THE HOUSE OF MORE
Just a few blocks from the newly gentrified Twitter-verse of Mid-Market Street, on one of the realest corners that San Francisco’s Sixth Street has to offer, is the abode of Mr. David, aka Glamamore.
The honorific ‘Mister’ is a throwback to a mid-century usage, applied only to hairdressers or costume designers. Two heavy-duty Singer sewing machines below the worktable in the apartment, plus a cup full of every size of makeup brush in the bathroom, provide proof of both these professions. A large publicity photo of Judy Garland on the wall suggests we are in the presence of drag royalty. Might the non-stop hand and arm gestures, without which Glamamore apparently cannot speak, indicate some Southern European provenance? A talk with Mr. David illuminates these gestural proclivities, among others.
With Society, Propriety
Glamamore: My father is Italian and Spanish, but I don’t use that last name because it is his. Growing up in New York everybody assumed I was Jewish, since all my best friends were. I had the Italians on one side, and the Jews on the other, so my hands came into play with any conversation. And it helped my drag career—I’m very expressive with my hands.
I had a Scottish grandmother who never lost her brogue, and she was one of the foundation pieces of my life. My mother was from New England, so when those speech patterns came into the mix, she didn’t like it because, you know, speaking properly.
I was raised proper, my mother was raised proper, and what that matters now I am not sure. Though born and raised a city kid I was never allowed to sound New York. I grew up loving accents and I could do everyone’s accents, but as myself I was as neutral as possible.
Couturier to the Counterculture
MF: So being a drag queen is probably not what your mother had in mind.
Glamamore: I don’t know what they had in mind for me, but I started sewing when I was three years old, my mother let me, actually she was encouraging about it. I was making adult clothing by age eight and had some sort of business designing since 1978. Also, I was an actor and singer as a child, so the whole drag thing was a natural progression. I’d been living for a couple of years as a character named Edie, à la Sedgwick. I weighed 113 pounds! It was so much easier to comport myself down the streets of New York City if people assumed that I was a girl and not a young faggot.
Years later, a roommate wanted to start a drag club and asked if I would like to do drag. Though I’d lived as Edie, I’d never tried performing as a drag queen. At that time in New York the lowest thing on the totem pole was being a drag queen, so I was immediately intrigued! At that first performance I hit the stage and came in First Runner-up. I was sold. I’ve done plays and been in movies, little parts here and there, but to be able to deliver an entire Shakespeare play in three minutes and get the accolades right there on the spot—that was so appealing to me. I never left the stage from that time on.
The Mothering of Us All
As far as drag families go, I didn’t have a drag mother. I had bunches of people who were far older than I was who were telling me about Theda Bara and Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, bringing me to these movies and teaching me all this stuff. I felt very fortunate. Not only did I have my real grandmother who had been a flapper in the Twenties, but I had all these old queens and transsexuals dragging me along. I got addicted to performing almost immediately. The original place was Boy Bar, the Pyramid Club was just around the corner—that was Lady Bunny, Taboo and Happi Phace. RuPaul came up from Atlanta shortly after that. Joey Arias was around. I’d known Joey since before I was Edie. Then there was the Palladium, Limelight [in a deconsecrated Episocapal church on W. 20th], Danceteria, Area—the Tunnel was one of my main places, a huge club [it was cavernous, held in a closed NY Subway stop].
I became a mother early on. I was sort of living in this bar, doing shows twice a week and then shows all over the city. Being in the bar, I’d be making costumes and rehearsing numbers all week; everybody was coming to me with “How do I do this number, this makeup, that hair.” Maybe I wouldn’t have become such a mother so soon, if so many people had not started dying of AIDS.
There was a generation gap when everybody started dying off in the ‘80s, a disconnect, but I felt that I had all this knowledge that I had been taught. So I kept passing it on, and that sort of threw me into the motherhood role. And I must admit, early on with my own mother, I was basically her mother so there was this mothering thing right out the gate. There are many people who say they are a mother to somebody just because they put them in drag the first time. That’s not really the way I roll. The people that I feel I have been a mother to, and am a mother to, we’re very involved in each other’s daily life. We’re not just bitchy queens running around trying to be snarky. You wind up caring about each other.
Along Comes Juanita
I had met this man named Michael in the ‘80s in NY and then here in San Francisco where he was originally from. We became great friends. He would be my backup dancer every now and again, he would carry my bags. But he was such a “guy”. He hadn’t grown up flamboyant, wearing dresses and wearing heels and all, he was not that kind of kid. So we never thought about make-up. But there used to be a celebration the week before Halloween in the Castro. And he turns to me one day and says, “I want to go in drag for this big event.” And I said: “What? You are going to be so hideous!”
