Today’s guest has a pretty damn impressive CV. She is the recently elected Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, as well as the co-founder of San Francisco’s Transgender District (which happens to be the first transgender district in the world, so no small feat!). Oh, yeah, and you might know her as a contestant on Season 5 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, where she showed off, amongst other things, her love of kaftans.
In 2016 Honey Mahogany became a co-owner of The Stud after it became the very first co-operatively owned nightclub in the United States. The bar, which was San Fransisco’s oldest queer bar, having first opened in 1966, was another victim of Covid-19, and the collective chose to close in 2020.
We caught up to discuss Honey’s early days in drag, what makes San Francisco drag so unique, and why the bar will always have a special place in Honey’s heart.Transcript
Honey Mahogany: To me. Um, it’s really sort of the local Queens who have made The Stud, what it is and made it home. Like people like Heklina and Pippi Lovestocking and Peaches Christ and Cookie Dough and Suppositori Spelling, and, um, and so many more, there’s a lot more names that I’m leaving out, but these are the people who really breathed life into this venue and created a scene that kind of became.
The envy of, uh, well, the envy of the world over, um, in its diversity and its, um, free spiritedness and its persistence.
k: So you are a born and raised San Franciscan, San Franciscan? That’s right?
Honey Mahogany: That’s right.
k: And it’s not, it’s not, it’s not something like San
Honey Mahogany: San Franciscite? No San
k: Oh, oh. I liked San Franciscite. Let’s make that a thing. Um, so, so you must have like seen a huge amount of change, um, in the queer scene over the last decade.
Honey Mahogany: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, um, well I think. If I had to pick one thing, that’s changed a lot. I would say that it’s probably drag. Um, and maybe that’s a good measure of how the scene has changed. Um, but really it’s many different
k: are we about to start slagging off a certain TV show?
Honey Mahogany: Uh, I guess we could, um, um, just, I mean, you know, it, for me, I think because I wasn’t very much a part of it drag scene for decades, and that was much of my sort of queer experience of San Francisco, you know?
Um, I do remember a time when drag was not popular and, um, people were made, you know, sort of ostracised or, you know, looked down upon for doing drag and. Um, and also where drag was quite regional. And, um, even within San Francisco, we have such a diversity of drag scenes and you still do to some extent today, but it has sort of homogenised a bit, um, due to its popularity and also, you know, being sort of a, not just a national, but a world worldwide phenomenon where we have now sort of come up with a definition of what drag is and what drag looks like and what one should aspire to.
Um, but like, even just, you know, 10 years ago, And when Drag Race was just sort of picking up drag to me, he was very regional and, um, you could get all sorts of different drag. I mean, the drag in San Francisco looked very different from the drag in New York, which looks very different from the drag in the south, um, or Chicago. And, um, and then again, even within San Francisco, it was like the drag in south of market area, which was much more of a leather sort of focused scene, um, was very different from what was happening in the Castro or what was happening in North Beach or other parts of town.
k: So, then, let’s talk about that. What, uh, what, what made San Francisco drag unique? I mean, first of all, I’m kind of struggling to get my head around drag in a setting.
Honey Mahogany: Hmm. Well, I mean, so It does exist, um, or especially now I
k: it sounds very, very niche.
Honey Mahogany: yeah. Um, I think that there, you know, the leather scene is interesting. I mean, if you really look back at the history of it, it’s got like, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s focused. Um, when you, sorry, let me back up a little bit. Um, the leather scene really started as a, sort of a meshing of like the Hell’s Angels and, um, the gay scene, um, back in, you know, the fifties, maybe even, even earlier than that, um, The Hell’s Angels were this, you know, sort of alternative, group that rode around on motorcycles and, you know, they, but they were also, um, pretty principled.
[00:04:39] And, they were in an area of town that was very industrial. It wasn’t like a very glamorous place. And that was also the area where we had like bathhouses and like, you know, Gay bars. And, um, you know, as the sixties came around and, you know, gay people really started to come to San Francisco as a place that was sort of a Haven.
Um, you know, the Hell’s Angels sort of begun, began to sort of. Build a relationship and look out for, you know, some of the queers and, um, you know, protected them to a certain extent. And so I think there was this sort of mutual admiration that kind of grew out of that. And, you know, the gay men of the, of the, those scenes of those neighbourhoods started to appropriate some of those, you know, qualities, um, and take on some of that, like masculine, like protective, you know, facade and put on the leather chaps.
