Heklina is as old as dirt.
Everyone knows that she was one of the original drag queens who arrived during the infamous Gold Rush in 1848 with nothing but a dream and an ability to remain on her knees for hours (to pan for gold, of course.)
If San Francisco is truly the ‘Paris of the West’ then Heklina is the mastermind responsible for our very own ‘Moulin Rouge.’ Heklina founded Trannyshack back in 1996 at The Stud. It remains the longest running drag event in San Francisco, and she has hosted the show from its inception.
Trannyshack is pure theatre, both innovative and edgy. It has resonated with the community since the beginning. “I was working at the Stud and they had Tuesday nights available. No promoter could get anything off the ground.” She says, “So they asked me if I wanted to try something. I started doing Trannyshack, expecting it to last a few months, and it was a surprising hit. It took off! It’s been my whole life, really.” The club has long been a training ground for up and coming drag talent. Performers who have cut their teeth and honed their craft on the Trannyshack stage include Ana Matronic (Scissor Sisters), Peaches Christ, Alaska Thunderfuck, Jinkx Monsoon, Juanita More, Pollo Del Mar, and countless others. More than an entertaintress, Heklina is a community advocate, working tirelessly for worthwhile charities and speaking up for the LGBT Community. Recently, she found herself on the steps of City Hall going heel-to-heel with Miss Mark Zuckerberg on the issue of Facebook’s recent enforcement of their ‘Real Name Policy”, a policy that seems to be targeting the drag community exclusively. A battle that she seems to have won, by the way. <holla.> “It’s completely unclear why now this is suddenly an issue for Facebook,” she says, “I mean, I feel like this is more about advertising dollars and not so much about how we interact socially.”
Heklina also announced a few months ago that she was trying to purchase a nightclub on the 11th Street corridor, just a few steps from Beatbox, Audio, Slims and DNA. As it happens, she has just received the keys and the plan (fingers crossed) is to throw an incredible New Years Eve event to launch her new cabaret venue.
We caught up with Heklina by phone as she was recovering from her recent medical ‘procedure.’
<Hawthorne> Thanks for taking my call, I know you’ve just had an abortion. You must be tired. Is this your first? Oh, honey, no. This is like my fourth or fifth time terminating an unwanted pregnancy.
Do you think you will ever carry a child to term? Someday, maybe. I’m just too young to think about children right now. You know? There will be time for a family down the road, but not now. I’m too busy; I’d make a terrible mother.
You are busy. You’ve been battling Facebook, hosting Trannyshack, planning Halloween and a movie night at the Castro theatre with Peaches, traveling all over the place, and as I understand it, you’re now opening your own nightclub? I am! I am incredibly excited. In fact, we got the keys yesterday.
Shut up! Really?! When do you plan to open? We hope to open on New Year’s Eve. But there is a shitload of work to do. The place is a wreck. I mean, the swimming pool that was in there has been filled in. The retractable roof is no longer retractable. The contractor is in there as we speak trying to figure it all out. We have to also bring it up to code and get the fire inspection done.
Otherwise it could be literally be a ‘disco inferno?’ Literally. Burn, baby, burn. All that synthetic hair in there would kill us all. Flamers are welcome, but open flames are not. We certainly want the place to be safe and ready for patrons.
Speaking of burning up, the location is in a hot spot. <laughs> It is. I mean, we’re neighbors with DNA Lounge, Slims, BeatBox and Audio, all of which do really well. That corridor on 11th Street is really happening these days.
Has it been hard dealing with the City in this process? It has. I have never been to City Hall more in my life. Meetings about meetings. But that is their job. They have to make sure that my business is playing by the rules and living up to the expectations this City has. It’s a process, but it’s a process that has a purpose. Let’s face it, San Francisco is a beautiful place to be and people are moving here like crazy – we have a finite amount of space. We have to manage it.
People don’t move to San Francisco to stay home. People move here to go out. That is absolutely true. We want to explore and be exposed to all kinds of things. But I think that all this massive housing construction is terrible for us. It’s bleeding us of some of our character. Some of these people don’t know how to act when they go out. They don’t want to be a part of the party, but they come to judge and observe. I noticed that a lot at Folsom this year. They just don’t seem to know how to participate I guess. There is a lot of entitlement with some of these people.
