I added. “If Trixie and Katya can literally garner hundreds of millions of views on YouTube by simply running their gums, backed by great editing, anything’s possible.”
MORE! sent her famously bright-white smile my way, before elegantly slid-off her elevated roosting to join us mere mortals standing on the kitchen floor below. Jackson at this point had taken drowsy respite in her bedroom—snoring. MORE! and I took this as a cue to go into a bit of high-energy, rapid-fire questioning.
Matt Charnock: I watched your conversation with Levi’s Pride on YouTube the other day, and something you said really struck me: “[...] That you had been living your entire life as an artist.” Was there a pivotal or memorable moment when you were younger that you realized just that?
Juanita MORE!: I didn’t realize that I had been living my entire life as an artist until I started to bridge the two things I loved together - drag and food. That’s when it made sense that everything I had been doing was something artistic. I was lucky as a kid to have parents that encouraged the artistic side of me. I remember once my dad said he would take to the art supply store if I went to my brothers Little League game. I still can see him waiting outside patiently as I shopped.
MC: We’ve talked about how drag can be a conduit for other things...like restauranteering and philanthropy, among others. Why do you think that is?
JM: I know that anyone can do anything if they believe in themselves and are passionate about what they are doing. I don’t have a damn dime in my purse but I am happy about what I am doing in life. Food, drag, and politics are just a part of that mix.
MC: I know you had a brief stint in NYC for a few years back in the ’80s. When you came back to The Bay Area, what bits of the New York City queer scene did you take and cherish?
JM: I loved living in NYC and fell madly in love with a boy while I was there. Our community was just starting to see a shift in AIDS diagnosis dropping thanks to protease inhibitors—though if you were poor, or a person of color you probably didn’t have access to them. Act Up was founded the year I moved there and Paris is Burning just starting filming on the piers just a block away from my apartment on West 10th Street. The East Village is where I came to understand the beauty and artistic side of drag and where I met my drag mother to be—Glamamore, one of the founders of the Boy Bar Beauties at BoyBar.
MC: 24 Years of MORE! at de Young last a few years back was an ode and testament to your work ethic. Aside from your creativity, what keeps you pushing on, year after year?
JM: The fashion show at the DeYoung which showcased 200 of the over 3000 pieces of couture Mr. David has created for me, was really a story of our friendship. He is my family, friend, and drag mother, Mr. David / Glamamore. Since we meet in New York City in 1989 the two of us have always given each other a lot of guidance, confidence, and love to continue to create and exist.
MC: Speaking of creativity, what gets your artistic juices flowing? Gallery work, photographs, the look of a stranger on the street?
JM: I get inspired by things every day. Growing up I was obsessed with old Hollywood and the magic that studios used to create the stars. I befriended the photographer Mark Veiria who was studying the style of George Hurrell’s Hollywood. Mark taught me so much about being behind and in front of a camera. I would assist him with lighting and join him in the darkroom to watch him develop and retouch film. I still carry that knowledge today. Photography has to be my favorite medium to express ‘Juanita’. I’ve never been one to just go and flow with a moving camera.
MC: Your Pride Week Parties are among, if not the best, that happen every year. I just wanted to say that.
JM: Thank you, sweetie!
MC: Your drag is always current yet timeless at the same time. How have you evolved your look over the years?
JM: I love fashion and follow trends closely. Working with Mr. David also brings change, as he isn’t someone to create the same thing twice. There are certain things that haven’t changed about my style - I love big statement jewelry and a ‘freshly fucked wig’.
MC: I know Glamamore is your drag mother. How did the relationship come to be?
JM: When I was living in New York I went to the club BoyBar to see the drag show. I made my way through the crowd to the front of the stage where I looked up at a queen that was demanding every bit of my attention. She captivated me in a way that no other queen had and for a moment I felt as though I had never seen drag before. I knew right then and there that I would someday become friends with that person onstage. The MC asked us to give her a big round of applause and introduced her as “The Hog Queen of lip sync – Glamamore.” We ended up officially meeting a year later and have been friends ever since.
