Heklina, the founder of San Francisco's iconic drag show, Trannyshack, has stopped so many club promoters from using her trademarked Trannyshack name that you could almost call it a side gig. Armed with cease-and-desist letters, she has snuffed out wannabes in New York, Arizona, and Boston, and three in Florida.
"If I ever felt like going to Florida and doing a Trannyshack show, I can't have them be like, 'There was a Trannyshack here a little while ago and it was so tired,'" she told SF Weekly last year while mired in a legal battle in Arizona. "It diminishes the work you put into it."
Yet Heklina has now met her most vexing foe so far: the so-called Trannyshack in England. That London-based drag show started its weekly run in 2006, and recently moved to Madame Jojo's nightclub. It boasts Facebook and MySpace pages, a slew of YouTube videos, and an album on iTunes. But the British imposter now must face the (campy) music: Heklina is taking international legal action to protect her show's name.
Heklina had known about the London revue since it began as Trannyshack UK. In fact, she had performed there several times. No, she wasn't thrilled by the name, but says she didn't know her trademark had international teeth back then. (The promoter didn't respond to e-mails from SF Weekly seeking comment.)
Last year, relations soured when Heklina discovered that the original Trannyshack was getting confused with the knockoff overseas. The British version was increasingly popping up online as just "Trannyshack," without the "UK" tagged on the end. A gay travel Web site included Heklina's photo without mentioning her or the San Francisco club in a story about the London show. So Heklina decided it was time to spank the promoter with some rules.
She requested that he pay her fees to perform at the club twice a year, and to always use the name "Trannyshack UK" — no shortcuts. The promoter responded that he couldn't commit to the cost of bringing her over so frequently, and dropped the real bomb: He'd trademarked plain old Trannyshack in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Heklina says there's no question that the promoter knows the genesis of the name, given that he used to live in San Francisco and attended the drag show before creating the British version. When Heklina performed in London, she says she was introduced as the "Queen of Trannyshack, the woman who started it all."
"I've always been welcomed as the founder," she said. Now, her Castro-based attorney, Alex Austin, has started the process of invalidating the Brit's rights to the name with the British trademark office. She then will consider suing for lawyer fees — which, the promoter wrote, he wouldn't pay. It looks as if this catfight is just starting up.