In a teal, circa-1960 Chevrolet convertible with prominent tailfins, two drag queens with prominent hair flanked two politicians. It was the evening of Tuesday, June 5, the Chevy was cruising through the Castro, and it seemed as though former state Senator Mark Leno might be on the cusp of an historic victory. Leno, who would have been the first progressive to eke out a win for the office in decades, as well as San Francisco’s first LGBTQ mayor, sat in the back. Rafael Mandelman, who would win a seat representing the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, rode shotgun. The two drag queens were long-standing fixtures around town: Donna Sachet and Juanita More.
More had vocally backed Leno for years, later telling SF Weekly that his plan for ending chronic homelessness by 2020 was the best reason to support him, although it was “kind of baffling and weird” that S.F. had yet to elect a queer mayor.
An alliance between Leno and fellow progressive Sup. Jane Kim seemed like a strategy to guarantee a win for one of the two progressives whose platforms were nearly identical. On the three-page voting guide pdf on her website, More wrote, “If you’re not putting Mark first, well, that’s your mistake, but you’d better put him second!” His stamina after a long campaign impressed her in the back of that vintage Chevy.
“I get there and look at him, and I’m like, ‘You look rested, you look happy.’ ” she recalled. “And he says, ‘I’m so happy about everything.’ I was like, ‘That’s the guy I want to be my mayor.’ ”
But it was not to be. Over the coming days, Board of Supervisors President London Breed pulled ahead in the ranked-choice system as the final ballots were tallied, prevailing by 2,500 votes, or barely more than one percentage point. A week after the election, More tweeted, “If you did not vote in this election, get off my back bc I intend to hold this new administration accountable in high heels.”
Earlier this decade, LGBTQ people in America grew accustomed to hearing good news during Pride month — often, straight from the Supreme Court. This year, though the Court surprised legal analysts with a 7-2 ruling in favor of a Colorado bakery’s claim that religious freedom meant not having to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Coupled with the mayoral race and the general tenor of politics in Washington — which ranges from stupefying national embarrassments to the chilling creep of fascism — Pride 2018 would appear to be comparatively muted, if not outright depressed. But that is not quite the case.
Juanita More is 26 years old and a creation of two people, each older than that: More herself, and her drag mother, Glamamore, aka Mr. David. A quarter-century collaboration has yielded a nightlife character who is less known for recycled punchlines, mugging, or outlandishness than for exuding a sort of welcoming unapproachability. In photographs, her half-smiles are pure Old Hollywood, and she can smolder with a look that says, “Come hither, to await further orders.” Juanita More — or Juanita More! — is a consummate hostess, an entertainer on stage and off. She attributes this to her father’s volubility and her mother’s cool reserve, but the persona didn’t emerge fully formed.
Juanita and David met in New York in the ’80s, where Glamamore was already an established presence in the world of drag and elsewhere. While they’d cooked together at a catering company, More had no interest in being a drag queen until the week before Halloween 1992, when she was already living in San Francisco.
“You have to put me in drag!” More remembers begging Glamamore. “He said, ‘No, please don’t make another friend of mine want to be a drag queen!’ Also, David was teasing me: ‘You’re not going to be pretty, let’s just start there.’ ”
Separately, Glamamore remembers it similarly: “I was like, ‘You are going to be hideous. He was in heels hopping up and down this hallway like a truck driver, and I thought, ‘This is going to be awful.’ And then I was putting makeup on him, like, ‘Oh, you have almond-shaped eyes. You are going to be fine.’ But there was nothing before Juanita that alluded to a shred of femininity.”
That was during the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic, and More wasn’t partying much. But going out unrecognized was liberating, and she wanted to do it again. Then again. Friends from New York sent Dolce and Gabbana and Vivienne Westwood, straight from the showroom. Like a statue the gods very slowly breathe life into, Juanita took shape.
“I don’t feel like any part of Juanita’s beginnings were me,” she says. “It was everybody else — everybody’s vision to make me be this thing they all loved.”
She and Glamamore created The Fish Stix, performing around town in shows like Born Wrong, The Fish Stix in Hot Water, and Tender Loins, and More became a regular at Heklina’s monthly party, Trannyshack (which has since been renamed Mother and become a weekly event at Oasis). That pre-internet era was when you got publicity solely by mailing out promotional material.
“We didn’t just send out paper, but a handwritten, three-page note written in lipstick with glitter and nails that flew out,” Glamamore recalls. “Which was very good — we got such attention. Back in ’93-’94, in the Weekly we got the middle page.”