Even though they maybe didn’t ride motorcycles and the leather caps. And then of course it became fetishised by Tom of Finland. And, you know, a whole scene kind of really grew out of the San Francisco sort of Soma, um, queer culture, um, and became the gay leather scene. Um, anyway, that, that is a complete tangent from what we were talking about, but I find that stuff fascinating.
k: Yeah, really fascinating. But like, uh, so, so then where does the drag element come in? Especially because it’s like this hyper masculine and almost a rejection of what is considered stereotypically gay.
Honey Mahogany: Yeah. I mean, I think that there, there is hyper-masculinity within the leather scene and there are. Some pretty like, you know, loving, you know, leather scenes have pageants and things. And, you know, even though that’s not necessarily hyper masculine, it is, it is in a way. Um, but something that I think is important to note is that there have always been like even within those hyper-masculine spaces, proudly flamboyant men who, you know, broke the mould.
And, that has been happening since I think the very beginning of leather. And I think leather, um, had space for those types of things. Um, even if there were certain people who, you know, according to Race Bannon, who is, you know, a prominent leader within the leather scene here in San Francisco, you know, most people who are really, um, hardline, leatherman masc-only there are in the far minority and leather people tend to be much more open-minded and, um, You know, there are Queens that have, uh, towed the line.
Yeah. Bearded Queens, like Grace Towers. Who’s always considered herself. A Soma queen showed up in like, you know, leather halters and heels. And, um, you know, we have a rich history of that here in San Francisco, but in when I, when I really think about Soma drag, um, and how it overlaps with the leather community, it actually, a lot of it is really focused on The Stud, which is, um, Until recently it was San Francisco’s oldest, continuously operating LGBT nightlife venue.
Um, so it opened in 1966 in Soma. And, um, it actually had the. Uh, intention of being another leather bar at the time, there were, you know, overtime, there had been something like 60 different leather businesses in the gay.
leather businesses in the south of market area. Um, you know, and at the heyday, there were probably 30 things open at the time.
And so The Stud was, um, one of those things and, um, it quickly, I think found a niche as not being a leather bar, but really a place where hair fairies and, um, you know, hippies and. Uh, Leatherman and Castro Clones could all sort of come and dance and was really focused on the music that it created. Um,
k: Okay. So before we go any further, I just want to ask some questions about the terms that you’ve used here, hair fairy. What is that?
Honey Mahogany: um, so back in the sixties, Uh, someone who grew out their hair really long and you know, it, wasn’t hippy basically.
k: ah, okay, cool. Cool. I think I’m with you. And then, uh, and then Castro clones. Is that like a, a disco thing?
Honey Mahogany: sort of, you know, a tight white t-shirts muscly, lean, tight jeans, you know, the sort of like Tom of Finland without the leather, kind of look with the bowl cuts and.
k: Ah. Okay. So like you said, like very clean and tidy
Honey Mahogany: Clean and tidy, uh, kind of, you know, all look the same, you know, at the time all white,
k: in some horrible cologne.
Honey Mahogany: right. Well, yeah. You know?
k: Uh, okay. Okay. I think, I, I think I get what you’re saying. And then, so then, so say like we’re here to discuss The Stud today, right?
Honey Mahogany: Yeah, So this is a good, this is a good transition actually.
k: and I mean, you’re doing my job for me, so that’s amazing. Um, so then would you consider yourself to be a leather queen?
Honey Mahogany: no, I mean, you know, I have, I think not, and, not because I wouldn’t want to associate myself with that. I definitely consider myself as a SoMa queen, but I definitely also have like a deep respect for, you know, the work that goes into a leather culture. And, you know, I don’t regularly polish my, my leather goods.
Um, they get a little, they get a little, uh, worn out. Um, and I don’t, you know, you know, doll myself up in leather frequently. Although I have had a signature leather jacket for decades that I would wear all the time. Although more recently I stopped doing that, but, um, uh, but yeah, no, I don’t.
k: Perfect for San Francisco weather!
