Anthony Torres, the flamboyant 44-year-old DJ and nightlife personality known around the Tenderloin as Bubbles and typically wearing large wigs and pink lipstick, was reportedly shot and killed early Saturday morning across the street from the New Century strip club, on Larkin Street at Myrtle. As ABC 7 is reporting, he was apparently DJing and/or performing on the street at 2:50 a.m., and a man emerged from the strip club and was arguing with Torres before opening fire.
Jim Reilly, a man who describes himself as Torres's attorney and friend, confirmed the death to multiple news sources and referred to Torres as a "transgender activist," and tells the Examiner that this was a hate crime, while other friends clarify that Torres identified as a gay man who enjoyed dressing in drag in public for fun, and for attention. In a profile in the Chronicle from 2012, Torres described himself as "an unemployed hairdresser who lives on disability payments," and he declined to gender Bubbles as either male or female. "Bubbles is just Bubbles," he said of the "character" he began taking on two decades ago. "I feel empowered. The attention is nice, and it makes me feel important and loved."
In terms of activism, one could point to a situation last year in which Bubbles was refused service by a bartender at Ace's Bar on the morning shift. Torres recorded the exchange and shared it with the media, in which the bartender says he wouldn't serve Bubbles "because of the way you look." At the time Torres said he only went to the bar because it was one of only a few that opened at 6 a.m. The story made headlines all over town, and ultimately the bar's owner said that Bubbles got kicked out of the bar "for being an asshole," not for being in drag.
Longtime friend and former roommate Marke Bieschke, writing for 48 Hills, explains that Bubbles had recently been using Facebook Live to post videos of street performances, usually with a loudspeaker, that he was calling "tranny snow cones," and "popping up all over town... outside bars and on corners like this one, wiring up a loudspeaker like a carnival barker, occasionally breaking into song or catcalling cute 'gingers.'"
As Marke B. writes:
Describing Bubbles is well-nigh impossible beyond the spectacle of towering, often askew blonde wigs, abundant chest hair, bushy muttonchops, kooky sunglasses, teetering heels and endless, endless talking. Gender-nonconforming, wildly unfiltered, and unwilling to be categorized, Bubbles was a character that took over their inventor’s life years ago and ended up touching a whole city. There was barely a venue Bubbles hadn’t been 86ed from sometimes incredibly unfairly, and boy, did Bubbles raise a stink but it was usually for something spectacular, and even those kicking her out often ended up bragging about their Bubbles encounter. You couldn’t help but smile when Bubbles rushed toward you at the club or on the sidewalk, like a hyperactive, hairy grandma ready to smother you with panicked attention.
Another friend, Buckner Williams, tells the Examiner, "You always knew when Bubbles was in the room or in the building. He was larger than life but at the same time on a one-on-one level was one of the most dearest and compassionate people I knew. If Bubbles came to your party, you knew it was a good fing party.”
About 150 friends and neighbors gathered Sunday night for a vigil at the spot where Bubbles was killed, many of them lamenting the fact that San Francisco continues to lose its beloved freaks and characters. And it seems that even if Bubbles had not left us under such violent and tragic circumstances, we would have lost him/her anyway Torres was planning to move to Berlin next month, and a going away party was being planned at the Eagle on September 29. Bieschke says the party will go on anyway, only it will now be a memorial.
In the "about me" description on Bubbles' Facebook page, Torres wrote, "Very lucky to still call SF home."
No suspect has been identified, and a preliminary report from the SFPD indicated the victim was a "30-year-old female," as the Chronicle reports, though the medical examiner has confirmed that Torres was the victim. It's a testament to the gender-eschewing project that was Bubbles that each report from various sources has a different term for the victim, with KRON 4 going with "gay trans activist."
Police say that they have surveillance footage of the shooting and have identified a person of interest, but that information has not been made public.