What is your vision for this new club? Honestly, it’s going to be primarily a performance venue. I will finally have a home for Trannyshack and all my events. Because of the real estate market here, San Francsico has lost so many live venue places, you know. We want to bring back some of the fun of live acts. People need that variety.
There won’t be any djs or dancing? Oh, yes, of course, after the performances are done, there will be an opportunity for people to drink and dance and enjoy themselves. We want to embrace all of it. We’ll do a show or two early in the evening and then flip it into a dance club until 2am.
Have you decided on the name for the venue? Oasis.
That was the original name, right? Yes. It was called Oasis before, but I feel like now that name has a new meaning. Given that we are bringing back a spot for cabaret and live performances, it feels like a little oasis in SOMA where people can have a different kind of experience. It will be an Oasis of glamour and art and culture. More importantly, it will be a place where creative people can workshop their talents and network with one another. Creative people can come together here and collaborate and do some really wonderful things.
Your plate is full I guess. Do you have any personal time for yourself? Not so much. I mean, I still have the Golden Girls to prepare, which is always a lot of fun, so I have to dedicate time to that. I have Halloween, of course, and another show coming up in Puerto Vallarta. I also have the ‘Romy and Michele’ movie night at the Castro theatre with Peaches coming up in November. Yes, I guess you could say I’m a busy drag queen. <laughs>
Do you have time to see your family at all? I’m getting together with my parents and my siblings for Thanksgiving this year. So I am looking forward to that. It means traveling to Boise, Idaho, but I’m just happy we’re finding time to get together.
What did they think when you started doing drag? Like anyone who doesn’t understand it, they thought I was transgender and was planning a sex change. If you put on a dress and a wig, then I guess you want to chop of your dick. <laughs>
True! I told my mom I was gay and she asked me ‘Have you been wearing my clothes?!’ <laughs> Exactly! We’re not all interested in being women. Some of us are, and that’s ok – but drag is mostly camp and theatre for me.
How long have you been in San Francisco? I moved here in 1991. So it was the time of Club Universe and all those big clubs. That was a great time to be in San Francisco.
In your opinion, what has changed the most? I think people just don’t go out like they used to. Nightlife has become so tame. And that’s sad. Which is why I am looking forward to shaking things up a bit with opening Oasis. I mean, let’s just let the freak flag fly. You know? No offense to anyone who has opened a new bar or club, but many seem to follow the same formula. I know I’ll be doing something different. I think people are afraid to get a little edgy these days. You know?
With the homogenization of gay and straight cultures, a lot of bars have to consider the straight crowd to stay alive. I want straight people to come to my events and to my club, but I am certainly not going to pander or dumb down my formula for them. They will have to come and see the things that are presented from our perspective and not tailored for their consumption. San Francisco is hungry for something new.
Facebook seems to be really causing a problem with this new ‘real name’ policy. Yes. They are. They basically want to push everyone into treating their identity as a business – they want us to set up fan pages. Unfortunately, fan pages don’t behave like personal pages and they are limited. They also require payment to manage. For many of us, we’ve worked years to build our identities and it’s who we are – it’s who we are known as. Sometimes your name is all you have in life.
Well, I guess P!nk will need to change her name as well then? Who? Never heard of her. <laughs> Honestly, this rule won’t be applied to any celebrities. They have the money and resources to pay the fees for posting and reaching their fanbase anyway.
I mean, they say you can post to your fanbase, but it will cost you $140 for that post. Exactly. There is nothing I need to say that will be worth $140. In fact, people can pay me $140 to keep my mouth shut.
How was the meeting with Facebook executives anyway? It went well, at least as well as could be expected. But this is a process and we have to meet with them again and again. It’s about getting our voices out there and making sure they get it. They just don’t get it. (*Note: Facebook apologized to the drag community and the names were restored shortly after this interview.) )
What do you have planned for Trannyshack for Halloween? That’s always a good one. Well, we’re doing it at Beatbox this year, Friday, October 31st. It will be as crazy as we can make it. The acts are already working hard on their shows and everyone involved is ready to rip the stage. This will be the last event under the name Trannyshack for awhile, so don’t miss it!
Photography by Jose A Guzman-Colon, Couture by Daffney D’Luxe & makeup by Diego Gomez
Heklina will host her annual Trannyshack event at BeatBox on Friday, October 31st. For tickets, visit Trannyshack.com. She will also partner with Peaches Christ for Romi & Michele’s High School Reunion at the Castro Theatre on November 22nd.