Heklina and Crew Reinvent Drag -- Again

  • by Andre Torrez
  • Thursday January 29, 2015
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 Heklina, back in black, opens the new Mother with a crew of hunky dancers
Heklina, back in black, opens the new Mother with a crew of hunky dancers

"I have always thought the PC police are way out of line." Heklina writes to me via email about the "T" word that was the source of much criticism last year. From "RuPaul's Drag Race" to her own long-running Trannyshack -- the drag-night institution that incorporated the term that offended so many -- use of "tranny" was more likely to be defined as a slur than a term of endearment.

It was last spring when the night's name (intact since 1996 when Heklina founded it) was abbreviated to "T-Shack." Suddenly it didn't have the same ring to it, but the critics got their way.

"It gets so tiresome when everything is transphobia, homophobia, racist, what have you," she vents her frustration explaining that in order to examine taboo subjects, one must "prick at them" as if dissection was the healthiest option.

"I often think that the far left are just as loony as the far right," she says. "There's just no reasoning with people who are bound and determined to be outraged and offended by something. It blew my mind to think that some people, knowing the history of Trannyshack and what it meant to so many people, would just flat out say we were transphobic- just that cut and dry."

She points out that some of these same critics attended her club nights back at The Stud and DNA Lounge, before 'tranny' took on such weight, making their hypocrisy maddening. "San Francisco is rapidly becoming a city I almost don't recognize."

"I began to think the name had to change to keep up with the times," Heklina says. "If the name Trannyshack now seemed archaic and hurtful, what is the point of hanging on to it? I went with my gut feeling. As much as I like to shock and offend, I do not like to hurt. There's a fine line there."

Enter Oasis-Heklina's new club (co-owned with three business partners) at the corner of 11th and Folsom streets, equipped with two bars, a spacious dance floor, gender-neutral bathrooms, but most importantly- a stage. In Heklina's own words, the goal is to keep drag on the West Coast map and to keep the "freak flag" flying.

It was chilly outside, typical for mid-January, but looking at guys wearing mesh tops and fishnets made me that much colder. The line wrapped around the block, well past the neighboring Izakaya House for the debut of Mother.

T-Shack, now history, is re-christened for a new era of weekly Saturday night drag, each installment representing a different theme. I ask Heklina if she's worried about keeping her ideas fresh. Her all-caps response, as if to guffaw, and a simple 'No' is convincing enough.

While waiting on the sidewalk, I heard snippets of other people's conversations. A group in front of me talked about how threeways never work out and said there's always someone left on the sidelines that gets jealous. Behind me there appeared to be a reunion taking place between two couples. As soon as one pair left for the end of the line, the original two discussed their observation that one of the guys they hadn't seen in a while appeared to have stopped going to the gym.

Elsewhere, I caught a glimpse of someone sniffing poppers before entering. Meanwhile, someone else complained, but not wholeheartedly, that there weren't nearly as many people at Truck in the Mission.

They were right. Once inside, the body heat, while initially comforting, was indicative of the overwhelming wall of people. I barely noticed the decor amidst the extraordinary reception. It's definitely spacious, except there were too many people. I made a beeline to the stage for a good vantage point.

Images of Faye Dunaway from Mommie Dearest and Endora from Bewitched projected by Vis-A-Vis flashed on the screen as the crowd waited in anticipation. Music videos played too, but weren't necessarily synced to the music playing over the thunderous sound system. Highlights included Bjork and vintage Courtney Love from her Hole, kinder-whore days. There was even a more tasteful Cher segment, which included a cameo by Chaz Bono, shown as Chastity at the time, to really drive the theme home.

Layers of clothing began to peel off just as it seemed the crowd wouldn't be able to bear much more. AC/DC's "Back In Black" blared over the PA as the curtain lifted. Heklina emerged for an opening number as emcee. Finally it was stage time.

There were some technical difficulties with a temperamental DVD player and Heklina herself seemed to be the most vocal critic of there being no AC in the building, but she flawlessly incorporated that into her own fabulously-snarky schtick. (She has since updated me and said the second installment of Mother included CO2 cooling cannons and high-powered fans on the dance floor, and an air-conditioned dressing room).

For the most part, the routines maintained their edge, kitschiness and comic relief. Mahlae Balenciaga, basically a preggers Beyoncé, did some serious wig-flipping while she managed to check her baby's heartbeat with the microphone.

Fauxnique, introduced as being the first genetic female to hold the distinctive honor of being Miss Trannyshack, channelled Liza in Cabaret. Heklina made a joke that may just as well have gone over every millennial's head that she was looking more Joyce DeWitt of Three's Company fame.

Mahlae Balenciaga poked fun at Beyoncé's baby bump at the premiere of Mother at Oasis.

Speaking of millennials, it was impressive to see such a wide-ranging age demographic in the audience, and with the performers too. Kelly Dezart-Smith, a nightlife curator and producer known for his Swagger Like Us party, was in the audience that night.

"In San Francisco's current climate of gentrification, it's remarkably refreshing to see a queer business open up rather than close," said Dezart-Smith. "I didn't get the impression Heklina was trying to recreate her previous party. It really felt like she was trying to curate a new show and a new experience in this new space. I thought the show was great."

Other honorable mentions included the comedic Kill Bill choreography by the House of Glitter crew, which utilized elements from '90s-era Janet, Madonna and even a Mortal Kombat reference for any old-school gamers in the house.

VivvyAnne Forevermore donned a gown worthy of Dusty Springfield and brought an air of 'chanteuse-sings-AM gold' to the stage. However, that quickly disintegrated into a legitimately gag-worthy, diaper-changing scene, complete with what I hope was a melted chocolate bar as the main poopy prop.

If there were an overall winner, I'd have to pick Holy McGrail, for not only making my jaw drop during the crude artificial insemination video skit, but her and her entourage's elaborate preparation and production, which included paper dolls representative of the litter she popped out and a Rainbow Brite doll with the umbilical cord attached, generated sincere laugh-out-loud moments from myself and most of the crowd.

Finally, Glamamore closed the evening with her own sophisticated brand of hobo drag. Sort of rag-clad and disheveled, yet still wearing pearls, this by far was one of the more fascinating performers of the evening. Almost clownish looking, pasty-white makeup, was smeared over her full beard as she mimed to a somber bluesy number with a cigarette in one shaky hand and pint bottle of bourbon in the other. Maybe it was the role she was born to play or her ability to tell a story without even really speaking. Nonetheless, I felt like I had witnessed something legendary.