Things snowballed. More ran events like Booty Call Wednesdays at Q Bar and a short-lived but well-received Wednesday happy hour at the Starlight Room a few years ago. It drew an unusually stylish crowd to Union Square until the Sir Francis Drake Hotel’s management put the kibosh on it. She runs several events at the Powerhouse, among them Beatpig (her every-third-Saturday party with Walter Gomez and Stanley Frank, which combines fashion with bondage demonstrations) and PowerBlouse (a first-Saturdays benefit whose main event involves someone who’s never done drag before getting the royal treatment).
Elliott C. Nathan’s LOADS OF LOVE mural outside the Powerhouse is a reference to a sign-off of More’s, and her French bulldog Jackson appears in the O in Love. A less well-trained pup might lunge at the eggplant in the V, if not the bottle of poppers in the L.
Early in the aughts, More began to throw a Pride Sunday party, which for 2018 has become two parties, one on Saturday night and another Sunday afternoon. Glamamore had done numerous HIV/AIDS benefits for years, and this was partly an extension of that.
“But,” Glamamore says, “there’s tons of organizations you do a benefit for and you’re like, ‘Did it go anywhere?’ With this, Juani can spearhead it and she knows exactly where the check is going. Control queens? I don’t know. Maybe.”
More’s parties have raised upward of $450,000 for various nonprofits, and this year’s beneficiary is Truth, a joint collaboration between the Transgender Law Center and the GSA Network (formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance) that’s short for “trans youth.” Confident, articulate, transgender teens move her deeply, since she admits she wasn’t nearly as brave a queer at that age.
“They’ve never met each other,” she says of the beneficiaries. “They’ve only Facetimed and shared each other’s videos. I haven’t told them this yet because I don’t know how much money we’re going to raise, but I would love it if I could get them all in the same room.”
As in, Juanita More chaperoning a gaggle of underage trans kids around San Francisco, some of them for their first time?
“We’d have the most amazing seminars for them,” she says. “And take them to fabulous places. Facebook is one of our sponsors, and they were like, ‘Bring them all down here, we have great trans leaders here.’ ”
If Yogi Berra’s axiom that no-one-goes-there-it’s-too-crowded still holds up, then the inverse applies to More’s Pride party: It can feel as though everyone makes an appearance, and no matter how packed it is, it’s still fun.
“I just feel like, for even five minutes, if a party isn’t completely packed, then it wasn’t a party,” More says. “It’s that moment where I can’t move — when I have my naked dinner parties, and all of a sudden I turn around and I’m like, ‘I can’t move, I’m going to knock all the dicks out of my way.’ ”
It’s in high demand, too. More recently posted the following on Facebook, presumably to quash further requests to get on the list:
Dear Lovers and Friends (that I have not heard from in almost exactly one year),
Please forgive me for not responding to your text messages regarding JM! Pride tickets. I’m busy combing my hair.
Loads of Love,
Mark Leno attends the Pride party every year. For what it’s worth, More says he’s been to Beatpig, too.
At the heart of everything is the design collaboration between mother and daughter.
“David and I have bounced things off each other and created the most amazing, crazy, museum-worthy things out of nothing. Some of the patterns he’s made for me, even when we did the [2016 Mr. David] fashion show at the de Young, we’d dig around and pull something out and both be like, ‘Remember when you wore that?’
“One of the pieces is 12 yards of hand-dyed silk. It’s one continuous piece, draped,” she continues. “So stunning. I think I’ve worn that once. I have that habit, too — sometimes I go to Britex and buy fabric that I can’t afford or that I’ve saved up for, but another time I’ll go to the dollar-yard table. Douglas, who’s been there forever, he’s just awesome. We love each other. He comes to my Pride party every year, too.”
Glamamore refers to Juanita as the “original More boy” because way back when, in boy-drag, More would carry his bags and act as an entourage or escort. The roles have largely reversed, and Glamamore calls himself the second original More boy, although the network has expanded.
“I’m the mother, so I’ll tap one of them on the shoulder: ‘Go get Juani a drink. Go do this. She needs that. Get her train out from under the chair right there,’ ” Glamamore says. “Things no one hears about. A lot of [drag mothers] just paint their kids and send them out into the world. It’s this whole art project I’m working on — sometimes, it feels like we’re continually making this one art project.”
The House of More has children all over the world, from Miss Rahni and VivvyAnne ForeverMORE in San Francisco to Suppositori Spelling in Los Angeles, with many others in London and elsewhere. As with Patsy Stone on AbFab, unable to state how many siblings she has because “Mother was such a slut,” Glamamore has lost count of her drag children. Some students from Berkeley attempted a family tree, but, Glamamore says, “Juani and I were like, ‘Good luck!’
