'You feel like a goddess': AsiaSF celebrates 25 years of transgender performances

For 25 years, AsiaSF has been about an experience offering, food, music and entertainment by performers known as the ladies of AsiaSF.

Mikaela Kendrick has been performing there for the last seven years and says, "[To] be this powerful, sexy, beautiful. You know, almost feeling like you're untouchable. You feel like a goddess. You get up there and it's just like you can be whoever you want to be. And then you see the faces of the people in the crowd, and they're just really taking it in, accepting it, and cheering for you. And, you know, that's very important. It's a very important thing for me."

Performer Blair Bonier agrees saying, "This experience, this job, this life that we've lived here has. It pushes you. It pushes you to be a better version of yourself. It pushes you to want more for yourself." 

It is a rare space they will tell you, a place for trans women to not only be their authentic selves but to celebrate it. This has been that space for a quarter of a century. 

Larry Hashbarger is the founder and CEO, and says "my business partner said to me once, and I really believe it, that we probably couldn't have opened this anywhere else 25 years ago," noting that, "25 years ago, in fact, the word transgender wasn't even in our vocabulary."

Back then they called it gender illusion, but Hashbarger says "From day one, we really, you know, it was all about women who were transitioning or had transitioned and that was really who we were featuring here. And I think we know, we're really pioneers in creating a safe space for the trans community someplace where they could have a job, where they could make money and, you know, have an apartment, go to school, all the things that a lot of people take for granted. And back in those days, especially for a lot of trans women, that was a real challenge."

Through the years, the goal has stayed the same. This is a place for both the performers and the audience. "What I try to do when I choreograph is I try to make sure it's a number that leaves you with a feeling. You never forget a feeling, said Ronnie Reddick. He's the choreographer, stylist, and show and creative director. "There's a magic in the music and the costume and the performance," he says, "You don't get that anywhere else."

It is also an opportunity to learn.

Kendrick says, "You’d be surprised how many people haven't met a trans person, or at least they don't know they've met a trans person. But here, I mean, it's very obvious. It's kind of part of the whole package, you know?"

"I get a lot of questions about my appearance," says Bonier, "Obviously, they ask, you know, what did you do? How did you do it? You know, where why? You know, some common they are not even in belief that we are what we are. And they will ask us. And, you know, I love to always educate people and I love to always be honest. I feel like the truth always sets me free." 

Kendrick goes on to say that, "I think that if people would understand that we're also human and just and we have a lot of similarities to other communities, I think that it might kind of get rid of some of that confusion and fear that I think most people feel."

So they hope you get to know them. Blair can tell you about growing up in the Bay Area. She will talk about knowing her even at the age of three and how she transitioned when she was 14. She says she's never looked back.

"We live this way, 24-seven, "explains Bonier, "We don't take it off at night."

Quite simply she says, "This is me."

Mikaela can tell you about growing up in Hawaii with six other siblings, She might show you pictures of her underwater and horseback adventures, or she can tell you about her other job in the medical field.

And she can tell you how much it means when the people who come her to see her end up actually seeing her. "Some people, they won't even look at me by the end of the show, a lot of those same people that don't even look at me don't interact with me, they come up to me and they're just like, 'Oh my god, like, this show is so amazing. You're wonderful. You're deserving of all of these things'. And it's so overwhelming because I wasn't expecting it," she says. "But to get that reaction, it's just, it just really fills my heart. Sorry. It really fills my heart with so much love. And I leave. I leave this place at night and I'm just like, I just feel so good about myself and about what I'm doing." 

So 25 years later, each night is a celebration of individuality. 

"There will never be another Mikaela. [There will] never be another Blair," smiles Reddick, "So why copy someone else do you? You can only do you the best way you do you."

And no matter what the next 25 look like, this will always be the place where AsiaSF began.

"I think that there would be other places where you could be successful, but [there will] never be another San Francisco.," Hashbarger explains, "Even if we did that. So I know this is the OG, this is the original."


East Bay punk, 1st trans woman in pro skateboarding, on fighting for validity

An East Bay punk musician, who is also the first transgender woman in professional skateboarding, shares about the struggles of transitioning, the courage it takes to be yourself, and her band's upcoming final performance at Oakland's Mosswood Meltdown.