Dusty Moorehead: She Ain’t No Pageant Girl!

By Jeff Kaluzny | Images by Gareth Gooch

So tell me about Dusty Moorehead. Who is Dusty and when was she born? Dusty Moorehead was born in San Francisco around 2002. Before that I was many other different names. I started doing drag when I was 17 in Provincetown and I would go to Ryan Landry’s Showgirls way before it was even called Showgirls in the 3rd floor bar called the Lizard Lounge. Do you remember that in Provincetown? It was like an attic. The first time I performed there Lipsynka was there. So this goes way back. I was 17 years old, I’m 38 now, so that was 21 years ago. I started doing drag with Joanna Jayne & Kandi Kane who is now in London. All these girls from way back were kind of like my mentors to begin, and then when I moved to Santa Cruz in the late 80’s early 90’s I became Miss Camella Toh. I’m sorry, what? Camella Toh HA! That’s what I thought you said. You need to spell that for me because I know I won’t do it justice. C-A-M-E-L-L-A new word T-O-H.

That’s awesome. I never would have guessed that. <laughing> And then I dropped that name and was revamping everything and came up with Dusty Moorehead when I was working at Martuni’s back in 2002.

You lived in San Francisco for how long? I lived in San Francisco for 5 years.

What brought you out here? I got sober in Connecticut and was just restarting my life. So, I decided to restart out in California. I basically picked a point on the map and said that is where I’m going. I just went, I had some friends there.

So that would be a natural progression from P-Town. Yes. I wanted to do it. I wanted the experience ever since I was a child I wanted to move to California at some point. That was a goal of mine. The first thing I did when I got there was to see the palm trees and all that cliche stuff. I fell in love with California. I love San Francisco. I missed my family that’s why I came back. I love to come back to visit, I really do. There’s a sense of community that I really missed.

Do you sense the differences now from what it was to what it is now? I do, yeah. It’s cleaner. People who live here now who just moved here are like ‘OMG it smells like piss everywhere and the homeless it’s crazy,’ and I’m like – this is nothing. Let’s go back 10 – 15 years ago. It was very different. <laughs>

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Obviously drag has catapulted in the last 10 years from being something that was in the bars and essentially not mainstream. Now it’s like SO mainstream, it’s everywhere and everyone is a drag queen; everyone performs. The sense of community in San Francisco is just amazing. I’ve performed fundraisers out there and I’ve had people knocking down walls to help me perform and you just don’t have that here on the East Coast. I feel like it’s very much individualized. As a performer here in Boston I feel like I have to fight for my spots. You have to really get out there. Whereas in San Francisco the Monster Show welcomes me back every single time… ‘Let us know when you’re coming back and we’ll put you on stage’, they say. Luckily, I perform at The Oasis every time I come out. I’ve recently hooked up with Cruzin d’Loo so I’ve been doing Balançoire as well. It’s wonderful. I would probably be so busy if I lived in San Francisco. Though it’s nice to go back and forth.

You made a really good point. Having lived there for 3 years it’s clear to me when you said that, but Boston isn’t a drag town. No. Not in the slightest

Where do you find your artistic solace out in Boston. Since there’s not much of a community, how do you make it a community? I promote so much on Facebook and what I try to do is draw people to my performance. I don’t perform weekly performances, I make appearances like every other month in Boston, which is perfect for me having the baby and everything now. This Saturday I’m performing at Machine – It’s called 4th Saturday, it’s 18 plus until 1:00am and then they open the club upstairs until 2:00am. So I did tons of Facebook promotion for that and I just try create massive guestlists to draw everyone in: all different types of people. In San Francisco, you’re at The Edge and it’s a sea of gay men. In Boston, this Saturday, it will be all 18 plus twinks, and their straight girlfriends, then you’re going to have your bachelorette parties, and your straight couples and it’s very diverse and very different. So trying to appeal to your crowd can be very challenging. I like that, I like a diverse group of people, I think it’s fun.