“We don’t have a family tree,” he says. “It’s a bush with vines in and around and through it. In our family, it’s possible to be your own grandmother.”
Although neither is partnered, their relationship has a spousal, you’re-the-first-person-I-text-in-the-morning dimension to it, with frequent check-ins. When pressed, Glamamore isn’t entirely sure why he’s expended so many hours on his lifelong art project — or even where the money comes from.
“I’ve literally been paid for a gown in a pot of beans. But I seem to go through this life and all of my needs are met — and the occasional want,” he says. “I’ve been flown around the world several times and I get to lead this magical, fairy-dust life, and I’m very fine and happy.”
It’s almost like Quentin Crisp, who once said something to the effect that if you know enough people and get invited to enough cocktail parties, you never have to go grocery-shopping. (“I used to do that with him,” Glamamore admits.) Illness laid him low during the past year or so, but he’s ready to get back into performing, but even when he was unwell, friends made sure to check in.
“All the kids made sure I was OK in their little ways. That’s my wealth,” he says. “I’m a hippie, a full-blown hippie. The high-fashion Mr. David of New York is crunch-granola.”
While reluctant to enumerate specifics for fear of becoming overwhelmed, as of June 8, Glamamore had about 16 to 20 pieces to sew and assemble for Pride. San Francisco is not a late-night town, but Mr. David will run around SoMa and elsewhere all evening, from show to show, helping people look good and keeping the party going.
“I like to help people become better performers and drag queens, because I want to go to a bar and be entertained. So if I can help you become better, then it’s my whole selfish part,” he says. “If you know the right people, you never have to go home — to sleep.”
Six years ago, More began hosting naked dinner parties [NSFW!] in her garden apartment of 30 years — which happens to be full of Juanita More fan art. Pictures of her in a Norman Rockwell style occupy wall space across the room from a close-up portrait that shows only her wig, one made-up eye, and a flower behind her ear. They’re near a Teddy Bryce print of Justice and Lady Liberty about to kiss, and above Jackson’s water dish.
In what is technically a studio, she’s had guest chefs from well-regarded restaurants like David Williams from Bull Valley Roadhouse or Cory Armenta of the former HECHO cook for a bunch of nude dudes who all eat standing up. The first was for the defunct magazine Das Einhorn, although they’ve been profiled in VICE and Mouthfeel as well. She’s planning a cookbook based on the dinners — along with a restaurant or supper club.
Lacking the $2 million it would take to build out a raw space, she and some co-conspirators have scouted possible locations in the Castro and Polk Street, including the home of a former fern bar that was among the classier gay-owned places in San Francisco way back when. The idea would be to showcase Northern California cuisine and the work of local artists — but with a degree of showmanship that’s arguably been missing in S.F. since Stars closed. More wouldn’t be the chef, but the restaurateur — in the working-the-floor sense of the word, before the so-called empire builders.
“It’s not just food-focused, because it has to be a party, with a great bar,” More says. “I know that people are going to come and walk in and be, ‘Where’s Juanita?’ I’ve got to be there all the time. That’s the magic of Juanita.
“I gotta have my hands in everything,” she adds. “It’s a joke, but when I die, wouldn’t it be great to have everyone say, ‘And the bitch had a restaurant in San Francisco? She also had a fucking restaurant.’ ”
In the meantime, the magic of Juanita made something else remarkable happen. The intersection of Market Street and Van Ness Avenue has an unfortunate building on every corner: a Walgreen’s, an all-night doughnut shop, a Bank of America regional office that shuns pedestrian-level urbanism, and a Honda dealership. That dealership was once the site of the Fillmore West, which Bill Graham ran for three years until it closed forever after a five-night concert series early 1970s. Forty-six years later, a venue that once played host to Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, and Jefferson Airplane will reopen as SVN West for Juanita More’s Saturday night Pride party on June 23.
“When I walked into that room for the first time last November just to look at it, I was like, ‘Whoa, the energy.’ It’s getting spruced up and it’s going to open up for me that night. It hasn’t had music in it since 1971!
“How do these things happen? Who the hell am I?” she asks. “I don’t know. It’s crazy, but there’s a part of me that’s worked hard to make things happen. I’m a dreamer and a doer, and I’m great at making things from nothing. That’s how I create anything. All right, you have no money? You have no supplies? Let’s Mickey-and-Judy this and have a party. It’s always how I’ve done everything that I’ve done.”