Honey Mahogany: Right.
k: and, uh, and okay. Okay. So you’re probably not going to be able to answer this question for me. And I am just asking you to speak on behalf of the entire leather community. So apologies in advance, but, um, so I’ve been vegan for like 15 years and that’s a that’s what’s always prevented me from like, looking into that scene at all.
Uh, but I wondered whether or not there was like a, a pleather queen subset?
Honey Mahogany: I think that they exist within the scene. I mean, I guess
that. I mean, I just, I Don’t know. I don’t know all of being intricacies of those conversations, but, you know, I’m sure there are some snooty leather people that would be like, that’s not real leather. And then there are others that are, you know, trying to be environmentally conscious.
And, um, so
k: Oh yeah. I mean, we wouldn’t be the queer scene if there wasn’t some kind of infighting.
Honey Mahogany: exactly.
k: Ah, right. Okay. So then in terms of The Stud, why, why did you want to talk about that venue in particular?
Honey Mahogany: well, I mean, I am one of the co-owners, so, you know, it’s very near and dear to my heart. Um, but, uh, you know, beyond that, I think it’s, I think. The story of The Stud is a very San Francisco story. I think it has a lot of rich history. Like I said, it’s one of the, um, you know, oldest, continuously operating LGBT nightlife venues in San Francisco.
And, uh, it’s really, I think, helped shape what San Francisco drag is. And also in a lot of ways, I think has shaped, you know, queer culture in San Francisco. Um, we have had. A lot of movements sort of start here in the city. Um, And do you know, I know a lot of people, um, point to Stonewall as, you know, sort of the, the, the, the fomenting of the gay liberation movement.
Um, and I think that’s, I think that’s true, but there were many other uprisings that sort of like led to that, including. When that happens three years prior in San Francisco in 1966, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, first, uh, documented collective uprising of LGBT people in, in, in the U S um, and at that same time, you know, that was also the year that The Stud opened.
Um, and the stud also has, you know, a lot of. Um, other cool things that have happened there, like in the sixties, there was obviously the liberation movement, but there was also the Civil Rights Movement, um, fighting for racial equality here in the U S and um, around that time, it was a very similar time to what was happening now or what is happening now in that there was a lot of conversations around, um, racial justice and coalition building and protesting and.
Uh, there was, uh, a leader within the, um, Black Panther party and the black civil rights movement named Huey Newton who speaks Oakland. And he made a call, um, to, you know, to folks to build alliances between the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the, uh, gay liberation, uh, movement as well.
And one of the first places that the gay liberation front and. The, uh, Black Panthers first met was actually at The Stud, um, because it was, Yeah.
so it was seen as a, um, as a, sort of a place where everyone was welcome. Um, and that is something that actually hung on a sign at the stud for, for decades.
k: Ah. Oh, wow. Okay. So I’m like getting a proper, proper history lesson today. Um, but, but before we get into any of that, I’d like to just find out a little bit more about you in relation to The Stud. Um, do you remember the first time that you went there?
Honey Mahogany: um, I think that the first time that I went there was actually, um, I was working at. Uh, an organisation called Larkin Street Youth Services, which is, um, it serves, uh, homeless and at-risk youth. And it also does some, um, uh, they have several properties where they also, um, house youth, um, including youth in the foster system.
And I was working in one of those places. As a, sort of a counsellor. And I remember leaving work and, you know, just being like, oh, it would be nice to grab a drink or a beer or something, the thing. Um, and I, The Stud was just a few blocks away. And so I went over to the stud and sat down at the bar and had a drink with the bartender whose name was George, who was super friendly.
And, um, it was a pretty chill evening and, you know, ran into. A couple of folks there and just sort of starting to build community. And that was really, I think the first time that I had been to a queer bar outside of the Castro, um, because I think when you’re first. You know, coming out in the LGBT scene, everybody knows about the Castro.
It’s like, oh, the Castro is like the centre of the gay universe and that’s where things happen and that’s where you’re supposed to go. Um, but really there was so much more outside of the Castro. That to me, um, was more interesting because it was, um, maybe just not as broadly covered or known about. Um, so it just felt a little more secretive and like, there was more there.
k: Uh, okay, so then you might have to just educate me a little on what the different scenes are like in San Francisco. Does the Castro fall in to that kind of hen party touristy, very commercial type scene?
