Let’s Be Real. Erica Gabriel

By Michael Martinez / Images by Jeff Kaluzny and Ashlynn Danger Danielson

The attacks on the transgender community seem to be unending. This past July, President Trump [gross] ordered without notice [via tweet] the removal of all transgender personnel from the military. Meanwhile, in North Carolina the debate still rages about which bathroom people should be using. We’ve also witnessed the very public rise [and fall] of Caitlyn Jenner — one of America’s most respected athletes and reality TV personalities who transitioned right before our eyes with the attention of the world on her — and yet she somehow did very little for the transgender community as a whole.

Transgender people and their fight for equality have finally become part of the national conversation. But for many, being transgender is not a recent trend — it’s an everyday struggle to live, and in some cases, to simply survive.

If you’ve ever attended a circuit party or been a part of the gay club scene in New York, Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, then chances are you’ve shared the same smoke filled air with Masterbeat’s Erica Gabriel.

The first time I saw Erica was over a decade ago. It was in San Francisco on a warm Sunday in September during the annual celebration of all things fetish: the infamous Folsom Street Fair. Now, to the common observer the first and most obvious thing you might notice about Erica are her massive… ‘personalities.’ Fortunately for me, I’ve never been considered common and what my eyes saw on that rare and sunny leather-clad Sunday was a strong and powerful woman – a woman who had clearly made a decision to live her life as she saw fit, without apology, and I felt an overwhelming amount of respect for her because of it.

erica_title shot by ashlynn

Image by Ashlynn Danger Danielson

Little did I know then that my journey would allow us to cross paths again later and it was in 2015 that I had the amazing opportunity to spend quality time and fully bond with Erica in Dallas during the Purple Party. A year later, fate put both of us in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t be more honored to spill the ‘T’ all over the place with her! Today Erica and I are perched in my quiet, and quaint new hometown of Beverly Hills, and even though we are sipping champagne, we’ve already got the ‘T’ pot boiling…

<Michael> GirI, I can only imagine the story you are about to share with me! For the readers’ sake, let’s just start from the beginning…  <Erica> [Little nervous giggle] Well, I was born and raised in Austin TX; [still giggling] I grew up and lived there until junior high school, which is about the time that my parents divorced. From there, we moved to Waco. We were there for a while and then my mom remarried a year or two later. After that, we moved to Bryan-College Station, that’s where I spent most of my college years. It’s a small town between Austin and Houston

<Michael> Did you have a happy childhood? <Erica> It was ok. When I was a kid it was good, until my parents divorced. After that, I was with my Mom — and it was hard. My mom never worked before so now it was hard because she was suddenly trying to support my brother and me. Things were rough a lot of the time. I have two brothers and one sister, but when they divorced they split us up. My youngest brother and I went with our mom, and my other brother and sister went with my dad.

Were you close with your siblings growing up? Are you close with them now? My siblings and I have always had our ups and downs. They always knew I was different and, honestly, we are all so different. Even though we were split up, it was right because I always felt that my youngest brother Jeremiah and I have always had the best connection; we have always been the outsiders in our own way. He is very rough but I know he truly cares for me.

Do you remember your first thoughts of being gay? I didn’t know I was gay initially because I didn’t know what gay was; I just knew I was different. I was always very girly, and people would always say that I was feminine – a fag – and all kinds of stuff, but I still kind of put it out of my mind as to why I was what I was.

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Do you feel in retrospect that you’ve blocked some of those childhood memories because of the torment? Yeah, probably. I can remember even in elementary school, I was always trying to hide it. Always trying to make sure I wasn’t walking on my tiptoes, because everyone would make fun of me because I was always on my tiptoes. I would always walk on the ball of my foot on purpose. I’d have to concentrate on it so I wouldn’t do it. Even to this day, like, if I’m in sneakers, I catch myself doing it again.

It’s one thing to feel gay, but I think it’s another feeling altogether to feel that you’re not in the right body. Was it like that at all for you? No, it wasn’t like that for me. I knew I was gay in high school and I was trying to keep it hidden. I truly believed I was gay. I would see the trash TV shows that were on at the time, like Jerry Springer and Geraldo, and I would see all these trannies and drag queens and club kids on these shows — and I would look at them and say, ‘Eww! That’s gross’.  It did not appeal to me at all.  That’s how it was for me. When I graduated high school, I still wasn’t out. I didn’t come out until the spring semester of my freshman year. That was the first time I went to a gay bar. It was this tiny little one room gay bar in Bryan-College Station called ‘The Club’ — and that’s where I would go to see the drag shows, and I still didn’t think anything of it.

