Intergalactic beauty Juno Birch’s advice for mere mortals

“Delusion is the key to confidence,” says the trans drag alien probing North Americans, er, North America this summer

When Juno Birch was in film school, she wrote a script for a movie set in the 1950s about a young boy’s trip to a beauty salon with his mother. Upon seeing the women tucked under giant orb hair dryers, in face masks with long, painted nails, he decided the patrons were, in fact, aliens. 

In the years since she dropped out of film school, the British drag artist has continued to expand on the story using different media. First it was drawings of aliens, then sculptures of them she sold to make rent. Eventually, she slipped on a wig and a pair of sunglasses and painted herself blue. With that, she became one of the glamorous aliens at the salon. Her own creation.

Over the past five years, Juno Birch has used her unique blend of retro housewife and extraterrestrial aesthetics to do the near impossible: she’s become an international drag superstar without appearing on any iteration of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Birch has collected hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, been featured in Vogue (her “Extreme Makeup Routine” video has 10 million views and counting) and released a Juno-branded makeup collection with Trixie Cosmetics. Along the way, she even managed to strike up a friendship with the current toast of Hollywood, Jennifer Coolidge. And just last year, Birch toured her live show, Attack of the Stunning, internationally.

Now she’s set to land her flying saucer in North America with a brand-new cabaret act, The Juno Show, kicking off in Chicago this July. The decidedly old-school drag show promises a mix of stand-up comedy, dance and live singing spliced together with commercial spoofs inspired by old television advertisements.

Beaming in via Zoom from the kitchen of her apartment in Manchester, where she’s been preparing for the show, Birch is fresh-faced in a simple black turtleneck. Out of drag, she looks less like an intergalactic glamazon and more like a young Pam Anderson, save for her shaved-off eyebrows (“Best thing I’ve ever done,” Birch says of the brows. “I can have no eyebrows, I can have angry ones, sad ones, I can do little thin ones, or thick ones”). It’s Easter Monday, but she’s lactose intolerant and can’t eat chocolate eggs, so it’s just another Monday to her. 

“Being transgender is basically like being an alien at the moment.”

The tour through North America, including stops in Missouri, Texas and Arizona, comes at a precarious time for drag performers, following the introduction of anti-drag bills in at least 14 states and the passing of a drag ban in Tennessee this spring that advocates have warned could be used to target trans people more broadly. Of the bills, Birch, who is a trans woman, says, “I still can’t really wrap my head around it. In America, people can go out with a gun, but you can’t put a wig on. It’s just so bizarre to me. 

 

“It is scary being a drag queen right now,” Birch says before quickly cutting in with a joke. “Imagine if they banned drag everywhere! What would I do?” She bursts out laughing. “What would I put on my CV? Playing the fucking Sims?” 

While Birch acknowledges the anti-trans bills as an insidious new form of the transphobia she’s dealt with since her teen years, she is also ready to laugh in the face of darkness. “My way of dealing with bullying and everything like that was to just make a joke of it. Laugh. Piss yourself laughing at least once a day, or you’re not going to survive.”

In addition to comedy, The Juno Show is an exercise in manifestation. Birch has been taking meetings about creating her own TV show, but the talks always fizzle out. She thinks producers find her too weird for television. Birch’s TV pitch is indeed out of this world: she wants to abduct celebrities into her flying saucer and then probe them in interviews. Her dream guest list includes Danny DeVito, Lisa Vanderpump and her pal Jennifer Coolidge. With The Juno Show, Birch’s bringing TV to the stage in hopes she’ll eventually end up on the telly. “If you want something badly enough, it’s bound to happen in some way, shape or form,” Birch says. “Delusion is the key to confidence.”

Birch’s friendship with Coolidge began several years ago when the actor, beloved for her turns in films like Best in Show and, more recently, television’s The White Lotus, commented on one of Birch’s Instagram posts with her entire home address. Coolidge was trying to purchase one of Birch’s sculptures and she later told Birch it was the very first time she’d bought anything online. Birch, already known for her impression of Coolidge, tried to send the sculpture for free, but the star insisted on paying. She’s since attended one of Birch’s performances at a club in West Hollywood and dined with her and Trixie Mattel. When Birch filmed a video making Mattel over in her trademark style back in 2019, Coolidge was actually sitting just off screen watching the two drag queens.

Before Birch knew any celebrities—or even any drag queens—she was a “very well behaved, very delicate” child; one of four girls who grew up playing with her sisters’ dolls. Birch was born in Manchester and raised in a small, working-class town of less than 10,000 residents in Cheshire. Her father was a chef and her mother a stay-at-home mom, though Birch says she was nothing like the Stepford Wives she draws inspiration from. 

Even in her working-class hometown, Birch imagined herself to be very posh. One birthday when she was very young, she remembers her mom making her a prawn cocktail and putting candles in it. “All the kids at the birthday party were like, ‘Ugh, it fucking stinks!’” she laughs. But she loved it. “I was a very sophisticated child with a very sophisticated palate.” 

From a very young age, she also knew she was a girl. At the time, she didn’t know anyone who was trans, save for television’s Nadia Almada, who won the British version of Big Brother in 2004, the year Birch turned 11. Her parents split when she was a child, and when she started to transition around 13, she moved in with her father after experiencing problems in the area where her mom lived. While her mom was supportive, the environment was not. “I couldn’t walk out of my house without something happening to me,” Birch says. 

“All the teachers told me not to [transition]. They were saying, ‘You’re going to get bullied more if you do that. We’re just trying to protect you. Trying to protect the other students. The parents might be uncomfortable with you.’ All this kind of shite. I was not having any of that. I wasn’t going to spend my teenage years depressed. I was at the point where it was either transition or die. I couldn’t cope with what was happening to my body.”

The school told her she couldn’t wear a skirt to school, so she arrived in one the very next day. Changes to her personality followed as she embraced her identity. “I went from a very very quiet boy with no confidence at all to extremely flamboyant, extremely loud bitch,” she says, laughing at the memory. 

It was almost a decade later, after her transition, that Birch began doing drag. First it was painting herself blue for a party, then testing out performing at a queer cabaret with a number inspired by Avon ladies, Edward Scissorhands and Jennifer Coolidge. Growing up, Birch loved The X-Files, Men in Black and Mars Attacks! She blended her love of those supernatural stories with an aesthetic borrowed from the original golden age of alien pop culture, the 1950s and 1960s, when the world was preoccupied with The Twilight Zone and reporting on Roswell and flying saucers.

As she sets out for her new tour, the motif feels as pertinent today as it did to Birch as a child watching television or a young woman writing a film script about glam aliens in a salon. “I think subconsciously, the alien aesthetic comes from being transgender,” Birch says. “Being transgender is basically like being an alien at the moment. It’s like we’ve just landed on the planet and people are obsessed with us. They want to discuss our rights and our freedom.

“What they don’t know,” she says, “is we’ve been here since the beginning.”

Russ Martin is a writer whose work has been published in Flare, the Toronto Star, The Walrus, and NewNowNext. He lives in Toronto.

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