Backup dancers in skimpy black briefs frantically wrap themselves in plastic leaves and paint their eyes with glitter. Drag queens decked out in amazingly elaborate costumes from the waist up (waist down, there’s nothing but a nude thong) complain to their stylists. Several younger men flaunt S/M gear and chaps. The only person remotely clothed is a man in a suit who’s playing Richard Gere in a skit that involves a gerbil (you know where this is going).
Backstage at Trannyshack’s semiannual Stevie Nicks Tribute, the word “modesty” means nothing. Stagehands— kind, heavyset men in black-collared shirts—dart from side to side counting down to curtain. All the queens appear to be on the verge of either a nervous breakdown or a giggling fit. “Showtime, ladies,” a stagehand declares, and half the room vanishes.
Heklina, one of the city’s most notorious drag queens and tonight’s host, hits the stage for the opening number with a troupe of fairylike dancers wearing loincloths. As the number ends, the stagehands descend like a pack of wolves, cleaning up glitter, silly string, and “mysterious wet spots.”
Between acts, backstage is like a Muni stop at rush hour—fast, crowded, and possibly a dangerous place to start a conversation. One dancer stands in front of a mirror rubbing makeup off his forehead with delirious intensity. A queen paces back and forth, panicking about her Gypsy medley: “No. No—it’s not right,” she tells her stylist. “Kill the shawls. Just kill ’em. They’ll never work!” Heklina’s voice pours into the room: “You’ve seen her in Shit & Champagne—it’s U-Phoria!” and the crowd evacuates, leaving backstage a glitter-dusted ghost town.
All that remains is a black leather couch strewn with open makeup kits, used panties, a gold tinsel belt, and a single stiletto.
Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco