Juno Birch quite literally molded herself into the trans drag queen she is today.
The world's premiere alien queen, Birch's colorful career began as a sculpture artist whose alien women miniatures were painted lavender blues and baby pinks wearing cat-eye glasses or cucumber slices covering their extraterrestrial eyes, as well as busts and bums of extravagant proportions. The sculptures have a fan in Jennifer Coolidge, but once Birch brought her ideas to life, she realized she was too big of an "attention-seeker" for such solitary, behind-the-scenes work.
"I was too hyper," Birch tells PAPER.
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She'd already been painting herself blue, calling herself "something of a club kid" before she first tried drag in a Manchester club in 2018. Birch manifested her drag persona out of her clay work, taking her mid-century galactic housewife cues from Tim Burton's creations of Miss Argentina from Beetlejuice and the Martian Girl from Mars Attacks! But Birch's mid-century modern take is one of misplaced glamour; her origin story has her dropped on Earth in an eternal 1962, where she immediately adopts a kitchen-chic kitsch vibe, complete with cow-print aprons and turquoise rubber gloves with the nails painted blood red.
In Birch's cheery but brusk British affect, proclamations that most things are "gorgeous!", "absolutely stunning!" or, affirmatively, "yes, that's happening!" effuse a glorious optimism that fans easily connect with. Her Dusty Springfield-beehive hairdos pair well with clashtastic music videos she makes for her YouTube channel, lip-syncing to the B-52s, her spot-on showmanship getting her love stateside for a performance of Cece Penniston's "Finally" on stage at this year's Bushwig, which she ended with a proclamation: "Kiss my designer vagina!" On her last tour, her designer vagina emulated the birth of her blue-tinted baby doll, Judith Louise.
While other queens have utilized the RuPaul's Drag Race franchise for a boon, Birch has managed to establish a successful career without appearing on any of its iterations, though she will be appearing at DragCon for the first time ever in 2023 with “Jun O Mart,” her version of the Simpsons’ Kwik-E-Mart.
But where she borrows inspiration from others, she loans some as well: Birch recently appeared on Discovery+’s Trixie Motel to approve of the Atomic Bombshell room, which adopts a fully Juno Birch aesthetic with vintage furnishings and shades like "Lavendrous" and "Flamingo" straight out of Juno's makeup palette collab with Trixie Cosmetics. It's Trixie's partner, David Silver, who can take the credit for how the two queens connected — Silver was an early collector of Birch's artwork.
"I'll probably still paint myself blue when I'm an old lady," Birch said. "And I'll probably be in a rocking chair in Palm Springs making me sculptures again."
In the meantime, PAPER spoke with Birch about her forthcoming tour and how she's experienced drag as a trans woman who identifies with aliens.
Have you ever thought about expanding in your drag or do you see your defined look and aesthetic as your brand?When I started doing drag, I wanted to experiment with loads of different styles, but obviously with the same face that I always do. Because in the Drag Race world, you feel like you're supposed to be versatile. But I look the same all the time. You subconsciously fall into what you like.
Are you a fan of all the alien shows, like The X-Files?I was a massive fan of The X-Files. My favorite movies were Mars Attacks!, Fifth Element, Men in Black, — I love Men in Black. But I think it's weird 'cause nowadays I don't watch as much of things that inspire me because I live it. At nighttime when I switch off, I will watch trash television. I will watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I won't watch anything to do with drag or aliens or anything ‘cause my brain will go ticking.
What do you think it is about aliens that you wanted to make them part of your work?When I was younger, alien characters and alien women were something that I felt related to in a way, because, growing up, I was like an alien myself, being a transgender woman. And I grew up in a town where there wasn't anyone else that was transgender at all, and the only people on television were people on Big Brother or people who were called freaks of nature. So I always felt drawn to embracing the alien. I think that's where it's all come from, really.
You and Trixie are very different in the ways that you perform, but you still have a similar vibe. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship?
I think it comes down to the fact that we're both two drag queens from the Muppets. It looks so surreal. But I've known Trixie quite a few years now and she's always so supportive of my drag, her and her boyfriend.Trixie's not always been in the '60s. She used to go for an '80s Barbie, I think, especially with Drag Race. She's always had Barbie’s long hair and then she's gone into more of the Mars Attacks! at moments. And I think that's why a lot of our stuff together, like the motel, it looks the same era.
There's always been a conversation around whether or not trans women should be allowed to participate in drag, and that's always been a ridiculous question, but I wanted to give you the opportunity, if you had any feelings, to expand on that. Have you always felt welcome?
Trans women doing drag is not a new thing. It's not something that is being welcomed into the community for the first time. It started when drag started. So, it's always been there — it's just certain television programs can sometimes make it seem like it's not normal. But I'm so happy now that things like RuPaul's Drag Race have so many trans women on the show, and it's such a good thing because a lot of people who don't grow up in a queer community watch it as education.
I've been trans since I was 13. I started to transition when I was 13 years old and then I started doing drag when I was 22. The thing that I noticed was that when I was in drag, most people didn't know I was trans because I don't control my voice in a certain way. I don't really care whether people think I'm male or female when I'm in drag. Obviously my pronouns are she and whatnot, but I noticed that a lot of people would assume that I was male because I was in drag. That was years ago. Now it's not like that anymore.
What does it look like to prepare for a tour?
The show that's coming out in 2023 is going to be a theater show and it's called "The Juno Show," and it's basically a trip into the world inside Juno's head on stage. So it's gonna be very chaotic. There's gonna be some lobsters, there's gonna be some Judith Louise babies. There's gonna be some cabaret. There's gonna be some live singing, there's gonna be dancing. It's gonna be chaos.
The whole show is based on television, so there's lots of fake commercials and '60s television.
When you are putting together a stage show, are there any performers that you — not that you want to emulate necessarily, but that you admire how they control the stage and make the audience feel?Lypsinka has always been an inspiration to my drag. Also, Charles Pierce. We did the Attack of the Stunning tour and I had Judith Louise, a little doll, and I bopped the microphone on her head, it was this thing that we did throughout the show. And then Liquorice Black showed me this video of Charles Pierce doing Mommie Dearest with the baby and she did the exact same thing. I was like, "Oh my god, this is me!"
You love attention and get lots of it, but how do you turn it on for other people if you aren't feeling it?
Red Bull and a Prosecco.
No, it's like that a lot on tour, because sometimes you get sick, sometimes you're sleep deprived because you've been on flights on show days, and sometimes you really wanna throw up, but you've gotta put your corset on and your pads and you've gotta go on and you've gotta tell jokes and everything. What I've learned from doing the tour is that even if you feel like you're gonna throw up right before you go on stage or you feel a bit ill or you've not been to the toilet properly or you're not gonna sleep, once you step on stage, the adrenaline will carry you through it. That's what I've learned anyway. And then when you come off the stage at the end of the show, then you can collapse.
Photography by Lia Clay Miller