On Celebration, Appreciation, and Gratitude for 30 Years of Drag in San Francisco

For the past three decades, I’ve been the prettiest denizen of San Francisco’s nightlife — and I feel eternally grateful for the continued success of Juanita MORE!.

We are at the end of 2022 and seeing a massive influx of LGBTQIA+ people in America facing discrimination daily. And state legislatures are advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate are seriously out of control.

The exhibit Juanita: 30 Years of MORE! that will be closing in a few weeks means so much to me on many different levels. During Pride Month, celebrations happen nationwide. In addition, the community and its allies remember historical events such as Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria Riots. And, there is a long list of iconic queer figures, many of who have passed to honor –– their history is not taught in schools or celebrated at the level of power it should be. 

Minoosh Zomorodinia Photography

So, it is a great honor to be acknowledged for my thirty years in drag at the San Francisco Arts Commission and with my community. It is incredible to share my story while I am still here to tell it. I do not take the honor lightly, especially since we live in a time when social media likes and trending hashtags are considered winning. 

In the exhibit, I share my gratitude and appreciation to everyone who contributed to the formation of all things Juanita MORE! Over the years, brilliant collaborators have paved the way for many iconic moments in our artistic community that has continued shaping my creativity. 

Photo: Aaron Wojack / San Francisco Arts Commission

I am beyond honored to showcase the genius of couturier Mr. David — who has been the only person to design clothing for me exclusively. We displayed a small fraction of the massive collection that has been amassed over the past thirty years. My entire wardrobe includes over 4,000 pieces of couture, including hats, gowns, coats, gloves, handbags, and even shoes.

Shot In The City Photography

Mr. David also carries the title of my “drag mother”; he has given me the utmost respect for what I do when I put on a wig. He first put me in drag and painted my face the weekend before Halloween in 1992 — “you’re gonna be hideous!” Well, I wasn’t; I never was and never will be ugly. I’ve loved it all, and I haven’t stopped.

Mr. David shared these thoughts, “As my muse in the worlds of style and fashion, Juanita has proven more daring, ravenous, exciting, and inspiring than I hoped. Whether throwing 1 1/4 yards of fabric at me and asking for a full-length ball gown or demanding a micro-mini dress out of 25 yards of fabric, she has continually challenged me. And just when I thought I’d done “it all,” she literally drags me back in at full steam, rekindling my joy and desire to keep creating. This is a gift worth more than can be imagined. 

And in those darker days of my career, Juanita has inspired, pushed, pulled, pleaded, cajoled– many times coerced with the best food I’ve ever eaten–all to keep me going. Because of the person behind the padding and in front of all that is fantastic, artists from every walk of life, myself included, continue to be enthralled and impassioned by the wonderful; my daughter, friend, and muse Juanita MORE!”

When I think about the past thirty years, it all plays like a movie rewinding at high speed — full of detail, stories, and characters, rich with visuals that are full of vivid colors and textures that blur together like a kaleidoscope. So likewise, this review of my life in drag involves a roller coaster of emotions. Yet, I’ve never claimed ownership of Juanita’s creation. Instead, I’ve been the vehicle that brought her to life through the work of many talented artists. And this exhibit is my loads of love letters to all of them.

Daniel Nicoletta Photography, 2005

I reached out to MOREboy Joey, who said, “reflecting upon 30 years of Juanita’s living body of work, public performances and private portraits, intimate dinners and Imperial Courts, there is always and forever a sense of family, of community to everything she does.” 

Joey continued to glow: 

“More than just a muse, more than just a collaborator or performer, MORE! has become a mentor to many, establishing through example and deed an outlet for so many to express themselves. In that sense, a retrospective focusing on the legacy of MORE! is as much a lesson in fabled queer genealogy as a celebration of MORE! ‘s chosen family and the impact she has had upon them and, in turn, on others. For those who know MORE! and the world she has shared with them; while a home is many things to many people, her house is where we decidedly belong.”

I want to thank everyone that has taken the time to see the exhibit. Thank you to the San Francisco Arts Commission staff, curator and artist Marcel Pardo Ariza, my friends and family, and everyone who contributed to this exhibit and believed ‘Juanita MORE!’ should be celebrated.

Can I retire now? Here’s my Venmo: @juanita-more

Loads of Love, 

Juanita MORE!

// Juanita: 30 Years of MORE is running from now until November 12 at the SFAC Main Gallery, (401 Van Ness Ave, Suite 126); the exhibit is free and open to the public, Wednesday through Saturday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; for more information, visit sfartscommission.org/experience-art/exhibitions/juanita-30-years-more

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