'San Fransisco by Miss Bob'

Miss Bob


San Francisco is a great town for transgenders. There’s protection under the law, helping professionals, support services, social groups, bars, events, films, pageants, drag shows, theatre and performance art. Natives call it "The City." There’s a genial air of acceptance. The transgender scene is large and evolving. I doubt anyone knows everything that’s going on. Everyone who contributed information to this article said, "I’m sure there’s more." So, I assure you,

there’s more drag in San Francisco then this queen could uncover,

so I’m bound to be missing wonderful events and turning friends in enemies through the sin of omission.

I’ve been wearing drag on the streets of San Francisco since I attended a Cockettes show on Halloween, 1971. I’ve cross-dressed at the opera, theatre, street fairs, restaurants, bars and when receiving tenure from the City College Board of Trustees, which got my photo on the cover of the campus newspaper.

So, if you’re visiting San Francisco remember that the City has laws and regulations on the books that protect gender expression, but they won’t save you from poor judgement.

San Francisco divides itself into neighbourhoods. They’re listed in tourist guides and marked on maps.

If there really is a "Gay Mecca," I guess it’s the CASTRO. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

I won’t call drag common place in the Castro, but you can buy neon wigs and rhinestone tiaras at CLIFF’S, the local variety store.

THE POLK and TENDERLOIN are the older gay neighbourhoods. The Polk used to be a bit more up-scale. The Tenderloin never was.

SOUTH OF THE MARKET and the MISSION are working class areas with clusters of trendy bars and shops, though these seem be overwhelming South of Market real estate recently.

THE HAIGHT and NORTH BEACH are the old bohemian neighbourhoods. The Haight was home to hippies in the 1960’s and the beats hung out in North Beach a decade earlier. Both neighbourhoods are fun to shop or walk around in and worth a visit, but you won’t find many drag events in either.

Travellers and revellers are sometimes disappointed when they consider the number of things to do in San Francisco. "Oh, we liked San Francisco, just fine," they say, "It’s just that there was so much more of, well, more of EVERYTHING in London." In place of London you could substitute New York, Paris or Rome it doesn’t matter. San Franciscans find the comparison flattering. Of course there’s more in those cities, they’re ten times larger. More even.

San Francisco’s population is about 800,000. That’s just a few thousand souls more than Jacksonville, Florida and smaller than either Indianapolis or San Jose San Francisco’s Silicone Valley neighbour 55 miles to the south. On a per capital basis, San Francisco’s nightlife is probably equal to any city’s in the world, but that doesn’t mean it has more drag bars than Tokyo.

Primary Sources of Information:

This article is full of web sites you can visit from anywhere. It seems that every bar, club and queen has a web site. There are two sites that act as information clearing houses. They’re very grass roots and are done with more heart than budget, which makes them both loveable and frustrating at the same time.

MADKATS,, is "about Drag, both Kings and Queens…Art, Music and bands: Madkats has always been about photography." Not all the bands are drag bands, "but they sure are cute, fun and just plain good music." The site is in transition, though they describe their future in optimistic terms.

KITHOLOGY, lists "queer things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area." Their Transgender Portal,, is the most comprehensive listing of transgender fun spots and resources I’ve seen. The site works fairly well, too. But there are some messages on the site that made it sound like they, too, may be heading for a transition, too.

Once you get to town there are several newspaper you’ll want.

These are most easily available at gay bars, magazine shops and cafes in the Castro, Polk and Tenderloin neighbourhoods. There are even metal racks on street corners. They’re free, too.

B.A.R., short for Bay Area Reporter, is a 30-year-old GLBT weekly with a section of event listings you shouldn’t miss. It comes out on Wednesdays. In every other issue they feature transgender activist Gwen Smith’s column of cogent political and social insight, "Transmissions,"

SAN FRANCISCO BAY TIMES. Is also weekly. It’s queerer than the B.A.R. and has a more radical perspective on everything. Sister Dana Van Iquity covers the trans beat with wit and journalistic grace. Beside event listings, there’s a "Trans" section in the Personals. Check out their "Transgenders" Resource Guide, too. It usually lists about 20 meetings of groups like Transgender Parents, Transgender Law Centre, Transmen’s Alliance Against Racism and the TG, TS, Etc, Prayer Group.

SPECTRUM,, is the Castro’s free neighbourhood monthly. It has two transgender columnists. Empress Chablis’ required "Keepin’ Up with the Courts" lists recent and up-coming doings of the Imperial Court, which is celebrating 40 years of service to the community in 2005. The advice column, "Dear Diva," by Queer TV reporter Dear Diva, dispenses plugs for events as well as pearls of wisdom and unapologetically progressive political commentary after she’s finished counselling the confused.

GLOSS is a glossy bar mag that appears about twice a month. It’s much more gay than trans. But don’t miss "Vis à V," a column by transgender diva Veronica Klaus. Veronica covers the drag scene. A local cabaret legend herself, she highlights events by her talented friends.