So you prefer to try to win the crowd over as opposed to having an easy audience? I LOVE to try to win my audience over.

What are your go-to techniques, how do you win a crowd over? I guess shock, I like to create a performance that isn’t expected. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see me perform or any of my stuff. I’ve not had the pleasure yet. I’ve seen the looks and the make up and it’s definitely not glamour drag. No, I definitely have an edge and I kind of come off as a hard kind of a rock and roll side. But, I still keep it fierce. This Saturday I’m doing this crazy Azealia Banks mix and with all the bulll shit with Azealia Bank right now on Twitter. I chose all the music before all of the shit happened with her, and I had the opportunity to change the music and all and I decided ‘no. I’m not going to change the music, I’m going to keep it and let’s keep it controversial.’

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What is the role of the drag queen? Is it to slap people in the face or is it to placate? Very often you get people who want to be edgy and they want to go to the extreme and shock people but they’re also too afraid of the PC police. I’m not. I never have been. I’m not like just because someone in the audience I’m going to do this or not do that. It’s performance. It’s art. Like when I do standup at different shows as an MC, if you’re going to get offended by what I say, then fucking leave if you don’t like it. It’s art, it’s comedy. We’re here to laugh. I think people take themselves way too seriously, especially the younger generation. I mean, really, give it up.

So you love to shock, what was your most shocking performance? Which one did you go into it saying, ‘I don’t know’, but after you realized you killed it. Let’s think about that one…Specifically, the last time we did Mother, we did Broadway Babes and I spent months on this performance. We recreated the scene in Tommy with Ann Margaret –

YES, ‘Baked Beans!’ Oh we did baked beans with chocolate – Did you see the photos of that? It was fucked up. It was crazy. So you’re getting a very diverse crowd on a Saturday, older and younger, still a sea of gay. Some people are going to get this and there are some people who aren’t going to get it. Regardless, I still want them to see an amazing performance and see it as art. Going into that I was like, ‘Here we go. Let’s see how it goes. Let’s see what happens.’ Regardless of it they get it or not how they’re looking at it, are they seeing it and saying wow that’s beautiful. Do they GET it?

So you’re not necessarily looking for the approval, you’re looking for the reaction. Yes, exactly! I’m not looking for approval. As a performer, as an artist I’m not looking for approval from anyone. That’s like censoring yourself. I understand that sometimes you have to, obviously. This year the SF Pride theme is what, ‘Black Lives Matter’? So you’re not going to go on stage with shoe polish and a white ring around your mouth. Obviously one would censor themselves there.

How do you feel about making Pride a political event like San Francisco is doing? I think it’s ridiculous. It’s not a political event. I think Pride has changed so drastically over the last 10 years. Even Boston Pride, I don’t even bother going to the parade anymore, because it’s like churches and politicians and lesbian politicians and my gift to children… It’s not what it used to be like. I’m coming out to have a good time and I’m performing on a couple of different stages on Sunday and I’m there to have fun. I’m not there to make a political statement or be PC or do the ‘right thing’ because I’m supposed to. It’s not going to happen.

Do you think it makes people roll their eyes? Where I’m going with this is – when we first found out the theme of this year’s Pride it was like saying we’re going to add a gay character to Star Wars. Exactly.

Like they’re doing it to placate people rather than being organic. Yep.

I really don’t want to be a part of something that is contrived. Maybe I’m being hyper sensitive but give me on the main stage some good ass performers and I don’t want to hear any lesbians feeling good about themselves and owning their individuality on the Main Stage. YES! Right. And feeling safe in a safe area.

What are your thoughts on safe spaces? For example Obama was at a college event and others at college commencements talking about collegiate safe spaces and how they’re not helping anyone in the future. I’ll give you a brief response to that. I think the younger generation right now in college has been coddled too much and helicoptered by their parents way too much. They’re hypersensitive and take themselves way too seriously. I mean, how did we survive?