Honey Mahogany: yes. And, uh, I think it also has been able to preserve a lot of its uniqueness. I mean, um, you know, the city of San Francisco, I think. In general is pretty good about preserving some of the more unique characteristics of our neighbourhoods. Um, we, you know, there are a lot of neighbourhoods that won’t allow like formula retail, for example, to open up.
Um, the Castro, um, does have some formula retail, but, um, it has a lot of, sort of. Community-based old businesses and institutions that have been open for a really long time. So in that sense, I do think it, it has maintained a lot of its character. Um, at the same time, it is very much, um, sort of the mainstream queer neighbourhood with a lot of rainbow flags and like a lot of like niche sort of stores that are very, very much catered to the people who come to.
You know, uh, w who want to come to a gay neighbourhood, like, you know, the penis cookies at hot cookie. And,
k: but, but, uh, that’s for every neighborhood. Yeah,
Honey Mahogany: is it.
k: I think so. Like, especially when they’re decorated with white icing.
Honey Mahogany: Well, I, in San Francisco, I’ve only ever seen them in the Castro, but I assume that they could be other places as well. Um, they, yeah. So in a sense, it does, you know, I think cater to tourists and people who come to, to visit, you know, um, Harvey Milk’s Camera Store, and Harvey Milk Plaza, and, um, you know, the Castro Theatre and all of those things.
But, um, But I don’t know. I, I don’t, I don’t want to bash the Castro because I think that there’s a lot of really wonderful things about it. And it’s really kind of a joy and kind of refreshing sometimes for me to go there because it is so different from all the other neighbourhoods in San Francisco.
k: but it can, uh, like, sorry to put words in your mouth, but are you saying that like, it can feel as though that’s like this a step on an, a queer journey for lots of people.
Honey Mahogany: it does in that sense, it feels a little bit, oh God. You know, I don’t want to say it, but like it does feel a little bit basic in a sense, because it.
k: just say it, just say it
Honey Mahogany: I did. I just did. did. Um, I mean, it feels, you know, if it.
does feel a little basic in that it’s like, sort of, you know, again, the first step or like everyone knows about the Castro, so it’s easy.
It’s like, oh, it’s gay. It’s very loud about being gay. Um, every everything’s covered in rainbows. Um, in that sense, it’s just very obvious and uh,
k: And, and sometimes that is amazing. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
Honey Mahogany: Oh.absolutely. I mean, it’s gay pride, 2365. and that is. Like I said refreshing for me to go there sometimes and just experience that and, and, and like drink that in. And, you know, and that is just the top layer of the cake, because, you know, obviously there is a lot of layers of history there of, you know, how the Castro came to be and, you know, different things that happens there.
And. Discrimination and, you know, again, like race relations within the Castro and how women have been treated historically in the Castro and how that’s evolved over time. Like, those are all really important conversations that I think um, continue to happen and continue to move forward. And I think there’s been a lot of progress made over.
Um, but you know, for me, like I find again, like, Places like the Tenderloin and the south of market, which have histories that are just as rich in terms of their queer, queer culture And specifically queer histories, but also, um, in places like the Tenderloin that were gay neighbourhoods far before the Castro was a gay neighbourhood.
Um, I just find that stuff fascinating and more appealing. You know, I think I find personally find the neighbourhoods that like the Tenderloin and Soma, just to be more interesting because they do have, you know, actually the Tenderloin specifically has, and the Lower Polk, um, which is another, um, historically queer neighbourhood actually has a longer history as a gay neighbourhood than the Castro does.
And so I just find that stuff fascinating and, you know, and, and, uh, these neighbourhoods also tend to be much more diverse, much more people of colour there and who live there in the neighbourhood. And so I just find the, um, the intersectionality of all of that fascinating and
k: And then, so how did the Castro become like the centre of queer life in San Francisco? If it, if it wasn’t the oldest
Honey Mahogany: well, I think Harvey Milk had a lot to do with that no. Um, uh, I think the, the Castro was already becoming sort of a queer place, uh before Harvey Milk the Castro actually historically before, uh, it was a gay neighbourhood was sort of, uh, a Scandinavian neighbourhood, uh, there, we still have the Swedish American, um, music hall there.
