The Godmother. Heklina.

By David Helton | Photography by Jeff Kaluzny

Heklina is like the Transamerica Building.

She’s Big. She’s unusual. And in San Francisco, she’s iconic. While her notorious reputation as a performer may precede her, she’s also a savvy business man/lady.

Last year she embarked on a new journey – nightclub manager – with the opening of Oasis, the crowning jewel on the 11th Street corridor in SoMa at Folsom Street. In addition to breaking new talent, she has managed to keep her long-running drag show Mother (formerly known as Trannyshack) happening every week.

She remains forever innovative and creative and engaged in everything that makes San Francisco one of the most remarkable cities on the planet. Where would we be without our Godmother?

<Left> What was the hardest part about opening Oasis? <Heklina> Nothing was really a surprise. However, I was gratified by how much people loved Oasis from the time we opened. I was happy with the response. Honestly, we weren’t really quite ready to open but we opened anyway. We just did the best we could with what we had to work with.

How has this first year in business been for you? This has been a year of firsts. Our first pride. Our first Folsom. And we’ve learned what really works and what doesn’t.

People have been receptive to the mix of both cabaret and club events that you offer. It was always our intent to have Oasis be BOTH a cabaret club and a nightclub. We really missed cabaret venues. However, cabaret in San Francisco today cannot survive on it’s own as strictly a cabaret venue. We diversify the space by offering both seated live shows and a dance floor — and even a quiet bar to relax in and a rooftop space. We’re everything; we’re every woman.

Has it been easy working with the City? Honestly, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. We just got permits for everything. We’ve been respectful of the neighbors. Also, there wasn’t just public good will towards Oasis; there was also a lot of political good will. They were happy that we weren’t going to be another Club Caliente, which wasn’t so great for the neighborhood. Jane Kim and Scott Weiner really helped. And I think they want to see this little part of San Francisco survive.

You’ve also done a lot for politics – not just you, but the drag community in general. I know Roma is still dealing with Facebook. You guys have been the face of so many issues so I think it’s only fair that you get some support in return. True. We can’t expect it, but it’s nice to get. And we have gotten so much support from people within the city government. At the end of the day, we all need one another to make this whole thing work.

I think there is strength in having a variety of events at one venue. I also think that there is strength in having a lot of venues all working together in one part of town. We have Beatbox, Audio, DNA, Slims, Butter, The Eagle and even Powerhouse all in this area. It makes this part of SoMa a real destination.

Do you have any regrets about jumping into the business of running a nightclub? Not at all. I love it. But I do regret not really taking the time to understand some of the challenges more clearly. I mean, I would love to have some regularity on Friday nights. But it’s hard in this city to do a weekly.  Times have changed.

How have things changed in the drag community over the years? First of all, I’ve changed. I’m not the punk rock queen I used to be. I’m older. I don’t want to be as transgressive or shocking just for the sake of being shocking like I used to be. I am speaking about me personally. If young kids want to do it, that’s ok with me. But I don’t want to eat ass on stage anymore. I don’t like fake blood. I don’t like glitter. Drag has changed al to because of TV and the internet. Too many kids are not forming their own identities and creating a character. Instead, they’re just watching these make up tutorials and painting their faces and calling it ‘drag.’ There is not a lot of originality – and I think that’s sad. If I see a show with death drops and the same old shit, I get bored. It’s stagnant.

You must see some talented kids though? Oh, yeah. There are great performers in every part of the community. However, when everything is one-note and one-flavor, even a show that’s ‘too punk rock’ can be boring too. However, sometimes I just don’t think this new generation of kids has a work ethic; there is a lot of entitlement with some of them.

Heklina shoot 2

I can agree with that. You know, when RentBoy shut down and all these hookers were complaining that they lost a source of income, I was like ‘Listen, you can still be a hooker. You don’t need an app. Just put on your walking shoes and get out on the block and show us what you are working with.’ Just because this website is not making it EASY for you doesn’t mean you can’t still pursue your dream of prostitution. <Laughs> I can relate to that. I mean so many young aspiring drag performers want to work with me. Recently this queen who wanted to do a show contacted me and I checked the references. It all checked out so I agreed to book her. She was supposed to perform at Daytime Realness at like 5:30pm and at 5:00pm I get an excuse via text as to why she can’t perform. To me, it all sounded like an excuse. Of course, I was disappointed and since it was my event, I took ownership. But I told her ‘You won’t work with me again.’ Everyone thought that was so harsh, but everyone in this town knows – ‘If Heklina books you, you show up.’ I was blown away that someone would want something so badly and then just flake at the last minute. It didn’t make any sense. But I don’t have time to make sense out of it. That was an opportunity blown.

