Riff Raff

War of Words Last Tuesday night, Feb. 2, "Trannyshack" hosted its second annual "Wetback Nite" at the Stud. The unusual party motif was conceived by a self-identified queer Latino named Lady Sergio who joined with Hecklina -- producer of the weekly tranny bon ton -- to present over a dozen Latino drag performers and guests. The contentious theme was negotiated with typical "Trannyshack" irreverence -- questionable taste and unquestionable haute couture -- which some might perceive as PC heresy.

On an average night at "Trannyshack," female patrons gleefully refer to themselves as "fish"; drag routines include anything from a pregnant Marlboro-smoking white-trash hairdresser to a strung-out jazz chanteuse; and nearly everyone in the youthful, slightly insurgent crowd identifies as a "fag" because, one might imagine, "queer" already sounds a little too middle class. "Wetback Nite" wasn't a huge stretch. "As a gay person," says Lady Sergio, "I can self-identify as a fag or as queer and the words are harmless because I've reclaimed them. As a person of color -- as a Latino -- I can present 'wetback' in a satirical fashion to the same effect. I can reclaim it and render it harmless."

Not so, says El Ambiente, one of the community organizations behind a vocal protest that erupted outside the Stud on Tuesday night. One week before "Wetback Nite" was scheduled to be held, a letter was sent to Stud owner Michael McIlheny, demanding that he a) cancel the event; b) take out ads in Cream Puff Magazine, BAR, Bay Times, and Odyssey Magazine publicly apologizing to the Latino community; and c) commit to organizing events that are respectful and inclusive of the Latino community as a whole. Otherwise, action would be taken in the form of a) bringing the issue to the attention of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the Human Rights Commission, and the Mayor's Office; b) forming a mobilized action; and c) boycotting all Stud events. The letter was signed by directors of the Mission Neighborhood Health Center, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Shanti, Ambiente Latino Democratic Club, Mission Cultural Center, ELLAS en Acción, and Proyecto Contra SIDA por Vida, among others.

A meeting was arranged between the Stud and El Ambiente, but it was canceled as soon as it became known that McIlheny intended to bring Hecklina and Lady Sergio to represent themselves. When Sergio's friends later showed up at the office, they were turned away.

"Our problem is not with Lady Sergio," explains Erick Arguella, project director of El Ambiente. "We believe she is being exploited. We did not want to attack her and we had no intention of dividing the Latin community or fighting amongst ourselves. We hold the owner of the Stud entirely accountable. It is his final decision as to what type of events take place in his club. He is the one who ultimately stands to make a profit at the expense of our community."

The fact that Hecklina is grateful McIlheny has never attempted to censor a "Trannyshack" show, and accepts full responsibility for every act that goes under the Stud roof on Tuesday nights, mattered not a whit. Fifty protesters from Latino, African-American, Asian, and Caucasian communities showed up on Tuesday night with television cameras and a representative from the Mayor's Office in tow. They pointed at patrons and called them racists, yelling, "Shame! Shame! What's next? 'Nigger Night'?" Inside, young Latinos showed their support onstage -- including a former member of El Ambiente who arrived with his aunt, his brother-in-law, and two Latino roommates -- by proclaiming they were proud to be "wetbacks."

"It's a matter of free speech," says Sergio. "I should be allowed to present an interpretation of my life story however and wherever I choose."

"Not at the expense of the Latino community," says Arguella. "If she had written a book or done the show at Esta Noche, it wouldn't have been such an issue, but to present these types of degrading stereotypes before a largely white audience crosses the line. I understand drag queens like to shock and draw attention to themselves. That's what they're about. But the Latino community is being bombarded with negative legislation from high levels and it is not ready for something like this right now."

On Thursday night, an outside wall of the Stud was marked with graffiti reading "Racist Bitches" and "White Bitches."

Riff Raff is reminded of a similar controversy when SF Weekly sex columnist Dan Savage began writing for this paper, and protesters claimed a "straight" paper had no right to run his column with his chosen salutation, "Hey, Faggot!" As a gay man and a talented humorist, he disagreed.

"I think it really comes down to a generation gap," says Hecklina. "The Latinos that come to 'Trannyshack' are younger. They have a different sensibility." For example: The protesters arrived at 9 p.m. when no one ever shows up for "Trannyshack" until at least 11 p.m. (Silke Tudor)

George Cothran, Jazzbo for Hire Editor's note: When we were looking for somebody to cover jazz pianist McCoy Tyner's recent residency at Yoshi's, the right critic was closer than we thought. A paper-airplane's throw across the office, SF Weekly columnist George Cothran was heard muttering something about his reverence for Tyner's work with John Coltrane. So we sent him off to the Feb. 3 show with Tyner's Afro-Cuban All-Stars. This is his report.

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