Um, and there were many other sort of Scandinavian markets in the neighbourhood that sort of, you know, have existed for generations. Um, but, and then after that, you know, those folks sort of dispersed and sort of got absorbed into the broader sort of white culture, there was, um, it became sort of a working class, Irish neighbourhood.
And then I think in the, um, early sixties, late fifties, early sixties, when, um, desegregation was happening in the schools, um, there was across the United States, a white flight of white people, fleeing the cities, um, and going to the suburbs because they didn’t want to integrate and they didn’t want their children to have to integrate.
So they went to school districts and places where people of colour did not exist or live, um, which opened up all of these homes. Um, and, you know, th th the, the costs of rents and the, uh, the cost of houses just plummeted in the city. And that allowed a lot of the, um, people who, um, were queer, who, you know, San Francisco is a Naval base, right.
A huge Naval base. And so you had a lot of people who had joined the military because, you know, maybe they were kicked out of their families, or maybe they. Knew that they weren’t going to get married and have kids. And so they went and joined the military to make something of themselves and, you know, got kicked out because they were queer or whatever.
And then just got to charged in San Francisco and, you know, found each other and created a scene here. And then, Oh all of a sudden there are all these empty houses in the Castro, these beautiful Victorians, you know, and they all, you know, we’re able to live there for a couple, you know, a hundred dollars a month.
Um, And they did. Um, and it created this kind of magical scene where people didn’t have to work very much. You know, I hear stories of people saying that they worked maybe one or two days a week at a cafe and they spent the rest of their, you know, uh, weeks partying or creating art
k: Oh man.
Honey Mahogany: And that was really special.
Yeah. I know.
[00:23:50] know, I know their circumstances to get there were like very, you know, good circumstances, but like, yeah, my, my main takeaway, it was like, damn it, they got cheap rent. Oh geez.
Honey Mahogany: when is that going to happen again?
k: Okay. Like let’s just not ponder on that because I think that’s a bit of a road to ruin. Um, so really interesting though, that there.
Uh, all of these neighbourhoods with their own distinct kind of queer identity and, and, um, uh, the centre of Soma, which is south of market. Right. Yeah. Okay, cool. I’m learning, I’m learning new things today. Um, I picked up, oh yeah. And the other kind of random offshoot question that I have, um, which is like, why is it called the Tenderloin?
Is it because it’s a meat packing district?
Honey Mahogany: No. Um, the Tenderloin, uh, that has it very deep history as well. Um, essentially like a lot of neighbourhoods are called the Tenderloin and this goes back to, um, uh, really, I think police corruption,
k: oh, yay, police corruption!
Honey Mahogany: but also sort of like governmental corruption. Um, because you know, the Tenderloin, um, was created as a vice district.
Um, and it was a place where gambling happened during prohibition, where there were speakeasies. So a lot of money could be made if you were a nefarious individual. And then also that’s, it was the neighbourhood where the police oftentimes made a lot of money because they would be paid off by a lot of these establishments.
So it was sort of like, The juiciest cut of the city, because you could make so much money on the black market or illegally there. Yeah.
k: it’s so fascinating then that, that word got like, uh, like officially adopted, like, like it kind of somehow legitimised the whole thing.
Honey Mahogany: known as the Tenderloin.
k: weird. Okay. All right. So more San Francisco lessons for me.
Honey Mahogany: absolutely.
k: And then, so then let’s talk about your drag and the influence that, uh, The Stud had on it. Um, had you already been doing drag before you went to The Stud?
Honey Mahogany: Yes. Although not, not really, not consistently and not in a way that I think was very serious. Not that drag has ever very serious, but, um, well maybe now it is. but you know, it was, I was do it occasionally and kind of play with it and it was something that I had done in college and, you know, I, I sort of put away for a while and, um, It was being at The Stud that kind of like reinspired me to do drag again because
k: Uh, well, so, sorry, sorry to interrupt. So just like, why did you feel like you wanted to put it away? Was it like I finished college, I’m going to be an adult now and I’m going to grow up or like, were there other factors
Honey Mahogany: I mean, I think there were other factors. Um, I, I don’t know that I. Ever again at that time, like drag was not something that was seen as something you could do as a career. Um, it was not something that you, uh, you know, if you were a drag queen, you didn’t really get laid. Um, And also. You know, I think for me, there was also this other deeper layer in that, like, I was sort of outed to my family through drag.