But then I met this drag queen, Sammy, and we started hanging out. I thought she was a crazy little drag queen [little giggle] and I didn’t think anything of it, but then one day we were hanging out and she goes, ‘Let me put you in drag, for fun’. And so she did, and when I I looked into the mirror — everything fell into place and clicked. It literally was like, someone turned the switch on! The only thing I remember about it is ‘let’s just do it for fun, let’s just play around’ and then everything just kind of went ‘on!’

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Do you remember your first emotions in that moment? Do you think that the sudden feeling, or switch turning on as you said, had anything to do with growing up repressed as an individual? I think so. Bryan-College Station is a very small town, very conservative, and since high school I had been repressing everything I felt inside. Even in college my roommate was straight, so I really couldn’t be with another guy then. I was constantly putting everything aside for the sake of others around me. Even though he was cool with the gay thing, we were fine, we hung out, but I still couldn’t do anything because he was there. So everything was always kind of squished in, or put behind. That one time I got dressed up was over at Sammy’s house, so there I could do whatever I wanted to, so yes — when it clicked on everything just felt like right, for the first time. There was this freedom when I got drag for the first time and suddenly now I get it – for the first time, I get me.

Do you remember the first time you set foot in public, in drag? Yes! Oh, God! [Laughing] This is so stupid… I felt so free, but I didn’t have any makeup – so, of course, I went to go buy makeup. I went to Dillard’s makeup counter. [Laughs] I don’t remember the brand, but there was this lady there and I told her that I needed some make up and she was like, ‘Oh, let me help you!’ — and she put my first face on right there in the middle of Dillard’s department store, [laughing] and I didn’t care because I was just so damn happy!

“I went to go buy makeup. I went to Dillard’s makeup counter… I don’t remember the brand, but there was this lady there and I told her that I needed some make up and she was like, ‘Oh, let me help you!’ — and she put my first face on right there in the middle of Dillard’s department store, and I didn’t care because I was just so damn happy!”

I didn’t have a whole lot of money, and I was like ‘I can only buy a couple of things’ and ‘this is kind of expensive,’ so she was like, ‘hold on’, and while I bought the foundation and powder, she literally went to every counter and got every free sample that they could give me! I left with a bag of makeup! But all of my makeup fit in a little zip lock bag, [Laughs] and I thought I was the fiercest thing on the planet! I thought I was gorgeous and beat! With this itty bitty clear zip lock bag [laughing hysterically] of free samples of Clinique and shit like that, but it didn’t matter. You could not tell me I was not a woman! With this little clear zip lock bag! [Still laughing]

Obviously you’ve graduated from that zip lock bag. [Laughing still] Yesss!

Wait, when was Erica Gabriel born? When I was in Bryan-College, that’s when I started doing drag — and that’s when I started performing. Back then my name was Denise. [Laughs]

What was it?  DENISE! [Laughing Harder] Because there was this drag queen I liked a lot and she was really, really, pretty and her name was Denise Michaels, and that’s what I wanted my name to be, so I picked it after her. And it was Denise for a long time.

After my sophomore year of college, I quit school and I moved back to Austin. I was there for a couple of years [still as Denise], just performing and being a young trashy tranny, doing young trashy things and that’s where I just went wild! I went wild because I was out, I was doing drag and I was excited. I was out every night — drinking, drugs, boys, whatever — you name it, I was doing it! Girl, I was even working the street corner and everything. [Laughs]

I was in Austin for another three or four years, I think I was about 24 or 25 years old, and I was living with a girlfriend of mine. We had been going to New York just to visit and I remember the last time we were there was for New Year’s Eve. I came home from that trip, and everyone was like, “Erica, we got to tell you that while you were in New York, Mario and this other girl had a party in your house, and he slept with her in your bed…” And I was just like over it — because there was always a lot of drama in Austin with the girls. The girls would always compete, they would always fight over the same men, and I was like, “I’m tired of this bullshit, I’m tired of Austin, I don’t want to be here anymore, I don’t know why I left New York, I should have just stayed there.” That’s when I thought, “I should just move to New York!” At this same time, I got an offer to go be on the Jerry Springer Show! [Laughs Hysterically]

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I told my friend ‘let’s just get rid of everything and go!’ She agreed. I got rid of everything and secretly packed only what I wanted to take with me — and that was it. We went to Chicago and we spent three days on the Jerry Springer Show. From there we each bought a one-way ticket from Chicago to New York City.