We got a pair of pumps for him. For two weeks we marched her up and down the hallway, and she was like a truck driver. This was not going to work. But the night she was going out, I got my makeup kit and leaned her back in the chair and, “Oh my God, you have almond-shaped eyes! We’re going to be fine!” She’s Spanish, Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, probably one or two other things in there. But those almond-shaped eyes! So I do her makeup and I had made her a gown. She goes down the hallway to put on all of her drag, the same hallway she had been clomping down all that time. And she comes out of the bathroom and just glides, sashays down the hallway. Like magic, all of a sudden, the awkwardness was gone. It was such a transformation. Once all the pieces were in place, Juanita MORE! was like, born. And she went out that first night and said, “I have not had so much fun since the ‘70s.” And she has never stopped. [from photo of Juanita by Robert Cortez]
Bring Out the Kids
Among my many children, VivvyAnne ForeverMORE is my late in life child. She’s one of the best natural emcees I’ve encountered. She’s the last child that calls me mother…thus far. Dulce De Leche is the newest, the baby. She’s a phenomenal performer and what a voice! She calls me granny. The latest youngster to arrive is Scarlett Letter. She was living in South San Francisco with her boyfriend and said to herself, “I think I want to become a drag queen.” She googled SF drag and the first clip that came up was one of mine. Now here she is.
Suppositori Spelling already had a drag mother. Same one as Hoku Mama Swamp, their drag mother by some strange twist of fate is Cockatillia. So now they have a father and mother in common, which is a really weird and rare thing. Every now and again I ask Cockatillia, do you remember is commingling, not only once but twice? She’s like, “Nope!” I’m also Qween’s drag father, she already has a drag mother. I am not here to steal anybody else’s children, but when a performer wants me to help them, I will. I am also a drag father to Gina LaDivina, who has been one of the best talents in this city for decades. [at Aunt Charlie’s in the Tenderloin, pictured in holiday mode]
There’s also the category of being a drag Auntie. You’re not taking full responsibility for the person, but you are helping them out. Like Dulce– the babies look at her and OMG I want to be like you. But Dulce says she is too young to be having children. And I say yes, just be their drag Auntie, you can still help them and carry on. There’s also the category of Fairy Dragmother, which I am to Mutha Chucka, Honey Mahogany, Rahni NothingMore and Fauxnique.
Since Fauxnique was an itty-bitty baby, she’s been a dancer, and was tired by what the scene demands of women. But when she got on stage as a drag performer she was revitalized, it was a whole brand new world—see, drag can save your life, it did mine! She is magical, running around the world doing solo shows as a feminist performance artist, using drag, dance, singing and also acting. I couldn’t be happier. She [see her @moniquefauxnique on IG] was the first female-bodied Miss Trannyshack, but I don’t think she cares for the term faux queen, even though her name is Fauxnique, nor does Hoku Mama. Nothing faux about her.
These are all fully-formed performers who needed less mothering and more family, and we love them dearly. Profundity is now in grandbaby status. She delights me, because she didn’t start doing this until a couple of years ago. Until then she had never thought, I’m not going to just be a nice suburban professional woman who goes around the world teaching Social Media, but become a crazy drag queen. Already she does complex avant-garde acts, but also traditional Ethel Merman numbers in huge creampuff wigs. I love that balance.
So, What Is It about San Francisco?
MF: As far back as I can remember, San Francisco drag was different. At Club Uranus in the early ‘90s the Miss Uranus Pageant winners were Mx. Justin Vivian Bond and Rodney O’Neal Austin. They both squeezed into the same dress as a pair of “Siamese Twins” joined at the nethers. The twist being that Mx. Viv was a lesbian separatist and Rodney a hetero nymphomaniac! At Heklina’s Trannyshack at The Stud in the 2000s, the acts got ever wilder. Precious Moments (Michael Soldier) won Miss Trannyshack for a finale similar to a magician pulling a limitless scarf out of his sleeve—but this was a full-sized American flag, and it was pulled out of somewhere else entirely [as documented in Deena Davenport’s film about Trannyshack, “Filthy Gorgeous”].
At neighborhood clubs like Cinch Saloon’s Charley Horse, acts could get remarkably complex. I will never forget a number done by a Filipina queen named La Moni Stat where an entire ear of corn was supposedly inserted into a va-jayjay under her country-western skirt; the end of the song built to a yeasty reveal as her cotton-candy giant wig erupted with popcorn… and then a bare corncob was withdrawn from beneath that gingham dress!