You have a low tolerance for bullshit. I have NO tolerance for bullshit. Drag is artistic and it’s fun and it’s cool, but at the end of the day this is all a business for me. If we don’t respect the people who are paying to see us, then we will not be in business very long. We have to behave like professionals. I don’t buy into the whole ‘She’s on drag time’ excuse. I am always on time or early for everything that I do. I expect that from the people I work with. If I have time to go to sound check, run my errands, go home, eat, get in drag and still be at the club before the doors open then the Dj better do that. The door people better do that. The bar staff better do that. I expect that from myself and from the people I work with.

How do you handle managing a bar and keeping the drag performers in line? I keep it real. I don’t accept excuses. I certainly don’t accept ‘I was drunk.’ <laughs>. You had too many drinks? You’re a liability at this point. Get out.

You’re playing ‘Uncle Fister’ for Peaches in Addam’s Family Values? I am! I just got the script from Peaches yesterday. Playing a man will be a stretch for me <laughs>. It’s been a while since I’ve played a male character so this one will be a lot of fun.

You guys also have the ‘Mother Cruise’ coming up early next year. We do! It’s the real deal too. I found out that they have a dress code for the dining room on a few of the nights. It’s just like being on the Titanic. You know, except for that whole ugly hitting-an-iceberg-and-dying part. <laughs>

What made you want to do a cruise? Peaches performed with Matt last year for Bearracuda on their cruise and she approached me with the idea. I also feel like the annual Reno Bus trip is being aged out – although I will keep doing that because it’s so much fun. We think that maybe a real vacation might be something that people really enjoy doing.

Do you ever get to take a vacation and not be Heklina? Honestly, no. I mean all my vacations are work. When I was in Portland for Pride, it was work. When I was in LA for Dragula, it was work. I am going away to Montana though for Thanksgiving to visit my family.

Do you get to go back often? Not to Montana. This will be my first trip there. My family is all in Minnesota but we are making an effort to see my aunt who lives there. This will be my first non-working vacation in a long time and I am really looking forward to NOT being in drag. <Laughs>

Montana and Minnesota, you’re from like the middle of nowhere. <Laughs> There is a reason why I am not home more often.

Did you grow up around guns? I did. My Dad was a hunter so he always had his hunting rifles and shotguns around the house. I was never really afraid of guns; I had respect for what they could do in the wrong hands – but I was never really curious about them either. I just left them alone. We live in a different time now. It feels like our culture is fascinated with guns.

Heklina has a gun

Where do you stand on gun control? I think it’s far too easy for people to get their hands on a weapon. It shouldn’t be this easy. I think the NRA is too powerful. Every other week there is a shooting or some sort of tragedy. It’s an American phenomenon for the most part but it is now happening in other parts of the world. However, I think these mass shootings are preventable. We don’t need to sell this many guns nor do we need these kinds of guns – these automatic weapons are not for hunting, they have only one purpose. Nobody needs a gun like that.

Did you know that once a year in the United States someone is shot by a dog? <Laughs> Guns don’t kill people… Dogs kill people.

Well, if dogs are randomly shooting people, how many guns are actually lying around?
I know, right?! It’s just unnecessary to have this many weapons. We don’t need all these damn guns.

I can’t have a gun. I’d use it. I would totally kill people. <Laughs> Oh my God, me too! I get so upset driving sometimes. Can you imagine if I had a gun? This crazy drag queen shooting people in the parking lot at Costco? The answer is more control of guns. The answer is not to arm everyone. We should all use our words. Or, for some of us, our dirty looks, evil stares and backhanded compliments.

This will be the tenth year of the holiday presentation of the Golden Girls at the Victoria Theatre? Yes, the tenth year and the first one without Cookie Dough. Gosh, we miss her so much. This one will be a little bittersweet for me. We’re doing twelve shows and we’re playing for three weeks. I love doing it every year. This is always a sell out show. It is. We do all new episodes every year. What people don’t realize is that the Golden Girls only did two actual Christmas episodes in seven seasons of that show. We’ve done those already. So now we just ‘Christmas’ize’ other episodes that we love.

Christmas’ize? We take an actual episode and make it Christmas’y. If a family member is visiting, they’re visiting for Christmas. We wear Christmas sweaters. We reference the big Christmas tree on the stage. We make it work and turn it into Christmas – even if it’s not.

Wait, what do you know about Christmas, aren’t you Jewish? <Laughs> No! That is a common misconception. Why does everyone always think that?! <Laughs> I guess in drag I look a like a big Jew. I’m loud. I’m good with money. I’m pushy. I’m in show business. Fuck, maybe I am the walking stereotype of a Jewish woman?!  I embody political incorrectness!

golden girls ad

The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes – 2015! Limited Engagement!
12 Performances only! December 3rd – 20th, 2015
Thurs. Fri. & Sat. – 8:00 pm / Sun. – 7:00 pm
Tickets are $25 – available at
The Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. (btwn. Mission & Capp Sts.) SF, CA 94103
On Facebook: Victoria Theatre in SF

1 Comment on The Godmother. Heklina.

  1. Great interview. A beautiful tribute to an outstanding individual in our community. Beautiful to see so much candor from the ol’ gal.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.