Keeping house: The story of the MOREboys, and being a drag mother

  • by Juanita MORE!
  • Wednesday August 1, 2018
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House of MORE! staged a mini-Juanita fashion show as a performance in 1998, at Union Square on Grant Street. photo: Kent Taylor
House of MORE! staged a mini-Juanita fashion show as a performance in 1998, at Union Square on Grant Street. photo: Kent Taylor

The recognition and representation of queer family on Ryan Murphy's FX series Pose is so important. This trans-history-making television show is letting the world see what chosen black and latinx queer family roles look like, and it is really exhilarating.

Though ballroom culture has been around for decades, it was never directly a part of my queer upbringing, especially because I am a West Coast baby gay. I moved to New York City in 1987 around the same time that Murphy's series takes place, living just a half a block away from the West Side Highway where the documentary Paris Is Burning was filmed.

Second and third generation MOREboys with Juanita MORE! (center) on New Year's Eve 2015 at The Stud. photo: Gooch  

I loved what was happening in the ballroom culture. It was pushy, empowering and original. I especially loved when a battle would spontaneously break out in the middle of a dance floor at 4 AM.

I've always been a mother. I've always taken care of, taught and inspired people that come into my life, including wallflowers, loners, and those that felt invisible. In the mid-1990s, my family started to grow with a flock of boys. The MOREboys. They got their title when I was in production for a big show here in San Francisco. The boys were becoming popular being seen with me at various benefits, clubs, and events.

It was at that time that I felt they needed to have the recognition they deserved for all their support with my philanthropic efforts. I remember sitting with Mr. David over an evening gown, trying to figure out how we were going to bill them for this one specific event we were participating in. We threw a lot of ideas around that day; the one that kept coming back was MOREboy.

MOREboys David and Jason's wedding, with Juanita MORE! officiating, in 2014 at Bull Valley Roadhouse, Port Costa CA. photo: Kevin Quach  

And it stuck. There are unspoken generations of MOREboys. They loved and were excited about the art, people, and culture that surrounded us. The MOREboys were constantly a part of my entourage and participated in my artwork, lifestyle, and helped to create and communicate my persona to the larger San Francisco queer communities.

In 2005, Jennifer H. Dworkin wrote a thesis titled: MOREboys: Generating and Expending Social Capital. It won her an award in the field of Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology.

She said: "I have to get to know this woman, Juanita MORE! Not only does she have MOREBOYS, men who trail behind her in the spotlight in absolute devotion to her and her cause, but Juanita has men who are training to devote their lives to her. This is incredible! Her closet is an extravaganza of couture, in hues of rich colors, shapes, intricate patterns and designs.

"The range of wigs, jewels, bags, and make-up punctuate this dreamland. Her closet reflects the personality of her world; each costume tells a different tale, and each accessory is as beautiful and original as the men who surround her. This world is a hidden jewel in the chaos of a cold city. It is the glittery mask of a modest humanitarian, someone who devotes her life to her art, her friends, and to charity.

MOREboys dress rehearsal in 2004 for the Miss Trannyshack Pageant at Lines Dance Center.  

"This is the world of Juanita MORE! Each item of Juanita's comes together perfectly to weave a history of a glamorous fantasy. This fantasy is a public story, yet it is deeply personal and respected by those who have helped to imagine and produce it, by those who have stood by it, supported it, and learned from it. They are the devotees of this dreamland. They are the MOREboys."

What Jennifer was witnessing was the formation of a chosen queer family. She spent a lot of time interviewing the boys and understanding their roles and purpose in my life. Almost always, the conversations circled back to their love for the person I am, whether it was in or out of drag.

My tiny apartment has been a place where we have shared family dinners, birthdays, holidays, and some very late night parties. It's been filled with laughter and inspiration but also a place of refuge, and emotional support. A lot of people consider it home base.

Juanita MORE! the 1999 Miss Trannyshack Contest, held at City Nights. It was Juanita's first time wearing the faux-nude bodysuit by Mr. David. photo: Farika  

Said MOREboy Jason, "MORE! is my chosen family. I fell into this family at a time in my life when my given family was either out of my life or very far away. When I think about it, I would say Juanita found me. I didn't know what she wanted when she sat next to me at the bar, but I immediately felt at ease. She was soft but confident and so easy to talk to.

"We went to Trannyshack that Tuesday night at The Stud and I carried the train of her dress throughout the crowded bar, never letting it touch the ground. We've been family for almost 20 years now. We've performed together, we've partied together and we have dinners together - though not often enough. Juanita was the officiant for my wedding in 2014, which took place a little over seven months after my mom died. On that day, she was more of a mother to me than she could have ever known."

I see a lot of myself in Mj Rodriguez's character Blanca in Pose. I didn't necessarily start off wanting to create a "house" but found myself very comfortable in the role of Mother. Like her, I have supported and nurtured many people that have come into my life.

And I haven't taken that role lightly. My family has grown in so many ways over the years and now includes drag daughters, granbabies, nieces, nephews and many boys without titles. We live in a rapidly changing city filled with people who sometimes need some motherly advice. I know that whether they are near or far, they all will never forget the chosen family that we created together.