The legendary and much-beloved drag queen Heklina (aka Stefan Grygelk) who was such a significant presence on the SF queer scene was actually part Icelandic. In fact, his drag name is named after the Icelandic volcano Hekla
Heklina really came into her own she founded the drag club Trannyshack in 1996 and was a weekly fixture at The Stud bar in San Francisco for 12 years, drawing large crowds on a regular basis. Heklina hosted celebrities including Lady Gaga, Gwen Stefani, RuPaul, Charo, Michelle Visage, Mary Wilson and many of the contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race among others. In the early years of the club, Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters lived in San Francisco and performed frequently at Trannyshack before moving to New York in 1999.
Trannyshack also held the annual Trannyshack Reno bus trip. Hosted by Trannyshack veteran Peaches Christ and held over Easter Weekend, participants are encouraged to dress and act as outrageously and provocatively as possible. Heavy drinking is also encouraged. During the ride from San Francisco to Reno, the tour bus makes several pit stops in relatively conservative places such as Placerville and Donner Pass. The culmination of the event is a special Trannyshack show at a Reno nightclub, followed by Easter Sunday brunch the next day at a local casino
Heklina also acted in local theater productions, most notably the S.F. Golden Girls productions (as Dorothy Zbornak) and emceed a variety of community and charitable events including the Folsom Street Fair (along with Sister Roma) and San Francisco Pride. She was voted Community Grand Marshal of the 2004 San Francisco GLBTQ Pride Parade, and won the 2009 Pride Creativity Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the LGBT Community. She was sainted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Heklina co-starred in a series of short films, the “Tran-ilogy of Terror”, drag queen horror spoofs written and directed by long-time collaborator Peaches Christ, and also starred in the film “Baby Jane?“.
In 2014 Heklina ans and three business partners, D’Arcy Drollinger, Geoff Benjamin, and Jason Beebout, signed a deal to purchase the former Oasis nightclub. The nightclub’s diverse programming features drag stars, cabaret and performing artists, live musical acts, and DJs.
In 2022, Heklina appeared alongside Peaches Christ in Mommie Queerest, a drag parody of Mommie Dearest, in Palm Springs and Seattle. In April 2023, Heklina and Peaches were set to perform the show in London and Manchester. On the eve of this Queerguru filmed an interview with Peaches Christ, and then just days later, Heklina was found dead in her hotel room… aged just 55
Tributes have been flowing in “Heklina created safe and exciting spaces for people, who had felt like outcasts their whole lives, to become superstars,” Tom Temprano, co-founder and co-host of Daytime Realness, said in a statement released by Heklina’s estate. “Drag as the transgressive art form that it has become, and San Francisco as the queer nightlife capital that we know it as, wouldn’t exist without Heklina.”
Peaches Christ, Heklina’s lifelong friend and frequent collaborator of three decades. said “She was this Viking warrior who came in and gave birth to this scene. But it’s not just the performers whose lives she’s touched. It’s the audience members who were looking for a place where they fit in, too.”
“Stefan Grygelko, a.k.a. Heklina, is drag. Not glossy, viral drag but brass knuckle, survivalist drag. Armor against the closet, cops and AIDS drag. Dive bar neon and off-color jokes, cheap shots and cheap wigs drag. Drag that saves lives,” activist and filmmaker Leo Herrera said in a statement read by Drollinger at the Drag Up! Fight Back! rally. “Her work was a feast for the cultural famine of queers beaten up by the ’80s and ’90s. … Heklina leaves us when drag is both in peril and too successful, threatened by legislation and in capitalism’s jaws. May Heklina’s name be a reminder of drag’s core. May Heklina’s memory be a link to its true source.”
Just take some time out of your day to see the Memorial for one remarkable person who made such a major contribution to the queer community and also to her friends and loved ones She will be so missed
Labels: 2023, Darcy Drollinger, Heklina, Leo Herrera, Memorial, Mommie Queerest, Peaches Christ, SF Oasis, Tom Temprano, Trannyshack