Meet Juno Birch, a sculptor-turned-drag-queen whose alien-meets-1950s-housewife look is impossible to forget. Obsessed with makeup and dressing up since she was a child, Birch suffered from body dysmorphia and bullying at school as a transgender. But using humour as an infallible weapon against bigotry and ignorance and first focusing her talent on small clay figurines, she’s now bloomed into a divine and hilarious artist. And that’s precisely what she shares with Desigual, which invited her during Miami Art Week a few weeks ago: going against the norm, fighting for freedom and self-expression, and loving yourself and whoever you want.
Juno doesn’t shy away from ridiculous, even absurd situations; on the contrary, you’ll find her on Instagram revealing she’s Baby Yoda’s mother, strolling through Tesco in a cow-print apron and a handbag made of bread, or stepping inside Miranda Makaroff’s ‘moist’ giant vagina tent, which she presented during Miami’s Art Week in collaboration with Desigual. It’s actually in the sun-drenched American city that I meet Juno, where we get to talk everything from the future of drag to the characters that inspire her look or how she turned herself into a live version of her sculptures.
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Hey Juno, such a pleasure to interview you. You’re lavender today, what does the colour of your skin depend on?
Mainly, what I have left in my makeup bag. Or it depends on what I’m wearing. For example, If I’m wearing something lavender, then I’ll paint myself blue or pink, an opposite colour.
Even though you’re now mostly known for this retro-futuristic alien beauty look, you didn’t start like this. It is said that life imitates art, and in your case, it’s totally true: if I’m not mistaken, you wanted to look like the figurines you sculpt. Tell me more about this process of wanting to turn yourself into your works of art.
I’ve been doing sculpture for a while now but I really wanted to do drag. I always painted myself in my bedroom – I loved putting on makeup and things like that. I think that once I had my surgery, it made me feel a lot more confident in my transition. I started to do drag then. But because my image is so strong in my mind already, I just kind of automatically got to paint myself like that.
Before becoming this 1950s alien-like person with pastel coloured-skin, you had already experienced what transforming your body means. Do you feel that your current confidence in stepping out like this comes from all these years of struggling with your body and gender identity?
Yes, definitely. I think I’ve spent so many years in the past trying to fit into society – when I was a teenager, especially. But then I learnt from my gender dysphoria that I just can be whatever the fuck I want and not give a shit anymore and have fun. I just have fun! I don’t take life too seriously.
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I can see that! Actually, humour is key to you and your personality. You don’t mind making fun of yourself, exaggerating, overacting, and you’re so funny and witty.
Growing up, I went through a lot of hard times in school being transgender, and the way of coping with things was to have a laugh and take a piss. I think it’s a pretty British thing to take the piss out of yourself. If you watch RuPaul’s Drage Race UK, all the queens just rip each other to shreds, read themselves to shreds… I think a lot of British drags don’t take themselves too seriously.
Recently, you were in Miami with Desigual, a brand that promotes going against the norm and being free. How do you relate yourself and your work to that of the brand?
They contacted me and showed me Miranda Makaroff’s work and I was obsessed; it was so beautiful! And she does things I would totally wear, so I was up for it.
Tell me some of the top highlights of your trip to Miami.
The biggest highlight was Miranda’s exhibition going on inside the vagina tent, that was so fun! I got to host, like present it with a microphone, and be like, [high pitch] ‘Hey, welcome to Miranda Makaroff’s vagina! Let’s go inside and have a look!’ And doing lots of videos around it or coming out of the vagina saying, [high pitch], ‘Oh, it’s so moist!’ Funny things like that. The sculpture inside of it as well, it stuck out, it’s fabulous.
Your beauty look takes time, preparation, lots of products, and skills as I’ve seen on your Vogue video. And I believe you’re self-taught. What is the number one rule in makeup that you’ve learnt for yourself?
That there are absolutely no rules whatsoever! Makeup doesn’t have to be a certain way with drag.
Any advice for people wishing to be as good at makeup as you?
Just experiment and go out of the house wearing a traffic cone on your head or boots made of bread. Just something stupid and have fun! When I was a child and used to dress myself in my mom’s shoes, gowns, etc., I was doing it for myself. Nobody else saw me do it. It’s sort of the same thing: wear this just because it’s enjoyment.
You take inspiration from a lot of movie characters: Miss Argentina from Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, the Joker, Dr Frank-n-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, among others. In a way, Juno Birch is also a fictional character. Where do you draw the line between the person and the character?
I don’t know, really, I just put on my drag and instantly turn into Jennifer Coolidge! When I do presenting or I’m on stage or something, the voice instantly goes to like, [high pitch] ‘Oh, no!’ And I just talk like that for ages. Me out of drag, I’m kind of just the same but not as loud and annoying – when I’m in drag, I’m a lot more annoying (laughs).
Drag queens, gender-bending practices and cross-dressers have existed for decades if not centuries. However, in these recent years, we’ve seen how drag culture has entered more mainstream culture – from Rupaul’s Drag Race to social media stars. And they’re getting more creative and niche than ever. How do you see the future of drag?
Like The Hunger Games! It’s a very good example. Everybody’s obsessed with being different from everybody else, everybody wants to be unique. It’s gonna get to the point where everybody just looks so ridiculous. You know, you’re gonna go to the post office and they’re gonna have like a fucking bouquet of flowers on their hat. And it’s just Margaret from the shop, you know. Literally, everybody is going to be doing drag.
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