Now acts of a similar ilk and intensity are seen at SOME THING, the night at The Stud that you and your partners VivvyAnne ForeverMORE and Downey host weekly. And young audiences erupt in awed applause after getting taught by one of your own performances. An iconic drag number may include depression and despair before resolving in a moment of resilience, based on characters that bring to life divas from the eras of silent movies to film noir.
Yet if I go to Atlanta, say, or Houston, the queens there are amazing, dressed to the nines, bejeweled and hair up to here, in perfect show queen makeup. But that is the whole act, lip synching to a song. So tell me, what is it specifically about the SF drag scene?
Glamamore: You are here to create a number, an experience. And to do so you have to believe the story you are telling. It is creating a whole world, in three minutes. At least that’s how I see it. I go on this journey and I hope everyone comes along with me. Some think they’ve only got to be pretty, while they’re just mumbling some random pop song. That is the difference. Here’s a song, how can I turn it into a real act?
I arrived in San Francisco in 1992, running around with Arturo Galster [aka Patsy Cline of The Memphis G-Spots, whose back-up musicians were all named Hank] whom I knew from NY. We went to DNA Lounge on my first weekend in SF, and up on one of the platforms is Phatima Rude, looking like a 300-pound baby Buddha wearing a diaper and I think maybe glasses. She was wrapping her legs around her neck and rolling like a ball. And I thought, “Oh my god, I think I’ve found home.” That stuck with me. Phatima can also paint like a beautiful woman, she’s one of the best makeup artists I have ever met, and sometimes her intent is just to be jarring. The audience can even be horrified at the end, but the point is you are affecting them in some way.
The Lucia di Glamamore Effect
MF: Until your performances I had never seen the exaggerated facial expressions in drag, except at times from Lypsinka. Now it has become the style of San Francisco in some ways. Was that always a thing?
Glamamore: I don’t know if it is a San Francisco thing or a me thing. Andy Warhol said of me: “That Glamamore has the biggest mouth of any drag queen I’ve ever seen.” It is not just about big mouth, but about expressing—through an eyelash flutter or a pinkie flutter. I talk with my whole body. You have to be willing to be everything for the performance. Whatever the story calls for. You can start out as a perfect porcelain doll and then you can crash it and become a ruptured mess by the end. That’s what I put out for the kids. They see me doing that. They are all learning their own way and seeing how far they want to go. Take Profundity, for instance, who has hidden her body all her life, because she was the tallest girl. And now I’m like, imagine you are seven feet tall, they can see it all. It’s about making yourself more animated, there’s an extreme level that you have to reach. Open your eyes more. Don’t be scared about doing a funny face if it is going to deliver the line properly. But I happen to be a crazy person. I have taken a brand new beaded gown and ripped it in half on stage because the number needed that right at the moment. I will hold nothing back.
In my off hours, I am super-introverted, still this very cloistered shy kid reading too many books. So when I get on stage, I am this volcano. I get up there and it just builds and builds, and usually it explodes. I have this character that I’ve been doing for the last decade or so, that came out of me living here. She’s someone in the “mid-land” between drag performer and trans, who does drag maybe once a week, lives in the Tenderloin, her man did not come home and it’s about six o’clock in the morning, she’s drunk or whatever out of her mind, she’s just grabbing stuff in her apartment to do a heartbreaking performance—all for herself. That’s the character that developed and I love her. Sometimes I smudge red lipstick over my mouth and look a wreck. I am not making fun of her, because I have lived that moment. She’s just lost in her own world and running amok, overwrought, having a meltdown moment. I think we get to show everything on the stage, not just pretty things: comedy and tragedy and the whole gamut.
Drag is irreverent, it should push boundaries. Nowadays you are supposed to aspire to being able to walk down the street and nobody knows that you’re gay. To me, that’s almost like being in the closet. I am a flagrant homosexual. I love the Quentin Crisps of the world. And the Harvey Fiersteins of the world. And the Harvey Milks. I was flagrant as a child, and I think that is lovely. With all the current gay whitewashing, we get a wave of liking drag, and then one of being embarrassed by drag. I’m still going to do it anyhow, whether you like it or not.
2016 interview, updated 2022 @Mark Freeman. A shorter version of this appeared as the Forward to San Francisco Drag: A Coloring Book by Meg Murray published 2016, Query Books.
REST IN PEACE
Arturo Galster 1972-2014 [see her Patsy sing “Crazy” in Karen Black tribute at Castro Theatre] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5QX-t9xYEY
Phatima Rude 1976-2021 [see Don Baird’s “Remembering Phatima Rude” plus Marke B’s notes to Melissa Hawkins photos in 48 Hills, July 20, 2021]
The STUD bar 1966-2020 [“The STUD: Decade by Decade” www.queer4decades.com/the-stud/]