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Glamming for a cause

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, News, Top Story | No Comments

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

Local performance artist to help newly HIV-diagnosed Latino youth

Glitz Glam — also known as Jesse Greika to his MO’s Universe family — learned that he was HIV positive at the age of 19. He said he remembers very clearly how he felt; he was devastated, overwhelmed and challenged with the journey that lay ahead.

(l) Local celebrity Glitz Glam (Artwork by Neon Clown Art); (r) One of the many faces of Glitz Glam (Courtesy Jesse Greika)

On Saturday, June 3, he’s producing The Glam-a-thon, a one-of-a-kind fundraiser aimed at helping others — specifically Latino youth — who have been newly diagnosed with the disease and face similar challenges.

“The Latino youth community is the fastest rising segment of our community for new diagnoses, but there is a lack of education and funding in Mexico — they don’t tell them about PrEP, they don’t even tell them about HIV period,” Glitz said. “So they come over the border and they are uninformed, they’re uneducated and they don’t know what to do.”

In 2014, Glitz’s friend Esteban Duarte launched a nonprofit, VIDA — which means “life” in Spanish — to help fill that void.

“VIDA’s mission is to reduce the incidences of HIV among youth,” Duarte said. “Confront and battle stigmas. Remind people to get tested early. Know your status. Empower people.”

To help accomplish that mission, Duarte said the organization has three mottos:

  • We stand TOGETHER against HIV.
  • Tener VIDA es tener AMOR (to have LIFE is to have LOVE).
  • AIDS no tiene frontera; Yo tampoco las tendré (AIDS does not discriminate; nor will I).

“I feel strong in supporting an organization that is going to help Latino youth, to educate and help them navigate through that red tape and find financial aid,” Glitz said. “Most of them don’t have the money to afford health care, especially what’s needed to take care of the HIV drugs.”

The two men had worked together last year on VIDA’s first fundraiser, a Bowl-a-thon, and Duarte asked Glitz to get involved again; this time suggesting that he put on a production of his own liking.

As a result, The Glam-a-thon was born. It will be one and a half hours of Glitz’s special kind of drag.

“Glam-a-thon is just a night to see some avant garde drag that you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise see and to raise some money for a good cause,” Glitz said.

A bevy of avant garde drag performance artists will join local celebrity Glitz Glam on stage at Urban MO’s June 3, to raise money for Latino youth with HIV; (l to r) Daniel Demented, Loris Queen and Grotesqua (Artwork by Neon Clown Art)

A total of 10 performers will each bring their unique personal brands of performance drag to the stage, many who have performed on the popular monster-style drag alternative spawned from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Dragula, which Glitz calls “Drag Race on steroids.”

In addition to Glitz Glam, who will both host and perform, other performers at The Glam-a-thon include Xochi Mochi, a Dragula competitor; Daniel Demented, a “very creative” club kid from LA; Loris Queen, also a Dragula competitor whose face Glitz said gives him inspiration; Earthintruder, a local and a MO’s employee who is “the father of the San Diego club kids”; Sienna Desire, another local; Ursula Major, another Dragula competitor who is described as a “pain pig,” because she literally staples tips to her face and forehead; Grotesqua, a new performer on the scene; Lady VaJayJay, a close friend of Glitz’s who hails from a city near the Mojave Desert and creates all of her own headdresses; and Kicxky Vixen Styles, another local and MO’s and Rich’s employee, whom Glitz describes as a “machine” and a cosplay queen.

Glitz is known for hosting the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties at MO’s and after seven years as a staffer, was promoted to manager in January.

The Connecticut native got his drag start while living in Miami for five years, where he performed as Glitz Glamore (emphasis on more), a much more feminine version of who he is today.

A new job offer gave Glitz and his husband Anthony — they got married four years ago at the Grammy’s “with Madonna as our wedding singer,” he said — the opportunity to move west and start anew in 2008. Focusing on his job as operations manager at Mankind, he set his drag persona aside for a few years.

Glitz and Duarte at last year’s VIDA fundraiser (Courtesy Esteban Duarte)

When it was time to bring Glitz back, he wanted to recreate his look. Having lots of body hair, he said he was tired of shaving and had been inspired by Disco Dolly, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, and his use of glitter in his beard.

“So let’s drop the ‘more’ and keep the ‘glam’ and reinvent myself as a bearded, gender fluid queen,” Glitz said. “I ran with it. Bearded queens have been around for a long time — so I am by no means the first one, but I think I am the first to bring it to the forefront of the drag community.”

In his younger years, Glitz said he felt like an outcast and struggled both with his identity and to fit in, but the challenges he experienced with HIV is what ultimately inspired him to find himself.

“When I was diagnosed it helped me to channel my fear into some creativity,” he said. “I wanted to numb the reality that something was crawling under my skin and I created this alter ego that was empowered. I said ‘fuck it, I’m going to be colorful, creative and beautiful and unique and myself, and I’m not going to let this take me down.

“I love performing and hosting and I am comfortable in my skin now,” he continued. “I definitely feel that I am under the transgender umbrella, gender queer, if you will, or gender fluid. That’s where I’m at now.”

While his current decidedly masculine alter ego has left more of his feminine attributes behind, he said he’s “kind of happy in the gender fuck” state he now resides.

(l to r) Ursula Major, Lady Vajayjay and Earthintruder (Artwork by Neon Clown Art)

“I think we’re all really special, each one of us, and I think society makes us form ourselves into a certain box or label but I think that’s changing. Youth is much more empowered and making sure you have your right pronouns and I don’t even know all that stuff but I think it’s great.”

A team of creatives, many from his work family, helps him style each new look and transform Glitz’s 5-foot-9-inch frame to nearly 7-feet tall with shoes that vary their elevation from 8- to 12-inches and the addition of a variety of headdresses.

His performances focus on classic rock and male-centric vocals, such as Journey, Ozzie Ozbourne, Queen and the Rolling Stones.

“I’m not a dancing queen, I know that — though my lip sync is good — I’m a face queen,” he said. “We all have our strengths and mine is about the transformation and the piece of art that you’re getting. I never do the same face twice. It’s been a different face for 20 years.”

During the show, Family Health Centers of San Diego will have a van outside offering free HIV testing and there will also be free chair massages.

(l to r) Sienna Desire, Kicxky Vixen and Xochi Mochi (Artwork by Neon Clown Art)

Once The Glam-a-thon is over, the crew will move over to Rich’s for “Glamazon.” Those wearing their Glam-a-thon wristbands will not only get into Rich’s on a Saturday night for free, but also have access to the “VIP Glam Lounge” space upstairs and the opportunity to mingle with the performers.

After a runway-style entrance, the performers will take turns with a “hot spot” or go-go set and be available for meet-and-greets, photos and tipping. DJ Kitty Glitter has flown in from Australia for the event and DJ K-Swift will be spinning in the front room.

“Glitz Glam means the world to me as a personal friend, a leader, someone I can trust and I have learned a lot from him,” Duarte said. “At the same time, we both believe in helping others and bringing an end to the AIDS/HIV pandemic. I am grateful to Glitz and all the other girls for making this event a reality.”

The Glam-a-thon, a fundraiser for VIDA, will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 3, at Urban MO’s, located at 208 University Ave. in Hillcrest. Immediately following the show, join the performers at Glamazon at Rich’s Nightclub, located at 1051 University Ave. in Hillcrest.

For more information, visit tinyurl.com/mwzeeah.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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