It's the end of an era, and a triumph for trans activists, as SF-based drag queen Heklina (a.k.a. Stefan Grygelko) announced this week that she'll be taking the "tranny" out of Trannyshack once and for all. The beloved 18-year-old drag club, which now travels the country and the globe throughout the year, is undergoing a rebranding. The news comes just a month after RuPaul bended to similar pressure and decided to cease using the "she-male" reference in the "You've Got She-Mail" segment of RuPaul's Drag Race, and amidst growing furor among the trans community that such offensive terms continue to be used flippantly in the gay male community.
As Heklina wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday, "I generally loathe to be political, but whether I like it or not the very name of my legendary nightclub has become political." She goes on to explain that when the club began back in 1996, the word "tranny" didn't have nearly the charged weight that it now has, and in her view it arguably was not even as much of a slur word as "faggot" or "dyke" at the time but was more of an edgy, transgressive term thrown around frequently in the drag community.
That political weight has largely come about as the trans rights movement has grown in visibility, and as trans activists have become increasingly vocal about the conflicting uses of the word — both as a means to degrade trans people by bigots, and as a casual moniker, some might even say term of endearment, among drag queens and certain gay men. The club ceased being a weekly event at The Stud in SoMa in 2008, and now is a larger, more occasional party at S.F.'s DNA Lounge and in other cities throughout the year including Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Honolulu.
Heklina says she's always aimed to be inclusive, and never wanted to be offensive for offense's sake (like blackface drag queen Shirley Q. Liquor). And maybe the time has come that what was once transgressive is now, simply, transphobic.
Every walk of life came to, and performed at, Trannyshack. Gay men, lesbians, drag kings, drag queens, M2Fs, F2Ms, faux queens, and yes, even straight people. It won every award for Best Drag show in SF every year, and is generally thought to have redefined drag on the West Coast. It didn't matter (and still does not) what gender you were, or what you had between your legs, if you were a great performer you were welcome on the Trannyshack stage. It grew to mean a great deal to a great many people. ...
However. Increasingly, and in the past year especially, it’s become clear to me the meaning the word "tranny" has taken on. I’ve tried to avoid the issue because I’ve spent almost 20 years branding and promoting my club. But more and more, I am asked on the street, in interviews, and online about my thoughts on the word, and the name of my club. I’ve given the answer “Oh, my club is different, it means so much to so many people... but it’s been nagging at me. I started to talk to people close to me about the need for a rebrand. What really was the clincher for me was a post I saw on Facebook by a performer at my club . I wasn't tagged in the post, but came across it anyway. He said how excited he was to be performing at my club but, out of embarrassment, he couldn't type the name of it, and something along the lines of "You all know where it is." Ouch, OK. Time for a rebrand.
I am in the business of (hopefully) entertaining people... Also, on a purely business level, I don't want to be viewed as archaic, out of step with the times, like an ostrich with my head in the sand.
The relaunch of Trannyshack, kind of like an out-of-town tryout for Broadway, is happening in Seattle for Seattle Pride weekend, on June 27. And though flyers will refer to the "club formerly known as Trannyshack," the event is called T-Shack Seattle.
Many people in the gay community were annoyed by the change on RuPaul's show, suggesting that trans folk and the PC police were being oversensitive and taking a seemingly harmless joke among drag queens in the wrong context. But this could also amount to a generational thing, with a younger crew of LGBT people not understanding how the word was, if ever, inoffensive. "We can see this as progress and a step forward, or we can engage in fighting and divisiveness," Heklina says. "Whichever one you choose I am going for progress, and away from hurt and anger."
It sounds like Heklina is open to other rebranding ideas at this point, and the initial reaction among some activists was that even continuing to use "Trannyshack" in any form on the Seattle flyer, if only to let people who might recognize the name know about the change, is unacceptable. She says she'll actually be focus-grouping this rebrand over the next six months or so, and she's already batting around other names like Drag Shack, and even The Shack.
In any event, we won't be seeing the name T-Shack, or any other name, on San Francisco promo materials probably before 2015, and as Heklina puts it:
To use a ridiculous comparison, it's like when Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to only be referred to as KFC. It took awhile. I know, I told you the comparison was ridiculous.