Lord! I went to school in Worcester, Massachusetts downtown where we had 12 foot chain link fences to keep the drug dealers and homeless people out. We got through it. Kids today are too coddled. One time I hosted this big show in Provincetown in October and I MC’ed and apparently I used too many pussy and vagina jokes.

What!?! Too many? In P-Town?  Exactly! So the next day it was brought to my attention that a large group of lesbian women did not feel safe in the room where the performance was going on <Laughing>. I referenced the vagina too much.

Wow.  So I go back and do that show every year…and you know what I do! I tone it down but I definitely don’t leave it untested. I jab it in there. And that’s the thing, it’s comedy. If you’re in a room to laugh, you should be entertained.

So tell me what can we expect to see at your Pride week performances at Oasis in San Francisco?  So I will be in full fledge rehearsal for about a month out. I will be at the Monster Show on Thursday night and the theme is “Gay Anthem” and I’m bringing my Cher to San Francisco. I won’t say anything else for that. Balançoire on Friday night is going to be a crazy party. It’s Cruzin’ D’Loo presents Dusty Moorehead or something like that. Her show is normally at 8:00 but they’ve moved it to 9:30. Then at 11:15 the club is turning over to a huge Pre-Pride party that night. Then we’re doing a second performance along with a couple of the headliners and myself. So that will be a great night. And then Saturday, of course, I’ll be at Oasis with Heklina doing the halftime show for Cazwell – so I’ll be a guest appearance that night. That’s going to be sick, if there’s ever a show to go to. So it will be fun. It will be four days full of drag and who knows where we’ll end up at the after party. This is the Gang Bang Tour, that’s what we named it. We’ve done the DP Tour, we’ve done the Plenty More Tour.

Are you going to be doing the Deep Throat Tour?  Maybe – Why Not!

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It’s 6:00 on a Saturday, you weren’t prepared for anything and a bar or a friend says I need you at 10:00 tonight. What’s the number you’re going to do? What’s the song you’re going to perform to? What’s your go-to song?  “Get This Party Started on a Saturday Night” by Shirley Bassey.

Not the Pink version?  I’ve done it a lot. I’ll do it but I have to open the show – that’s my one demand. I have to open the show.

So Dusty is demanding.  And I’m a perfectionist.

Who is your Femme Fatal inspiration? As you paint your face who is the woman you say “I am…”  I think it derives from a couple of people. Definitely Agnus Moorehead (where my name came from). I have a thing for Trixie Mattel (my makeup is clowny and similar to her makeup). I love her makeup – it’s sick.

Once I got used to her makeup, I was like “this is kinda fun”. I dig the self mockery that she does.  It’s so severe and geometric. The way I do drag is I try not to be mainstream at all. I’m not interested in doing what everyone is doing. I try to be very different. When I come out to San Francisco, Thursday night is going to be an impersonation night. It’s going to be an 80’s Cher, a 90’s Cher. Friday night is going to be very caberet. Full length sequin gown. Saturday night is going to be extreme club – Mohawk, rock, slutty – the whole thing. I like to do a wide variety of genres that are not mainstream at all. I want people to say that was different, that was cool, I remember her, she was the one who did that.

You’re definitely not a pageant girl.  No – God No! <Laughs>


Make sure to catch a whiff of Dusty Moorehead as she returns to San Francisco with her show “GANG BANG, The 2016 San Francisco Pride Tour” all over SF. The Monster Show at EDGE on Thursday, June 23 @ 10:00pm. Ain’t Your Mama’s Drag Show w/ Cruzin D’Loo at Balançoire on Friday, June 24 @ 9:30pm & Midnight. Mother w/ Cazwell at Oasis on Saturday, June 25 @ 11:30pm. The Soberfest Stage at SF PRIDE Festival on Sunday, June 26 at 1:30pm. And The Cinch Saloon on Sunday, June 26 at 6:00pm.

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