As the lights dim, and the music ramps up, Hellen Heels steps on stage. A vision in a glittering gold pantsuit and platinum blonde wig, she stomps in a pair of sky-high heeled boots, performing high energy moves to tracks by J. Lo.
Bouncing from shows at Paradise in Stockton and Badlands in Sacramento, Hellen Heels (also known as Jonathan Lopez when not dressed in full drag) is an eclectic performer. From fast and furious dance routines set to Britney tunes to love ballads that’ll give you goosebumps, she’s known for being a little bit of a wildcard. Translation: you never really know what you’re going to get. “For the most part I don’t like to repeat,” Hellen says of her performance style. Instead, she’s at the ready with a large repertoire of songs to belt out at any time and dance moves equally as impressive as her vocals, including the ability to drop into full splits at a moment’s notice (though she endorses stretching first).
“I am a very busy human being,” Hellen says of her schedule. “At any given time, I’m doing three to four shows a week.” And those shows include a Thursday night residency at Paradise Nightclub, drag brunches dubbed Makeup & Mimosas at Badlands on Sundays, burlesque performances with the Darling Clementines where she is the only drag performer, hosting gigs at pop-up space Dry Cleaners (a queer and POC performer hub in downtown Stockton), and one-offs that have included Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pride Center events.
Behind the scenes, Hellen’s drag preparation takes about three hours from shower to stage including two hours to perfect her makeup. “It’s hard to be a woman,” she laughs. With looks as varied as her song choice, Hellen can be a new character every night of the week.
And when she isn’t performing in full drag, she’s out elevating the art form in other ways, both through a YouTube-hosted (and Werrrk.com-sponsored) reality TV program similar to Rupaul’s Drag Race but with a local appeal (the contestants are from the Central Valley) and with Drag Queen Storytimes at the library where she also appears in full drag to read stories to local youth. The biggest praise she’s received as host, producer, and essential mastermind of Into The Draglands is her online version rivals the big name show—which has never featured a Central Valley performer in its 14 seasons. The story time, however, is the best representation of who Hellen Heels is. A youth outreach director and LGBT+ presentation trainer for the San Joaquin Pride Center by day, this type of educational outreach that aims to help kids find acceptance of themselves and others is a key part of her mission—and why she does drag.
The other part of the puzzle is that Hellen Heels is a natural born performer. Jonathan long wanted to get into acting, but realized gay men, especially those who can sway femme, were overlooked in his younger years, and drag may have been his/Hellen’s best shot at a performance career. Hellen teaches that drag isn’t actually about sexuality or wanting to be a woman. “Drag is a form a gender expression and it’s an art form,” she says. “Everybody can do drag.”
Hellen’s mission is to spread the gospel of drag and LGBTQ+ lifestyles all while entertaining the hell out of the community. And due to recent health struggles, she’s on a bit of a timeline to achieve her big dreams. Treatments similar to chemotherapy are helping her recover, but the reality, an immune deficiency will limit how long she can do what she does—and that, is why she goes all out, filling her schedule with the activities that bring her joy.
So, who is Hellen Heels? In short, she’s the fabulous and talented alter-ego of Jonathan Lopez who shares his passion for spreading acceptance and knowledge and helping kids feel safe in their hometown. On the other side, however, she’s a boss. And Jonathan runs his drag life like a business. “She’s funny, she’s feisty, she’s entertaining… you’ll never know what to expect out of her.”