June means many things in San Francisco—winter, asparagus-overload, summer street festivals—but most of all it means Pride. Leading up to 2011's Pride Weekend (June 25–26), we asked some of San Francisco's most beloved drag ambassadors to write on the question: "What does Pride mean to you?" The first essay is from Heklina, MC and producer of Trannyshack, the DNA's Lounge's monthly drag club. We'll be publishing one essay a week until Pride weekend.
What does Pride mean to me? Of course, I can be a jaded queen and say that Pride has become too commercialized, gay culture itself has become too mainstream, and that many people forget that one of the main messages about Pride is inclusion and diversity. But it’s too easy to just be jaded about Pride, and it also does it an injustice.
The truth is, I remember when I was a young homosexual (yes, there was a time), before I had even put on my first eyelash. Stuck in beautiful but boring Reykjavik, Iceland, reading Tales of the City, and fantasizing about the place written about within those pages. I had pretty much given up on America at that point, but some friends of mine came back from San Francisco and raved about it, telling me I had to go there. I still had my U.S. citizenship, so, with no money and no plan (like I said, I was young), I moved to San Francisco in 1991.
I remember upon my arrival some force pulling me magnetically, to the corner of Castro and Market. My eyes took in the huge Pride flag, the stores run by gay people, the restaurants staffed by gay people, the gyms where gay people were working out. It was, in a word, gay.
I still see people coming to that intersection today, staring wide-eyed at the immense gay-ness of it all. It’s something we take for granted, and yes, the Castro has changed since I moved here 20 years ago. The 24 Hour donut shop is now a taqueria, the Phoenix bar has long since been annexed by Walgreens, the Names Project center is now a restaurant, and once vital institutions like Medium Rare Records and A Different Light Books have been wiped out by the internet. And, of course, there’s that damn Pottery Barn. But, what we mustn't lose sight of is that, to some wide-eyed boy or girl from Des Moines or Boise, leaving a place where no one understands them, that is the gayest damn Pottery Barn in the world.
I met most of the people who would influence me, and inspire me to start Trannyshack, within that first year in San Francisco. I almost immediately fell in with the “underground” crowd of DIY, queer (a big word back then) performers in SF. An incredibly colorful collection of people determined to shine bright against the ongoing inferno of AIDS, which was raging at full blast in those days. Most of the people who influenced me are no longer here. It’s amazing to me how much joy and sorrow were mixed back in those days, but at times the sorrow was unbearable. In a very bittersweet way, this adds to my memories. People creating beauty and art out of loss. But that’s another story.
Long story short, I fell in love with San Francisco, and, to this day, no matter where I travel (Rome, Paris, London, New York City, um, Reno) I am always, always glad to come home. Things just feel right to me here. It’s the same feeling I got the moment I arrived here.
I also remember my first Pride parade in 1993 (I missed the one in 1992, as I was stuck at my low-paying job at Tower Video, also long gone, but that’s also another story). Riding with the Klubstitute (Trannyshack’s biggest influence) contingent, waving at the masses, and swilling down beer from the keg on tap on the float, I felt alive and a part of something, perhaps for the first time. It was a communal, joyous abandon that I am not sure I had ever experienced up to that point.
Anti-gay groups have long protested Pride parades. Why do Gays need their own day? Why do they have to parade themselves down the street?
To state the obvious: Every image, every TV show, every advertisement, every song I heard, everything I took in during my youth was aimed at heterosexuals. I knew there was something different about me, and I felt I had to hide it. That first Pride Parade was me letting go of 25 years of shame, a sense that I did not belong in the world.
I can’t speak for the gay youth of today, as I am now old. From the outside, things seem different. There has been an apparent sea change in cultural attitude towards gays. For instance, when I was young, we were fighting to stop dying. Now, we are fighting to get married and join the military. In this age of Gaga and Glee, it would appear that there has never been a better time to come out, to be accepted.
But, there will always be that scared, wide-eyed boy or girl from Des Moines or Boise, someone who needs to find a place where they can be understood, somewhere to belong. For that reason alone, San Francisco, and Pride, still matter.
Catch a special Heklina's Birthday Bash Trannyshack at the DNA Lounge on Friday, June 17 with special guest Justin Bond! Advance tickets available at dnalounge.com or go to Trannyshack.com for more info.
More About Heklina
Heklina gained fame as Trannyshack’s erstwhile MC and producer. She is a premier hostess and DJ for hire around San Francisco, and has graced the Folsom Street Fair, Castro Street Fair, Gay Pride Main Stage, Castro Theatre, and Halloween Main Stage, among others , She has been seen on the E! Entertainment Network, NBC’s“Trauma,” “The Cho Show,” VH1, “Playing It Straight,” Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” BBC Television’s “Around the World in 80 Raves,” Scissor Sisters' “Filthy Gorgeous” video, and as a guest on Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake. Her film credits include the festival favorites Baby Jane? and All About Evil. Theater credits include a starring role in the 2006 Theater Rhino production TROG!, and producer and featured actor (in the role of Dorothy Zbornak) in the popular San Francisco Golden Girls plays. She was voted Community Grand Marshal of the 2004 San Francisco GLBTQ Pride Parade.In 2009 she won the Pride Creativity Award for outstanding artistic contribution to the LGBT Community. Check her out at trannyshack.com.