Just like that. We moved. We didn’t have a place to live. We had nothing. We didn’t know anyone. We got a hotel room for that night, and we ended up staying in that hotel room for three months. [Laughs] I went to New York to be someone new and I wanted to get rid of everything from the past, I didn’t want any memory of Austin — and that’s when I changed my name to Erica Gabriel.

Was your name selection random? No, there was Erica Andrews at the time and I always worshipped her. I thought she was the greatest thing on the planet, and so I was like I’m going to change it to Erica, and I was Erica Gabriel from that moment.

So now that you are finally comfortable in your skin as Erica Gabriel, what was it like breaking into the New York scene? I moved to New York and I didn’t know anyone. It was just me and my friend, Colida, and we were like, ‘ok, now what?’ We didn’t have jobs and didn’t know what to do for money so we started escorting.

We started going to the tranny parties and the tranny bars, and then we started escorting. Now we’re hanging out with trannies and going to where the trannies hang out — but just like Austin, there was so much competition and so much drama.

I couldn’t take it anymore. We began exploring the straight clubs and bars for a long time, like Webster Hall, and then we started meeting gay guys, and they invited us to these parties — Avalon, Splash, and The Roxy. Eventually we stopped going to the straight parties altogether, and we’re at the gay parties all the time! And that’s how I started getting noticed and making new friends. Then you’re in the crowd, and you’re like, “How am I going to get noticed?” — so then you start wearing more revealing outfits to show more skin [Laughs] And that’s about the time when I got my boobs done. [Laughs]

So this is 2005, maybe 2006, and there was this friend from Texas whose sugar daddy was a plastic surgeon. She came to New York and she injected both me and my friend with medical-grade silicon..

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Oh, God! [Laughs] I just had my first treatment, and already I thought I was Pamela Anderson! [Laughing] I had these little bitty nubby titties and I remember I went to the Roxy and I made some stupid dress that went over one shoulder, and one boob was hanging out — and I had a pasty on the exposed nipple. [Laughs] I remember everyone went crazy for it! I remember thinking that I was Pamela Anderson walking onto a playboy shoot, but everyone really loved it!

“I just had my first treatment, and already I thought I was Pamela Anderson! [Laughing] I had these little bitty nubby titties and I remember I went to the Roxy and I made some stupid dress that went over one shoulder, and one boob was hanging out — and I had a pasty on the exposed nipple.”

After that, I was like, “Well maybe there’s something here… the boys like this, maybe I should go bigger?” I ended up doing more and more, obviously [Looking down at her chest and laughing]

I was spending a lot time at Roxy. I got into the whole circuit thing, and that’s where I met Peter [Rauhofer]. That’s where I met Peter, that’s where I met Paulo, I didn’t meet Brett at that time but he was a resident there — but that was my introduction to the circuit scene. I remember the lighting guy Mitch Amtrak would take me into the booth and I would hang out and talk with Peter.

Peter would always see me dancing on the center stage, because when I was feeling delicious, I would go dance on the center stage, and he loved it! And then one night he asked to meet me, and that’s what started our friendship. This is just when he was doing Roxy. We were friends for a long time.

If I may interrupt you for a second, I never realized you knew Peter personally, may I ask, how did Peter’s death affect you? Peter’s death was very hard for me; I rarely talk about it. I remember we were both booked to do a party in San Francisco when he went into the hospital; they told me and asked me just to do my best to cover for him because no one knew he was sick. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I was so sad and hurting inside and had to put on a brave face… and when he passed I was heartbroken. I miss him so much. There are songs of his that I can’t listen to, because I will break down. I’d like to think that he sees me now and sees the stuff I am doing in my life… I like to think that he would be proud. We lost someone special when we lost Peter.

Brett was also there in New York but our paths hadn’t really crossed. I think it’s kind of funny now that it wasn’t for another decade that our relationship really developed.

I wasn’t really working the parties anymore, I was just going there. I was just part of the scene and everyone knew me, so that’s when I started selling drugs. [Laughs] Ugh, what am I doing… that’s when I started selling drugs.

What?! How do you just become a drug dealer?! Well, a friend of mine was selling drugs, but everyone knew who I was and felt comfortable with me. So, naturally, everyone was asking me if I knew anyone who had anything and so we were like, ‘we’ll do this together.’ He would supply them, and I would sell them. He paid for everything: he paid my bills, he paid my rent, and took care of whatever I needed — food, shoes, spending money. It was that way for a very long time.

“I needed to live. I went back to escorting.”

Then the Roxy closed. We were still in business because we had other venues that we could still sell, but then we started going to the circuit parties, and traveling to different countries and larger circuit parties. We travelled all over — Miami, Palm Springs, Fire Island. We were traveling all over because when we lost the weekly business, we had to make up for it at larger events. During travel, people would see me everywhere, they knew who I was, I just became more and more popular. Because I was so popular it was really easy money. [Laughs] They just came right up to us. We didn’t have to do much work.

