Taking their moments in the spotlight is nothing new for the transgender women who perform at AsiaSF.
Season two of their reality show “Transcendent” begins at 11:30 p.m. June 8 on the cable network Fuse, and they’ve also been named celebrity grand marshals of San Francisco’s Pride 2016 parade on June 26.
“We know almost everybody; AsiaSF is a dream place, for the best of the best,” says the glamorous Bionka, who appears on the TV series along with the equally magnetic Nya, L.A., Xristina and Bambiana.
Bambiana, the show’s sultry native Spanish speaker, says of trans women in general: “We grew up with attention” and that being judged (and having people want to take her picture) is natural.
“Transcendent” goes behind the scenes of the lives of the colorful trans women who work at AsiaSF. Established in 1998, the South of Market restaurant and club has become a San Francisco institution, known for its delicious Asian fusion menu and for the beautiful, intriguing women who dance (on the Red Dragon bar) and greet customers who come for the party atmosphere.
Not all of AsiaSF’s 15 performers are on “Transcendent.” Nya, who performs and also is on the restaurant’s management team, diplomatically says the five cast members were the “network’s choice.”
Hosting a reception last week to celebrate the show and 2016 Pride, AsiaSF proprietor Larry Hashbarger (who produced Macy’s Passport fundraisers) says he started the restaurant to provide employment for transgender women. In its 18 years, “about 50 or 60” girls, in their 20s and 30s, have worked there.
Calling the job “a coveted role” (“the women make a lot of money” and “bond with their tables”), Hashbarger adds that AsiaSF is a place for everyone (70 percent of the customers are women, many at bachelorette parties) to have fun, and a place where people can learn about the transgender community.
He says the performers “educate” people about “what it means to find your truth.”
After spending several years pitching the pioneering “docu-series” concept to various networks, Hashbarger is pleased that Fuse picked up the program, which is created by World of Wonder, the production company behind “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” among other shows.
Being top rated among Fuse’s target audience of millennials, “Transcendent,” says Hashbarger, is “making it easier for the next generation of transgender kids, 11- and 12-year olds, showing them they’re not alone.”
Attitudes are starting to change slowly, says Bambiana, who calls today’s climate similar to what was happening with gay people 20 years ago, pointing to how it was a such a big deal when Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997.
On a lighter note, Bionka, graciously shares, when asked, that it typically takes her about two hours to get her glam look together, but 45 minutes if she has to be ready in a rush.
The San Francisco Examiner will spotlight The City’s LGBT community in Wednesday editions leading up to a special section for San Francisco Pride 2016 on June 22.