San Francisco

Better know a drag queen: Lindsay Slowhands

This story is part of a Hoodline series—“Better Know A Drag Queen” — chronicling San Francisco drag performers, their shows, influences, and favorite career moments.

Early in her career, actress Lindsay Lohan became known just as much for her film success as she did for tumbling down a Hollywood cliché of excessive partying and drug use.

For Jon Livingstone — AKA San Francisco drag queen “Lindsay Slowhands” — it is the Hollywood starlet’s famously chaotic lifestyle that inspired the moniker for his alter ego.

He has been performing as Slowhands in San Francisco for eight years, and while soccer moms decry how Lohan threw it all away by partying, that lifestyle is something Livingstone always wanted but never had as a small-town boy from Ceres, California.

“There’s a truth in me that exists in Lindsay, part of this teenage dream that I never got to live,” Livingstone told Hoodline recently. “It’s this idea of being messy and promiscuous, and doing whatever the hell I want to do. The idea that no one’s going stop me.”

Slowhands’ bi-monthly party — “Hell’a Tight,” which is held at Underground SF in Lower Haight — doesn’t exactly give off a reckless vibe.

The event just celebrated its seventh anniversary, and at it, Slowhands promises to “get you super high on sweet treats.” The “treats” turn out to literally be candy that’s been stuffed in an open makeup box, complete with Blow Pops, mini Kit Kat bars, and other assorted sweets.

Candy in a make-up box at Hell'a Tight. | Photo: Cabure Alejandro Bonugli

During Hell’a Tight, booming speakers blare nostalgic melodies from Backstreet Boys, Ace of Base, Miley Cyrus, and more.  Posters of boy- and girl-bands from the 1990s and 2000s adorn the walls of the smallish space on 424 Haight St.

“The music and decor is meant to bring people back to good times and good feelings,” Slowhands said. “There’s no negativity at my party.”

And there really isn’t any, based on our visit earlier this year.

The party feels more akin to a suburban high school dance, except instead of traditional mall clothing, attendees are often seen sporting neon getups, skimpy attire, or drag looks. Some men wear heels or tight dresses, while others show off oversized metallic or jeweled necklaces.

There’s no truly raucous behavior (like some of Lohan’s) at Hell’a Tight: only laughs, silly dancing, and strong drinks. The event draws a loyal following — Darren Criss from TV’s Glee even attended once — because of Slowhands' positive energy and fierce outfits, according to her friends.

“In a gay world where some people tend to knock others down, Lindsay is a very nurturing person, and she just wants you to get your life,” said Cabure Alejandro Bonugli, a San Francisco nightlife photographer who often works Slowhands’ parties.

Tod Barnett, AKA San Francisco DJ Haute Toddy, agrees.

“Lindsay does it all. She produces every element of the experience at her parties while looking flawless in her handmade, high-fashion, one-of-a-kind garments,” Barnett told Hoodline. “She’s a force of nightlife and an entertainer to her core.”

Livingstone personally sews a new outfit for each party for Slowhands, who never wears the same look twice.

Among dozens of ensembles, some standouts include a hand-sequined rainbow skirt, showing two manicured hands on its front and “Slowhands” in cursive above them. Another looks like a life-size neon green Blow Pop lollipop wrapper that’s been synched at the waist, paired naturally with a neon wig, eye shadow, and matching nails.

Livingstone's sparkly and neon handmade pieces. (Photos courtesy Slowhands' Instagram.)

Livingstone cultivated a passion for sewing as a teenager, when he was too thin to fit in traditional clothing, he said. The looks he makes now aim for a sort of high-end Forever21 feel to them, he said.

“They’re outfits that look like they might be bought there, but Lindsay Slowhands would never be caught dead at Forever21 because she’s too fashionable,” Livingstone said.

He considers Slowhands’ look and persona to be one-of-a-kind among drag queens: she’s not all pretty or all campy, but maybe somewhere in between.

"The one thing that I admire about her the most is her insane detail to all of the outfits she makes," said Christopher R. Vasquez, a friend of Livingstone and frequent attendee of Hell'a Tight. "Even from the early days of putting together spot-on Lady Gaga replicas for shows at Trannyshack and Wet-N-Wild, they have been absolutely perfect."

Another signature look — the jacket — was hand painted by Diego Gomez. | Photos: Lindsay Slowhands/Instagram

Livingstone draws inspiration from “everywhere,” such as designers Jeremy Scott and Alexander McQueen, Lady Gaga, and also from “messy” queens like some at local drag queen Heklina’s weekly revue, “Mother,” he said.

“I wanted to combine a soup, like put together all these ingredients,” he said.

Livingstone started doing drag in a “cliché gay way,” he said: dressing up for Halloween. A makeup artist taught him how to do his face, and some time later, Livingstone began attending Mother back when it was called “Trannyshack,” going as Lady Gaga in an Alexander McQueen-inspired look.

“I was doing something good. Something people enjoyed, and they were encouraging me, like, ‘You should pursue this,’ they told me,” he said.

He wound up onstage once on America’s Got Talent, performing in drag as Lady Gaga, but the audience booed him off.

“It was before I knew who I was,” he said, adding, “But I still had uniqueness, nerve, and talent.”

He came to San Francisco from Ceres with aspirations to perform music. From 2006 to 2008, he played piano and sung original works at Hotel Utah Saloon and Martunis, among other venues.

Livingstone’s songs were “slow and melodic,” drawing inspiration from Death Cab for Cutie and time he spent in a Christian rock band.

“I was a very shy emo kid who didn’t have a lot of friends, and that led me to a depression, which led me to a church,” he told Hoodline. “As I grew in the church, I became more self aware of my identity, and began to feel the church was holding me back from being myself.”

Authenticity ranks high for Livingstone, who has generally shied away from creating events in more “traditional” spaces in Castro, he said. Some rare exceptions: he produced a party called “Bleaux” with Haute Toddy from 2014-16 at Beaux, and sometimes joins up with “Mother” and Heklina, who Livingstone admires.

But for the most part, he said, “I wanted to go to other venues that I feel would be a better fit for the type of party I’m trying to create. There’s a certain style I’m thinking about, and with that, a type of space I need to express myself and the type of music.”

It’s a holistic outlook for him, about not just promoting a party or venue, but curating an entire experience.

“I can be the face, I can be the performer, I can be the one in the back. I love being a part of it all,” Livingstone said. “And I never want someone to tear me apart from this thing I’ve created.”

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