And so like someone, you know, sort of circulated a picture of me in drag. And so that also had an element of it. I think of like it being painful for me.
k: And then, so who, who was that
person then? And like, why did they share, share the photo? And were they like, were they being malicious
Honey Mahogany: I think it was, it was a cousin of mine and I don’t know. That they were, I don’t know if it was malicious or out of concern, but I mean, ultimately it was a shitty thing to
Honey Mahogany: do.
k: that that’s tough.
Honey Mahogany: Yeah. I mean, it’s fine. I mean, it was a long time ago, but, um, it was definitely, I think a part of why I kind of hung dra-, got hung my drag up for awhile.
k: Hmm. Uh, can we also talk then about, uh, getting laid in drag and the stigma that comes with being a queen and the way that people kind of view it negatively. Uh, and, and going back to the conversation that we had before, about how much it’s changed over the last decade, do you think that being- getting late has changed.
Honey Mahogany: um, I think so, uh, at least, I mean, you know, I don’t, I can’t speak for the world, but I think in San Francisco, you know, it definitely, it definitely has changed. Um, I think that. There may still be some people that are just like very, uh, self hating that don’t want to have sex with someone who does drag because they feel like it is too feminine and says something about that.
Person’s masculinity or ability to, I don’t know. Have sex. Um, but you know, it’s such a weird thing, but I, you know, I think overall it’s become much more widely accepted and there are definitely people who are like drag chasers, um, who want to have sex with drag Queens, especially if they’ve been on TV
k: Yeah. Yeah. And like, that’s the whole side of it, isn’t it? Like, there are some people who are going to just discount you out of the gate and not pay any attention to you. And then there are some people that are kind of like, not really interested in you as a person, but interested in you as a thing. And, and, and how do you like navigate that when, uh, like the only time you’re meeting new people is when you’re in a bar and in drag,
Honey Mahogany: Well, you know, I mean, I think one of the things you can do is, is have sex with people who are attracted to that,
k: and see what happens.
Honey Mahogany: and see what happens.
Yeah. I mean, you know that, I mean, and then I think, I think depending on what kind of. What kind of situation you find yourself in? I mean, I think that there are people who were more, there was definitely a period of time where I was more likely to probably hook up with men who would self identify as straight than I was with other queer people.
Um, but you know, thankfully I think I’m no longer at that point in my life and I, you know, I’m partnered now, so I don’t have to worry about it, but I do think that again, it’s just become much more. Drag has just become accepted and it’s not something that folks are ashamed of anymore. And I think it’s also allowed us to sort of really look at gender roles and how we also express gender and what that means.
And the fact that gender is a performance or can be a performance and it’s not necessarily. Always related to your identity and how that can shift and change over time. And people also just feeling more comfortable with themselves, because I think that, you know, a lot of the reason that people, you know, uh, despised drag is because it, it flew in the face of this binary sort of heteronormative system that people, you know, saw as the ideal, even if they were queer.
And, uh, you know, it calls drag called that into question and sort of what flung in the face that was flung in the face of that, um, in a way that made them uncomfortable when they were trying to fight for things like gay marriage and pretend like they were, you know, that queer people were trying to say, well, we’re just like you guys.
We just love somebody different, you know? Um, and when really, I think queer people are, are different in that we. But different and also essential, right? Like we are, we are an important part of society. Um, we’ve always been here. We’ve always been a part of the world and, you know, we’ve, our function in our roles have changed over time, but, um, you know, we’re just as important as queer people.
And our sexuality is just as important as, as, that of straight
k: yeah, yeah. Like we don’t need to like assimilate to be valid. Yeah. Um, so anyway, like every time we started talking about The Stud, take us off in a different direction. So I apologise for that. So you were telling me that you were reinspired.
Honey Mahogany: I was really inspired to do drag again when I was at The Stud, because I specifically remember, um, being at a show called Pink Slip and it was, um, a show that happened after. Um, so I should back up and see that The Stud uh, Is home to an iconic show, which, uh, has a name that it is now controversial, but was not controversial at the time.
