To celebrate our new Thursday night screenings of RuPaul's Drag Race at narcbar hosted by the best queens in the game, we originally planned to have a quick chat with our first host/performer, Jujubee, a Drag Race Season 2 alum. Instead, we ended up having a deep, hour-long heart-to-heart, and we're so happy we did. With her Argentinian lover-friend Mathias with us in-room at The Standard, East Village, we talked her new sober life, new single life (earmuffs, Mathias!), and her new lease on life.
Jujubee in her element at narcbar.
THE STANDARD: Who do you think is going to be strong this season on Drag Race?
JUJUBEE: Kennedy is somebody who's always been so strong to me, because her background is pageants and the girls who do pageants always have the most passion. When I first heard of her and I didn't know her, I was terrified. When you're scared of something, you turn it into this phobia and you just assume she's going to be an asshole or a bitch. But as soon as I met her, we started talking and talking and talking, and she's just a really, really down to earth person. The Kennedy we see on television is this strong feminine being, which is what drag is about. You take these feminine ideas and you shoot them in front of people's faces and they can see that femininity is actually stronger than masculinity.
It’s a good time to say that.
Yeah, I was just watching something about #MeToo and I was thinking to myself, “Holy shit, just 100 years ago women couldn't wear pants.” We had to wait a whole hundred years for women not to be harassed. That’s completely crazy.
You can kind of circle it back to drag.
Completely. I didn't really have much of a mother figure, so I always sought out strong, feminine ideas. My grandma and my aunts gave that to me, and then I had a lot of great friends whose mothers became like my moms. That's how I built what Jujubee is. Like RuPaul always said, “Drag is an extension of who you are.” This is definitely an extension of me, but I've stolen so many ideas from really strong females.
When did you first do drag?
The first time I ever did drag, I was 16 and I had no idea what it was. I was terrified. I went to a Halloween party and I did it. The character development started as soon as I got the wig on. The first time in drag, it's almost like you're not even yourself, or anybody yet, you're kind of just born and you create.
It's like you’re in an incubator at that point…
And that's the same thing with us as humans. We're always evolving as people. Our personalities are almost ever-changing. I hate when people say, “You're still the same person.” I think growth and change are wonderful. When you keep yourself the same, you never allow yourself to see the world the way other people see it. And that's the cool part about drag. It's just human life stories.
When was Jujubee born?
My drag mother’s name is Charisma Geneva Jackson Tay. I know. So, at a competition, they announced the winner as Jujubee, and I was like, “Who the fuck is this bitch?” None of the girls were Jujubee. And then the host was like, “Girl, that’s you.” And I was like, “That's not my drag name.” And she was like, “It is now.” My drag mother didn't tell me what my name was until I won. And that's how it became Jujubee.
Your family is from Laos, right?
[Jujubee has stopped prepping her face and is staring at me in the mirror.]
I love that you want to lock eyes with me, but do your thing.
Oh, I really do. Thank you.
Jujubee is such a unique name. You must be proud to have it.
I am very happy with it, because there's good juju and there's bad juju. Mostly good juju.
Oh my god, I just passed out for a minute.
Yeah, I’m kind of a witch.
How do you feel like Jujubee has evolved since then, and are you happy with that evolution?
Completely. I'll be really, really blunt with you, I'm between seven and eight months sober.
Thank you. So, I’m an alcoholic and addict and that's me. I'm so happy that I get to finally come to terms with that. Really, up until June of last year I was just busy being coked out and drunk. In the past seven months, there have been so many huge changes for me. Jujubee [the persona] was really stagnant because I've been busy drinking and feeling sorry for myself.
Was Jujubee your escape?
Completely, because it's so easy to do that. You can go anywhere and people are there for you to do that.
You capitalized on it.
Completely. And you know, drug addicts and alcoholics, we're all very sneaky people. We know how to get what we want. And now I'm at the point where I'm like, let me use those skills to do good for myself and other people. I've never been a bad person. I was just bad to myself.
So, how do you feel being sober as Jujubee is going to be different?
I've performed maybe six times sober, and honestly, it's the best because I can remember, I can feel. Feeling was the thing that I was trying to hide because I don't like feeling. But now it's like when you're first in drag and you have to become human. That's how I feel right now. I'm still learning how to be a drag queen, a gay Asian boy. I'm a better version, a clearer version, a more present version of myself, and I’m excited.
How does it feel to talk about being sober?
I'm so open about it, because here's the thing, I had no idea. All you hear about is addiction, addiction, addiction, but you don't hear about recovery. And the funny story is, the person to whom I give credit for saving my life, I met him at a bar when I offered to buy him a drink. He gave me another week to fuck up, and I fucked up, and that Monday I went to my first meeting, and I haven't touched anything since. And perfectly enough, I found a group that was all LGBTQIA people. So, it made even more sense for me to go. And of course, they're like, “Are you Jujubee?”
