Few can brag true legendary drag status on the American West Coast more than Iceland-born Heklina (named, fittingly, after a volcano). Her brilliantly batshit, camp-comedic performances combined with her creation of the long-running, multi-queen showcase Trannyshack (later revamped as Mother) have been essential in defining what San Francisco drag is today. Thotyssey is honored to chat with this drag empress about her legacy, the glory days of San Francisco and New York drag, the nightclub she now runs, the state of comedy today, and her upcoming performance in the Wigstock revival!
Thotyssey: Heklina, hello! Thank you for talking to us today! So, you are one of San Francisco’s most prominent queens and are likely the authority: is SF the city with the most perfect drag weather?
Heklina: Having just come back from Reykjavik, Iceland, I would say THAT is the best drag weather–unless it rains of course. But yes, San Francisco is great… the only exception would be the five days a year where it’s unbearably hot and NOWHERE is air-conditioned.
So you were just back in Iceland?
I performed there for Pride! I did a show with Detox, and Bjork came backstage to say hi.
I was just wondering if you were a Bjork fan.
I absolutely love Bjork–she is an utter genius, and I can’t count how many Bjork tributes we have done at Trannyshack, and now Mother (my new Saturday night drag showcase, if 4 years is new).
Trannyshack / Mother is the a long-running drag showcase you created in San Francisco with a very loose format; it broke in a lot of great drag talent over the years. Do you have any single memory of a performance or an occurrence during its run that really stands out for you today?
Gosh there was so much. Very early on, there was a performer named Runrig who did a performance where he popped Jiffy popcorn off of a hotplate on his head. Immediately after his performance, he had to be rushed to the hospital with third degree burns on his scalp.
People did everything at Trannyshack! Injected themselves, pissed on each other, blew things up, drenched themselves in blood, pulled American flags out of their assholes. Someone almost burned the place down one night lighting an entire Christmas tree on fire.
Today’s Brooklyn drag seems to be similar to how SF drag is often described: showcasing lots of queens filling the stage in one night doing one number each–maybe two–as opposed to a single queen doing an hour-plus show like in Manhattan. And the style of drag (Brooklyn and SF) is more non-traditional and outlandish. Why do you think drag evolved this way in San Francisco?
I am going to do something I do not normally do (really) and toot my own horn.
SF has this drag show format largely because of Trannyshack. I look around me, and just about every drag show I see in San Francisco now uses the Trannyshack “template,” i.e. a wacky themed show that changes every week.
The style of drag in SF I can’t take credit for–it was a style that heavily influenced me when I first moved here. Punk rock, DIY, no rules. I went into starting Trannyshack with these influences, which made it what it became: a venue where it didn’t matter who you were off-stage, it only mattered what you did on-stage.
The NYC format of one queen performing for an hour didn’t used to be like that. There used to be really interesting shows at places like the Pyramid, etc. That shows how old I am, I guess. The New York City I loved no longer exists… but then again, neither does San Francisco, in many ways.
You and That Other SF Drag Force of Nature, Peaches Christ, work together quite a bit, with these elaborate staged parodies and tributes of classic TV and movies. Are you two Judys at the point now where you can basically finish each other’s sentences?
Yes, and we are performing together at Wigstock this weekend! We are very dear, old friends, but I really don’t see her that much these days. She’s been in Provincetown since June, then she’s coming back in October to SF to get ready for her Haunted House Extravaganza here. Our next big project together is the Queens Overboard drag cruise in February, with Jinkx Monsoon.
Speaking of old friends, I just re-watched you and Sharon Needles compete in WOW’s Bestie$ for Ca$h. You knew her a lot better then she knew you!
Haha, the truth is we are not besties! We are friends, but we both happened to be shooting Hey Qween at a different studio that day, and I suggested she come with me to World of Wonder to do “Besties”, since my original choice (Mario Diaz) had to cancel last minute!
You’re currently the proprietor of The Oasis, a SF cabaret nightclub where Mother now resides. What other kind of shows happen there, and how has becoming a venue owner changed your perspective of drag, if at all?
ALL kinds of shows happen there… it’s hard to explain it all. Owning a business has, of course, changed my opinion of how expensive it is to run a business in San Francisco! Drag, not so much… except as I get older I continue to want to do tribute nights to Siouxsie Sioux, Deborah Harry, Bowie, etc. at my Saturday night show Mother. But there’s just no audience for it anymore. Speaking generally, the audience for those artists is too old. If I do a Gaga or Kylie tribute it’s packed, so I’ve had to adapt if I want to remain in business.
With all this showrunning and venue-operating going on, do you get to actually perform as often as you’d like these days?
No, not really. A huge chunk of my time is spent at home, booking the club out and producing–I need an assistant!
Time for some current events! Bianca Del Rio recently got some flak for making a “rape joke.” Should some topics be off limits in drag humor, or have audiences just become too uptight?
I personally think NO topic should be off limits. It’s dangerous to say you can make fun of this, but not that thing over there.
To me personally, the best part of humor is to take the topic that is sad, or tragic, or taboo, and poke at it with a stick and take the power out of it. Some of the times, I have laughed the hardest is when people have made jokes that were so offensive I couldn’t believe it–Joan Rivers comes to mind–nothing to her was off limits, and she had a brilliant attitude that shocking humor levels the playing ground… there are no sacred cows.
And YES, people are way too uptight. There are literally people who wake up every day and scroll Facebook to decide what they should be outraged about, LOOKING for something to be offended by. Ultimately, what has gotten lost with the rise of social media is objectivity. It shouldn’t be what is being said, but who is saying it, and how.
But this is MY opinion, and I have a very dark sense of humor–it’s helped me through a lot of shit.
So you’re coming to NYC this Labor Day Weekend for the surprise revival of Wigstock, the classic drag festival that first gave drag artists more mainstream exposure in the pre-Drag Race years! Have you ever performed in any earlier editions of the festival?
No, the last time I was at Wigstock was 2001. I attended with Peaches Christ, but we just had backstage passes, we weren’t performing. This was a week or so before 9/11–and those were the days before cell phones, when you would take film to be developed. So right after 9/11, I picked up my photos at the corner camera store in the Castro. There were all these photos with me and Joey Arias, Jackie Beat, etc. with the Twin Towers behind us–very bittersweet.
Wigstock will group you and Peaches with New York legend queens like Wigstock creator Lady Bunny and Sherry Vine. Do you have any other NYC queens you admire?
Who said I admire any of those cunts? Just kidding–as a baby drag queen I had a huge amount of respect for the NYC queens (Sherry, Joey, Bunny, Candis, Formika). I still do!
This new Wigstock should be one for the history books! Do you know what you’re gonna perform?
Peaches and I are going to come out and reprise our comedy bit from last year’s Drag Queens of Comedy tour… hopefully we will be funny this time!
No doubt about that! Last question: What’s your best advice for a baby queen coming up today?
Be yourself tonight–skip the Youtube makeup tutorials and find out who YOU are. Drag is about self-expression, please remember that.
Thank you, Heklina!
Heklina is a San Francisco-based queen and owner of that city’s venue The Oasis–follow her social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, her website) for more info on her SF gigs, and check Thotyssey’s calendar for any upcoming NYC appearances.