BAY GUARDIAN and SF WEEKLY are two mainstream entertainment weeklies, Remember that "mainstream" is a relative term. The mainstream in San Francisco is the radical fringe in Oklahoma. Occasionally they cover tranny events. But if you’re looking to date "a girl with something extra," you’ll find ads for lonely, horny, fully functional ts’s and tv’s tucked in the back of these papers right between the escort services and masseuses.


Venues Weekly & Monthly Events

These are on going, regularly scheduled events. I’ve usually listed them by venue, though not always. Most are drag shows or theme nights at gay bars. Call ahead. Things do change, especially in the world of drag shows.

ASIA SF Nightly, 201 – 9 St @ Howard, San Francisco, CA 94103, South of Market Tel: 415-255-2742, This is a lucky combination of a 3-Star Cal-Asian restaurant with colourful, strong drinks and pretty young Asian drag queens waiting tables and entertaining between courses. About once an hour boys in slinky silk dresses dance on the Chinese-red runway above the bar. The club refers to them as "gender illusionists." AsiaSF is popular with tourists. It’s also the venue of choice for many local bachelorette parties. Reservations are suggested. Seating in the restaurant is timed. If you plan your seating wisely it is sometimes possible to see two shows. There’s a downstairs room, if you want to dance the night away.

AUNT CHARLIE’S LOUNGE Weekends at least, 10 PM, 133 Turk near Taylor, San Francisco, CA 94102, Tenderloin, Tel: 415-441 2922, There is a "sleazy drag show" every Friday and Saturday night. There’s no stage. The humour is low and earthy. The shows are vibrant and professional without being polished. There’s a raw honesty about the place and the performers are captivating. Aunt Charlie’s is home to drag scene luminaries Vicki Marlene, Grand Marshal of the 2003 Gay Day Parade and reigning Grand Duchess Donna Rae.

CLUB RENDE-VOUS Every Friday, 11 PM and midnight, 1312 Polk, San Francisco, CA 94109 Polk Gulch, Tel: 415-673-7934. Drag Assault, hosted by Empress Cockatielia, has been running for about six years. Though Cockatielia is one glamourous queen, she says the shows are, "not only glamour. They’re edgy and progressive. They’re fun, comedy drag."

DIVA’S Nearly nightly. 1081 Post near Polk, San Francisco, CA 94109, Polk Gulch. Tel: 415-474-3482, Diva’s clientele is mostly young transsexuals and their admirers. This bar is their club house and display window. Their skirts are the shortest in town. The club has three floors. The second floor is for dancing and the walls are lined with mirrors. I swear some queens go there to watch themselves wiggle. Shows are on the first floor. Tuesday is talent night with Tianna De Ville. Wednesday is Bad SchoolGirl Night. Divas’ Darlins perform every Thursday at 10 PM and Alexis Miranda MC’s the show every Friday and Saturday.

ESTA NOCHE Nearly nightly, 3079 – 16 St near Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94103, Mission Tel: 415-861-5757. This is the proud home of San Francisco’s Latin drag scene with virtually continuous lip-syncing almost every night. Right now Las Fantasticas, Trans-International and Queens of the Night are performing in repertory and the stage is only dark on Fridays. Esta Noche also presents the annual Miss and Mr. Latino Contest in June.

GENDER ENDERS 1st Tuesday, 8:30 PM, Cherry Bar, 917 Folsom Street @ 5th St, San Francisco, CA 94103, South of Market This features transgendered/intersexed/genderqueer artists, plus a queer performance open mic and "community bulletin board." The audience is encouraged to bring announcements, music, spoken word, stand-up comedy or performance art to the events.

HARVEY’S 2nd Sunday, 500 Castro St. @ 18 St, San Francisco, CA 94114 Tel: 415-431-4278. Harvey’s is a bar and restaurant in the heart of the Castro. It’s named for Harvey Milk. They’re very drag friendly and there’s usually a drag show. Right now the show is "Nice and Nasty" with Empress Chablis as Nice and Snatch, the Leather Empress as Nasty,

MARLENA’S Weekends, 488 Hayes near Octavia, San Francisco, CA 94102, Tel: 415-964-6672. This bar is the unofficial clubhouse of the San Francisco Imperial Court. Marlena herself is the 23rd Empress of San Francisco and 3rd Empress of San Mateo. There’s a charming exhibit of SF Court memorabilia on the walls. Drag is at home at Marlena’s. You’re likely to see some dazzlingly bedecked queen no matter what day or time you arrive. There are lip-synch shows on Fridays and Saturdays. Faux Girls, MC’d by the scintillating Victoria Secret, is every second and fourth weekend. This show is a nightlife staple with a roomful of appreciative regulars. Performers include Nikki Starr, who can walk on water in heels as far as I’m concerned. She used to perform at the world famous Finocchio’s, a showroom that presented female impersonators "at the same location" in North Beach from 1936 - 1999. Victoria is a real community builder. She has two sites for the drag curious: one for her fabulous Fauxgirls, The other covers the doings of five acts Fauxgirls, Diva’s, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge and Club Rende-Vous,