So disclaimer that, um, we, you know, we call it T-Shack. Now when we refer back to it, but it’s, it’s name was Tranny Shack. And, um, it really came out of like the early nineties. Um, punk rock and it sort of established a punk rock drag as a real scene, kind of coming out of the era of the Cockettes in the eighties and, um, really sort of seizing on, um, the, the inspiration from people like Bjork and David Bowie and sort of gender, you know, fuck.
Um, um, Glam rock that whole punk rock that whole aesthetic rolled into a drag queen and put up on stage was Tranny Shack. And it really, I think defines what the San Francisco drag scene, um, became at least on a, when looked at on a national perspective or internationalist perspective and really kind of, I think, shaped the conversation of.
You know what drag can do and can look like, um, outside of pageantry and female illusionism. Um, it was, it was kind of fantastic, but so that show came to an end, um, in the mid to mid two thousands or late two thousands, I think. Um, and that’s when I started to going to The Stud and. Um, that is when this new show called the Pink Slip came in and, uh, the hostess, her name was Virginia Suicide and she was, uh, live singing rock and roll drag queen.
And kind of Gothic, like all in black. Um, white makeup, um, piercing blue eyes and, um, singing and like full-throated singing. And I remember being so inspired by her and just being like, oh my God, that is what I want to do.
I want to go up there and, you know, sing live and be a drag queen and have it be fierce. And, um, yeah, so that’s how I got inspired to start doing drag again.
k: Ah, okay. And so was that then where your first performance was, uh, like at the stud.
Honey Mahogany: um, I can’t remember exactly to be honest, but I know that I was performing at The Stud at Pink Slip. Um, well, I do remember that. I think my first time performing there was, um, was definitely at Pink Slip. And I remember I sang Summertime. Um, and I remember I was wearing, um, a red, uh, American Apparel shirt dress with a belt around. Around my waist and the shake and go wig and black tights, I think.
k: And like nothing paints a picture of the mid two thousands, like American Apparel does.
Honey Mahogany: know. Or, or baby drag. Um, yeah, but it was, it was also like, I think in that’s, you know, how I sort of. Got introduced to a lot of people who are still in my life today. You know, I think there were some people like, you know, Mr. David Glamamore, who is, uh, an amazing performer and seamstress and couturier.
And, um, you know, has, uh, was I think based in New York, but, you know, came to San Francisco in the. Um, early, late nineties, um, and really sort of established the House of More and people like Juanita More who is also like another local legendary queen, um, you know, kind of adopted me into their family.
Um, so yeah, I mean, it was, it was significant and it was definitely, uh, a moment in time that sort of changed the direction of my life. Um, and it was all at The Stud.
k: Um, and, and so then is this the right time to talk about what happened to The Stud.
Honey Mahogany: Well, you know, I think like many other businesses during lockdown, um, we were forced to close. Um, but I will say that The Stud has been in sort of a precarious place for a while now. Um, you know, it had been carrying along for quite a while. Um, in this very laissez Faire way, I think, um, you know, the, the owners really, the owners of the building really loved to be owners of the business and what The Stud was doing and what The Stud was about.
And they had a very reasonable, um, rent, um, and that reasonable rent allowed The Stud to sort of be experimental in its programming and sort of be very relaxed. And so again, that spirit of anything goes and everyone was welcome was, was, was able to happen because people weren’t worried about like, oh my gosh, we didn’t get enough bodies in the door.
And we were not going to be able to make rent. No, I mean, it was. They were paying just a few thousand dollars a month. So they were able to do whatever they wanted. Um, and then, um, you know, the owner of the building passed away and, you know, they’re, uh, beneficiaries in, um, sold the building, without anybody at The Stud knowing, and the new owners ended up, you know, hiking the rent, um, basically tripling it.
Um, it’s to the point where it was no longer sustainable for that owner. And he put the business up for sale in the hopes that the community would be able to buy the business and, um, and, and save The Stud. And so a group of us about 18 folks got together and we formed a collective because none of us had the resources to purchase it on our own.
Um, and we, um, saved The Stud from closure. We’re able to negotiate a new lease with a landlord, but, um, it was at that much higher rental rate and, um, you know, over time the rent actually went higher every year. And, um, we knew that the, even though we kind of had put off for the inevitable that eventually we would have to move.