Do you get recognized a lot? Even outside of drag?
I do! It’s kind of funny. I don’t know how to take it, because I feel like the TV me, it’s very specific. So, I’m obviously not like that 24/7, but there's moments of me that are like that person.
How do you feel about what Drag Race has become? Do you feel like it's getting better?
Yeah. It's always going to get better. I expect every single season for them to say it’s the best season yet, and that's not a lie.
Now onto some seriously ridiculous questions...what's your relationship status these days?
I’m single, emotionally unavailable.
Into it! She’s working on herself.
I just got out of a 12-year relationship. We were engaged. It's funny that you asked, because just two days ago I blocked him on all social media because it just became…
Yeah. We tried to be friends, but it's kind of hard to get out of a 12-year relationship and then jump into a friendship. And then you know when you break up with somebody it seems as though everybody who knew shit now start telling you? That's what happened. I was like, “Just don't tell me anything because it doesn't matter anymore.”
What are your thoughts on monogamy?
I think the idea of monogamy is really beautiful if both of you are in it. I want that eventually. But I can't make a commitment with an eyebrow pencil. I think that I'm marrying my art now finally. I get to actually do what I want to do.
Have you ever hooked up with a fan?
[Jujubee turns to her friend Mathias.]
Are you a fan?
He hit me up before I went to Argentina for a show and he was like, “Let’s hang out” and I was like, “Hell-the-fuck-yeah!”
When was this?
Three months ago. He's just visiting because he’s always wanted to see the U.S.
Welcome to America! When was the first time you felt like someone’s role model?
Raven and I did a gig in Boston and this man drove three hours with his daughters their friends. He had no idea what the show was about and didn't care because he just wanted to make his daughters happy. And when we came out and said hi, it was literally three minutes and they left so happy. The two little boys, you could tell they were really straight little boys, they were just so mesmerized because they had watched us on TV. We were superheroes almost. I'm glad that we can show people who may not get the chance to see this side of the community. We just want to lay it out there and be like, this is just life.
Have you ever known any queens to be really interested in drag but also straight?
Yeah, I know one queen. She was a football player from the University of Rhode Island. Totally straight, I think had a girlfriend, was a fabulous drag queen. I thought it was so cool. Anybody should go out and perform. Sometimes that's the only therapy you have.
OK, what’s the worst thing you've ever worn?
Oh gosh, probably my last outfit on Drag Race Season 2. It obviously wasn't my best, but it was the only thing I had left. I didn't bring enough stuff because I didn’t think I was going to make it that far. I had a feeling Tara was going to win because she was the only one that wasn't nervous that day. Raven and I were both like, “Oh my god.” She kept her calm and god, if only I got to lip sync.
Ugh, that was great. I actually just saw that performance for the first time three weeks ago. One of my friends made me watch it because I refused to watch. I don’t like to hear my voice. I don't know, it’s weird to me, but I'm going to get over that soon because I feel like watching yourself is going to help you get better. I cried again when I saw it because I was like, “Wow, that was really emotional.” Raven texts me every time she hears that song, by the way. She's like, “It's on again.”
I think anybody who has seen that thinks of you when they hear it.
And you know what? We knew when they said the song was “Dancing On My Own.” I was like, “They're going to break us up tonight.” I already knew in my gut that if Ru told me to stay, I would have been like, “No, I'm cool. Raven will stay.” And I spoke about this in my interview afterwards, and they were like, “You know, Raven said the same exact thing.” I was like, “Well, that's because we're blood brothers basically.” That's my boy.
What keeps you up at night?
The excitement of what's to come. I used to be afraid of the unknown but now because of these [sobriety] meetings, the word “afraid” has been replaced with “excited.”
And to close, is there a movie that changed your life?
To Wong Foo and I'll tell you why. I don't know if it was internalized homophobia, but when I was eight or nine, I saw it on television somewhere and I immediately turned it off and was nervous about it because I was like, “What is this? Why are these men dressed up as women? I don’t understand this.” And referring back to what I said about me picking people apart because of myself—that's what it was. And then years later I was like, “Wow, I want to try that.” I was uncomfortable with my future before it was my future. I don't think I ever heard anything bad about homosexuals when I was a child. It was just my own personal fear. But you better believe when I got that Whitney Houston album [The Bodyguard] I was dressing up like I was her.
Whose clothes were you stealing?
Did she catch you?
No. Never did. I was smart and sneaky. I’m the shadiest queen you’ll ever meet, girl.
Aren’t you so proud?
I am very proud. I'm very, very present right now in my life where I know I don't know where I'm going but I know where I want to go. I think that drag has definitely changed my life because it's been the only thing that's never let me down. Everybody wants some kind of control and I think this is the one thing I can control.
We’re screening Drag Race every Thursday night at narcbar at The Standard, East Village, with performances from glorious queens like Jujubee. Check the schedule here.