On Juno Birch’s Instagram page, she describes herself as being a drag queen, transwoman, alien in Manchester, and also available for bookings. So far, so fabulous. On the morning that we speak, however, her kitten, a five-month-old Asian Shorthair is unwell. An intergalactic trans woman trudging home with her kitten in a box on a cold February day in Manchester makes for a striking scene – a mixture of the fantastical and the mundane – which has become something of a signature of both her persona and art.
You may have seen Juno Birch break down her ‘Alien Queen’ beauty routine on Vogue.com. Or you may be one of her legions of YouTube fans who like to watch the bizarre world she has created with a popular computer simulation game. One such video shows Brenda McDonald, an avatar in a tight pink mini skirt and pink platform shoes, interacting with her husband, Ronald McDonald, the famous clown from the fast-food franchise. Such videos, in which Birch provides commentary, regularly get upwards of 100K plus views.
The short film which she contributed to the Jo Malone London Spring Artist Series, depicts an alien in 60’s housewife drag, crash landing in a botanical garden in Manchester, who then wanders around bemused and unsure of what to do in among all that nature. At one point in the film, she picks up a plastic fish out of a pond and waves it around like a toy. ‘Even though I always use humour as a way of expressing myself, it does have a personal undertone to it,’ says Birch, when explaining the motivation behind her work. ‘Being a transgender woman is something that has made me feel quite alienated, artificial and unnatural because I'm not biologically female, and that was an insecurity of mine so for so many years.’
This mix of alien weirdness intermingled with everyday happenings on planet Earth, is a kind of commentary on the difficulties, and crucially, freedom and fun to be had in her journey to becoming a trans woman. Birch got to a point in her life where she decided to totally embrace, ‘the fact that I’m artificial.’ The scene when the alien picks up the fish is a playful reference to a moment in Edward Scissorhands when he tries to drink lemonade, but it ends up pouring out of his throat. ‘He’s in this pastel world and he doesn't know what he’s doing,’ says Birch laughing. ‘I don't want it to be taken too seriously,’ says Birch of the film she has created for Jo Malone London. ‘The thing that I want the most is just to make people laugh and say, “What was that?”.’