MC: What were some of the favorite pieces she’s down for you over the years?
JM: That’s a tough question. I have favorite pieces of clothing for so many different reasons. And there are stories in everyone one of them. One gown is made out of 12-yards hand-dyed silk. It is draped out of one continuous piece that wraps around my body. Mr. David and I both looked at it recently and couldn’t even figure out where he started. I’ve only worn it once.
MC: You’re such a nurturing, maternal figure; light and kindness just exude from you. What do you do for yourself to keep you centered and sane? Meditate, read, smoke a bit and board the spaceship?
JM: My new found love is CBD bath salts. I’ll stop in the middle of a busy, stressful day and soak. When I emerge, I’m ready to continue with my day.
MC: Speaking of maternal figures, you’ve been a mother to more than a few now fully-fledged drag queens (Phyllis Navidad and Dulce De Leche, came to mind immediately.) How do you choose who to mother?
JM: Dulce approached me at Booty Call Wednesdays one night and asked if I would be her mother. I told her to come back the next week and I’d let her know. Sometimes you don’t get to choose!
MC: What’s one of your proudest mother-daughter moments?
JM: There have been many. The most important thing is that we all have each other’s back and continue to stand together strongly as a family.
MC: Where do you want to see drag in, say, five, ten years?
JM: It’s already in everyone’s living rooms! What more can happen?
MC: You are well overdue for your own RuPaul-moment. What, say, would you do with a camera crew and a slot on cable television?
JM: I’m interested in the stories our elders have to tell. There is so much to appreciate, applaud and learn.
MC: I know we just talked about the fact that you left Jones, but what other restaurant-minded venture do you think you’ll tackle next?
JM: I am currently looking. It’s an interesting time for food in big cities. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that we will have more time in our lives if we just get food delivered or pick something up from the prepared food section at the grocery store. What that really means is we have more time on our phones. Eating out for me has always been such a great way to socialize and communicate. When I do open a spot it will hopefully feel like people do when they come to my home - free to be themselves in a very safe, loving space.
MC: Jackson is a gem of a pup. How did you and your fur-baby meet?
JM: He was a gift. One that I didn’t realize I needed in my life at the moment. The past eight years have flown by with him. He’s the littlest thing I take care of in my life but the absolute biggest thing in my heart.
MC: Any more Frenchies in your future?
JM: Most likely.
MC: We’ve spoken about ageism in our community before—and how toxic it can be. But, like you and I know, life gets better as you tally-up those years. Now coming up on “33,” how has life as a queer-identifying human, indeed, gotten better?
JM: Well, I thought as I matured in life things would get easier. That I would find myself taking more vacations, living the life of leisure. But, I find myself in demand more than ever. People always say “it’s so great you’re busy”, I reply - “is it?”
MC: How can we, as a communal whole, support our queer elders better?
JM: As a society, we aren’t taught how to take care of our elders. Many become invisible in our community. We are a youth and beauty obsessed bunch. Patience, compassion, and intuition are great guides. Our elders have priceless stories and hold the key to our past.
By now, hours had passed. MORE!’s Bud Light clinked a hollow ring when it hit the coaster; my once half-full glass of water now ran dry. The sun was setting and my well-known low levels of extroversion had, like my cup, emptied. Nevertheless, as MORE! lead me to the front door—again passing dozens of pictorial odes to her fabulous nature, clothing optional dinner parties, and other winks at a creative, adventurous life well spent—I couldn’t wipe the ear-to-ear grin off my face.
We kissed cheeks and sent one another one last farewell wave. I intuitively knew I hadn’t solely interviewed a hero of mine, but sowed the seeds for a friendship along the way.
// Juanita More! has a pleathora of events happening including Pride brunches, Pride center stages, and so much more. Check them out at her website; https://juanitamore.com/events, Photography by Anthony Rogers.