All Heck(lina) broke out over the weekend after the announcements about San Francisco drag legend HEKLINA bringing her famed TRANNYSHACK drag show to Seattle for multiple events over our Pride Weekend, June 27-29, 2014. Radical Trans* activists apparently speaking on behalf of the entire trans* community attacked Heklina and Seattle producers of the events for promoting the use of their self-designated slur term “tranny” as part of the name of the drag show that Heklina, (Icelandic born performer Stefan Grygelko) created nearly 20 years ago. Inflammatory remarks made on Facebook invite threads escalated with both sides making unfortunate and threatening remarks to anyone who disagreed with their point of view. Heklina, who has faced increased scutiny and criticism from some radical elements in the transgendered community made a spectacular announcement on the main thread for one of the events, the “T-Shack Seattle Pride Edition” the Mama Tits produced event happening on Friday, June 27 at The Unicorn/Narwhal:
Tired of the petty quarreling, Heklina will be transitioning (ironic, isn’t it?) the name of Trannyshack over the next few months.
From the FB page:
Hey everyone! I just thought it was time for me to chime in and have my voice be heard. There’s been a lot of discussion, and a lot of it has been great to read, as this, for me and so many others, is a timely issue. Poor Brian Daniel Peters and LA Kendall LaBree have been dealing with the drama and speaking on my behalf, but now it’s time for me to chime in. I generally loathe to be political, but whether I like it or not the very name of my legendary nightclub has become political.
First, a little history about the name Trannyshack, and the club itself. When I started the club (waaaaaay back in 1996) the word “tranny” did not have the charged weight to it that it has today. Simply put, it was not (arguably) considered a slur word, and not even thought of on the same level as the words “dyke” or “faggot” (two words which, maybe ironically, have somehow become less charged and have been “reclaimed” to a certain degree-for instance, leading the Pride Parade in San Francisco every year are the Dykes On Bikes. I can’t imagine in this day, a contingent called Trannies On Bikes). There are people who might argue this, but I’m sorry it just was not a word thought of as a slur on the same level as today. It was just not. I considered the name transgressive, and cutting edge.
The club itself? It became a legendary San Francisco institution. A bastion of alternative drag and diversity. Every walk of life came to, and performed at, Trannyshack. Gay men, lesbians, drag queens, drag kings, M to F’s, F to M’s, 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.
I am, and will always be, immensely proud of what I have accomplished with Trannyshack. It’s given me so many great experiences, it’s afforded me the great luxury of not having to live in the 9 to 5 world (which would kill me), and I have had the even greater luxury of working with and meeting the most incredible people. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s been my life’s work.
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, it’s this it’s that, etc.”, 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. It’s never been my intention to hurt people. I am not another Shirley Q. Liquor, wanting to offend just for sake of it. 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.
OK, a rebrand. How to go about it? Time to test the waters. But, where to start? When Brian (Mama Tits) asked me to bring Trannyshack to Seattle for Pride, I thought this was a good place to start. I suggested the name T-Shack. Let’s see how this works, I thought. As expected, many people familiar and loyal to the Trannyshack brand were up in arms, and I received several messages along the lines of “You caved in to pressure” and “You sold out” (? Not sure what that one means). OK. I can deal with this.
But, I was taken aback by the response from many in the trans community. It seems I cannot win with some people. They are not happy when I call it Trannyshack, and they are not happy when I try to rebrand (granted, there were some aspects of the roll-out for the Seattle event that were a bit clunky, but still). This to me does not seem right.
Just to clear a couple of things up. The event on Friday June 27 is not “Trannyshack presents T-Shack” as some people have said (and I would invite anyone to show me where it says this on any of the materials). It plainly says who is actually presenting it. The word Trannyshack appears on the materials to let those familiar with the brand know what the event is. When the full rebrand happens this kind of wording will be necessary initially (i.e. “AKA Trannyshack”, then “Formerly known as Trannyshack”) until we can phase it out completely. It’s also unrealistic to expect everyone to stop using the name Trannyshack right away when they discuss it online , or even in person. As preciously mentioned , I’ve relentlessly promoted the brand for almost 20 years, so it’s ingrained in people’s consciousness. It will take time. 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.
When will the full rebrand happen? Most likely not until the beginning of the new year. In San Francisco, it’s going to require focus groups, a press campaign, all that stuff. It really is that big of a deal here. Also, I have not as of yet decided what the final name will be. I used T-Shack for the Seattle event because that is what the insiders of my circle of friends have always called it, so I’m trying it out. Other names have been thrown around. Drag-Shack does not seem right. Maybe simply The ‘Shack. I don’t know, that’s why it will take a few months.
Ultimately, when it happens I will need the support of EVERYBODY. That means all of those loyal to the Trannyshack brand , as well as the Trans community.
As I see it, there’s two ways we can deal with this. We can see this as progress and a step forward, or we can engage in fighting and divisiveness. Whichever one you choose I am going for progress, and away from hurt and anger….
As fans and supporters of Heklina and Trannyshack, SGS will support her decision.
However, I’m not happy about it or the recent apparent societal decision that those who speak the loudest and the rudest, have the last say, and that radical individuals can claim sole “ownership” of a word that was never the “property” of the group that now claims it. TRANNY is a shortening of the word TRANSVESTITE, a word coined to designate men who fetishize the wearing of traditional female attire but was quickly applied to any man in a dress. The Drag Queen community embraced the term, and used it to refer to themselves…”tranny” was a term of mocking endearment for most queens. The idea that “tranny” was a reference to transgender identified people is a modern conceit. And, let’s be realistic. How many actual Trans* identified people have actually been mortally wounded by having been called “tranny”? And, who the hell uses it as a slur? If we’re being honest, the words used 99% of the time to wound gay, lesbian, trans* people or ANYONE who appears “odd” or “different’ would be the universal words “faggot” and “freak”. I don’t see anyone clamoring to erase “freak” from our vocabularies.
Finally, I love and support my rational trans* brothers and sisters. I just wish more of them would speak up about this issue instead of letting the younger, louder, “genderqueer” community dominate it. Rational heads in the community also need to stop and realize that the more extreme members of their community are creating a sharp divide between the “T” in LGBTQ and the “L”, “G”, “B” part of our alphabet tribe. On more than one website and discussion board I’ve seen angry gay men and women proclaim “Drop the ‘T !!!!” due to perceived bullying from members of the Trans* community and policies that seem overly p.c. and rigid. There’s a lot of disunion happening in our Rainbow Tribe, at a time where it’s important to stay united in fighting global transgressions against the Queer Community.
Finally, I would never call or refer to an actual trans* person as a “tranny” but that also doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop referring to my dq friends as such, on occasion. Why? Because the truth is, DRAG QUEENS OWN THAT WORD!
And, for me, Heklina’s delightful theater party of the absurd will ALWAYS be TRANNYSHACK.