Um, so when COVID hit, we, you know, again, like. Our lease at that point was, was, uh, renewed on a yearly basis. And so we were on a one-year lease. And when COVID hit, we were three months into that one year lease. And we realised that if we, like, we were already looking for a new space, we knew that whatever space we went into would probably cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation, um, and, uh, and moving fees, et cetera.
And we felt like if we were to stay. Open or, or stay, you know, keep having to pay rent and all of that for months, without an any known, you know, uh, end to the pandemic in sight that we would quickly become so far in debt that we may not be able to save The Stud in the longterm. So we were able to get out of our lease early on during the pandemic by I think, uh, June and, um, and, and therefore live to fight another day.
Um, and now we do a lot of digital programming. Uh, you know, we have our, um, studsf.com website where we sell our merchandise. We have our Twitch TV channel where we host different drag shows and DJ, um, DJ sets and events. Um, and we also have our podcast that we do, um, Stud Stories that really looks at the history of the stud and connects it with different people and in, in, um, throughout time.
k: Hm. And then, so what was, uh, what was that like in terms of coming to terms with having to make that decision?
Honey Mahogany: Um, I mean, I think for many of us, we felt a little bit like, oh, this feels like a failure, but I’m also a Capricorn and I’m very practical. And I knew that it was the best business decision we could make. Um, and, and that making a good business decision in this case also, um, came along with, um, whether or not we would be able to, uh, be around in the long erm.
So I, I, you know, very quickly practically. Uh, was onboard. Um, but, um, I also, you know, have a lot of love for that location and actually currently live literally right across the street from it. So it’s a sore reminder of, um, the fact that we are no longer there. Although I also, it is actually much more of a reminder of all the good times and good memories that I had there.
k: Yeah. And like the downside of living so close to a venue is that you’ve not really got an excuse when someone rings you at like 10 o’clock on a week night and says, oh, I’m here. Why don’t you come in for it?
Honey Mahogany: Yeah, well that’s but I actually don’t mind that I don’t.
k: really? Even if it was me.
Honey Mahogany: especially, especially if it was, you.
k: uh, no, but yeah, like there are some nights when you’re just like, right, dude, no, I want to go out tonight and then yeah. If someone rings, it’s just all that guilt. Anyway, that’s a me thing that sounds like it’s a me thing. Something I need to work through and not bring to this conversation. So, uh, so you were, you were pragmatic about things and how did everyone else react?
Honey Mahogany: I think people or mostly pragmatic. I mean, I think people were all across the spectrum. I mean, we definitely all had tears at some point, but, Um, I think, you know, the, the location also had a lot of challenges that were logistical and physical. I mean, it was old, it was building was kind of falling apart.
Um, and you know, the landlords, you know, weren’t doing much to weren’t doing anything to upkeep it. And we had inherited it in its current state and didn’t really have the money to do anything about it. So, um, it’s, I think a lot of folks were sort of ready, you know, and again, we had been planning on moving since we took over the business.
Like we had been perpetually looking for new locations because we knew that the current situation was not sustainable. Um, so it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it was definitely, um, much more, uh, brusque and rushed. And, um, we didn’t have the time that we thought we would to say goodbye.
k: Hmm. So, so in, in wrapping up the conversation, if we could just do some cheesy things, cause you know, that’s kinda my brand. Um, if you were to describe The Stud in one word, what would it be?
Honey Mahogany: queer.
k: Oh, you did that. You did that far too quickly. Okay. Well, how about we do add four more? That was way too easy.
Honey Mahogany: Oh, you need four more words queer. Um, let’s see. Other words.
k: Um, now I’ve made it too hard.
Honey Mahogany: well, because queer is so perfect.
k: okay. Okay. Okay. Well, let’s just stick with one word and that one word is queer. Um, so then what, uh, what did that venue teach you about yourself?
Honey Mahogany: um, that I am, I think, brave enough to try things. And I’m, open-minded that I am somebody who, uh,
Yeah. I mean, I think that I’m somebody, I think that’s, I think that’s the main thing is that the, I think the stud has shown me how open-minded I am and that I am willing to sort of experience different things and, um, even things that make me uncomfortable and, um, uh, that I also have, uh, can have a broad definition of what community looks like.