We did that for a while and then we went back to NY — and then my friend got busted. The guy that he was seeing turned him in. Everything was done, I couldn’t sell anymore, I didn’t have anything to sell. That was it, I had nothing. I lost everything. That was a tough lesson because the minute I didn’t have anything for anyone, everyone turned their back on me – just like that. I had no more drugs, so no one wanted to be my friend. I didn’t know what I was going to do. One moment I went from famous, high and fabulous – then I fell all the way to below the bottom. I would cry all the time right after this happened. It was a hard lesson in the gay world; a lesson in friendship, a lesson as to how fast things can turn around. I needed to live. I went back to escorting.

I was doing that for a while, then XL opened up, 48 opened up and New York kind of started happening again. The party scene blew up and people started noticing me again — that’s when I got asked to host the parties. That’s when Peter and I started talking more about me helping him to promote Work. I would go with him to Miami to do the Work parties there. I was hosting like four or five nights a week at bars and parties all over the East Coast. It became less about going to a party, and more about doing a job — because I needed to make money. People knew who I was, I would bring people to the club, and with the opening of the new clubs, I was meeting more people, new people, and then my stock rose again! I started to leverage the circuit scene as a job, people still knew who I was, they still had that mentality that I sold, but I was like, ‘I don’t do that anymore’ — but people were always around me, so that’s when the promoters and bar owners would see everyone around me, and then they were like, ‘Hey do you want to host this night and that night?’ I was able to use the attention I was getting to bring people to these events. I was really good at promoting and hosting.

Thank you for your candor. I really appreciate you sharing your very personal story and being so honest. Of course!

Here’s your opportunity to spill all the ‘T’ — Has there ever been that moment when you’re like, “bitch, just you wait”, well it’s that time! Anything you want to share, please… [Hand Claps] I’m not going to say any names… but there are people in the scene that I know who don’t think that I deserve to be where I am — and they think that it should be them. They don’t understand how I do this, or why I do what I do, especially because they feel that they are in the same place that they’ve been for the past couple of years. But, that’s on them. It’s not my fault you don’t do anything to elevate yourself.

“It’s not my fault you don’t want to elevate yourself!” We need that on a T’shirt! FIERCE! [Laughing] Before we end this, I do need to say something.

Absolutely, what do you want to say? I just need to thank Brett [Henrichsen] because he has completely changed my life. I’m in the best part… the happiest part of my life right now, and I really do owe it all to him. If you had told me three years ago that I would be here living in Los Angeles, working at Masterbeat and doing all this — I would never have believed you. Yes, it’s hard some days and sometimes we want to kill each other, but I’m still so happy that he gave me this opportunity and I’m so happy to be in LA. I don’t even think I’ll ever be able to repay him for that. I don’t think he even realizes how much he has changed my life for the better.

I think that’s pretty gracious… Humble. [Laughing]

I’m going to quote you on that! But even in saying that, I think he knows that’s why you work so hard for him. I think he knows, if it weren’t the case — you would have gone back to New York. That might be true, but like every decision that is made for every event, I’m consulted. Some people are surprised with the level of trust that Brett and I have built together; I think some people are shocked by that kind of trust.

Where you are now, in life, are you happy? This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I’m stable. I have a wonderful job. I truly enjoy what I do with the parties. I enjoy Brett giving me the ability to be creative. This is the best time of my life right now; I don’t have any complaints. People adore me [Laughing], but truly this is the best time — mainly because of the people in my life.

What’s next for Erica Gabriel? Right now it’s not about just me – I want to build up Masterbeat; bigger and better, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that. Not just to expand and enhance the brand, but to have a positive impact on the scene itself and to positively impact those who are a part of it. Otherwise, I’m open to whatever; we’ll see, stay tuned!

What about a movie? A movie? [Giggling] It’ll need to be an NC-17 rating – Wait, who would you pick to play me?

I don’t know, who would you want? Jennifer Lopez! Of course! What kind of fucking question is that!? [Laughing Loudly] She’s the only one that could play me!


Follow Erica on Instagram @ericanyc

Ring in the New Year with Erica and 3,000 of the hottest men from around the world at KINGDOM LOS ANGELES. Relive the year with Masterbeat’s legendary countdown to midnight — and dance to the music of Grind and Alex Acosta at the legendary Mayan Theatre!

Visit www.MasterBeat.com and make your plans today for a New Year’s Getaway!

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