TRANNYSHACK Every Tuesday, The Stud, 399 - 9 St @ Harrison, San Francisco, CA 94103, South of Market. This is San Francisco’s more consistently on-the-edge drag club. Hostess and founder Heklina’s formula is to bring in the talent push the envelope and pack the club. Anybody can have a Cher Night or a Dating Game (they’ve done both). But how many would have a David Lynch Tribute Night or a Hookers Night featuring a Biggest Load Contest. They’ve had drag queen in black face and been picket by the more humourless guardians of political correctness. Many performers use their own voices, though lip-synch is the norm all over town. Tranny Shack is also the venue most likely to present out-of-town drag celebrities, like Varla Jean Merman or Lady Bunny of Wigstock fame. Even Miss Chocolate, the "door whore" (do’ ho’) who stamps your wrist as you enter, is a nightlife institution. This is my kind of drag show, imaginative and under rehearsed.

TRANSBAY Every 2nd Wednesday, 7 – 10 PM, Quetzal Internet Cafe, 1234 Polk, between Sutter and Bush, San Francisco, CA 94109 Polk Gultch. The main goal of TransBay is to help build the SF Bay Area TG community. They do it two ways. First are their website’s resource guide, social calendar and interactive bulletin boards. Second is the monthly get-together in Polk Gultch. More transgender women probably live in the Polk and the adjacent Tenderloin than in any other areas of the City. Quetzal Internet Cafe provides "a casual environment where people can let down their hair, so to speak and just have a good time. There is no group hierarchy-just people sipping cappuccinos and talking about everything from physics to dancing to entomology." They welcome all respectful people. TransBay,stresses "is not ‘pick up centre’… We don't want folks to needlessly have to worry about individuals looking for a ‘hot time.’ There will be fun, and probably a touch or flirting here and there -- but if you’re looking to meet your next lover, try somewhere else, please."

UNISEXY Every 4th Thursday, Makeout Room, 3225 – 22 St between Mission and Valencia, San Francisco, CA 94110, Mission. This is a novelty, a beauty salon producing a theme night. Have your make-up and facials at the club. Have your wig restyled. Queer to the core, Glamarama, the salon, enjoys a special place in San Francisco’s flaming firmament. Several of the stylists and employees are drag or queer theatre luminaries including Johnnie Kat, owner Deena Davenport and Princess Kennedy of tranny-rock band Pepperspray, Deena used to do my hair, when I had hair now I take my wigs, if I wear wigs. 417 Van Ness, between 15 & 16 St, 415-861-GLAM (4526).

Francisco 8-day Leather Pride Week and reportedly the largest one-day event in California, a celebration SM, BD with over 200,000 in attendance. Always the last Sunday in September, South of Market on Folsom Street between 7th and 12th Streets.


CASTRO STREET FAIR Always the first Sunday of October, one week after the Folsom Street Fair. MISS & MR. GAY SAN FRANCISCO -


DAY OF REMEMBRANCE - Gwen Smith started the "Remembering Our Dead" website to honour, murdered, Rita Hester and held a candlelight vigil in 1999. Since then, the event has grown to encompass memorials in dozens more cities across the world. The march to the SF GLBT Community Center begins 6:30pm the second thursday in November at Harvey Milk Plaza (Castro & Market)

TRANNY FEST - This is a bi-annual, four-day “extravaganza of performances; panels and parties climaxing in a marathon film festival showcasing cutting-edge films and videos on the sweet complexity, diversity, and sex appeal of lives lived on the gender continuum." The next one is Nov. '05. Besides producing events, Tranny Fest co-director Shawna Virago is front woman for the band Deadly Nightshade Family,


This is the "Mommie Dearest" drag musical that has run 10 seasons in San Francisco and three in New York. There have been productions in Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland with productions planned for Omaha & Wichita. It’s presented at Theatre Rhinoceros, the oldest GLBT theatre company in America. Artful Circle Theatre are inspired by classic Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies. Everyone sings in their own voices - no lip-syncing! The production values are on a par with local professional theatres and their sense of camp is much more refined. Other 2005 productions include "Acid Housewife: Six Trailers of Separation" and "Andrews Sisters Hollywood Canteen." You haven’t really seen a drag show until you hear three drag queens sing the Andrews Sisters live or see Judy Garland impersonated by Connie Champagne, the sine qua non of drag queens trapped in women’s body,

THEATRE RHINOCEROS, also has a season of shows. Many include gender issues and you’ll see all flavours of gender impersonation during their season. They presented the world premiere of Kate Bornstein’s "Strangers in Paradox" in 2003.