Escaping to New York from tragedy in the Midwest, this queen has evolved into one of our city’s funniest and most colorful nightlife entertainers. She comes at you raw, wise and unfiltered, and it’s assured that the very last thing that you will do is forget one of her performances. In this exclusive Thotyssey interview with Terra Hyman, we cover as many topics as I could squeeze into this space, from dealing with depression, to Drag Race, to hot bodega guys, to Pokemon Go.
Thotyssey: Hello Ms. Hyman, thanks for talking to us! I must first ask: I’ve been following your saga as reported on Facebook about Akeed the sexy bodega man in your hood, whom you’re in-love-with-just-kidding-but-maybe. Has the magic fizzled yet?
Terra Hyman: Oh Akeed, how could the magic ever fizzle when you’re looking into the face of absolute perfection? I’ve been seeing him every day, actually–a bitch has to eat! Just last night he added me on Facebook, and my heart literally exploded. I’m in recovery at Bellevue as we speak.
So, a lot of your humor as a performer comes from storytelling, both on the stage and on social media. You’re very narrative and descriptive, and brutally honest about all the dark crevices of your life. Is this rawness and expressiveness your natural state, or do you have to kinda mentally rip yourself open onstage for everybody?
You know, It’s been a really strange journey going from telling stories at a house party to telling stories on stage. It takes a lot of practice to figure out how to make jokes about having dead parents without losing the entire audience.
To answer your question, it is my natural state to always be honest. I would rather let people know about the shitty things from my past, because without that I wouldn’t be who I am. I often have people say things to me like, “you don’t act like someone who’s had their parents die,” which is the dumbest fucking statement ever. Am I supposed to be an introverted shell walking through life like a miserable ghost? I would rather keep my past alive than have it pushed aside and forgotten.
When I sit down to write out a story on social media, or to tell onstage, it’s actually only a fraction of all the shit that goes through my head all day long. My mind is a fucking mess, it’s just a jungle gym of sex, bad memories, and constant analysis. And sex. But such great material to work with [laughs].
Do you think some day you could focus, sit down and write a book? I’d love to read that. You’re quite literate, and as you say, you’ve got tales to tell. You can totally be the next James St. James!
You shut your mouth! James St. James’ Party Monster is the reason I became a drag queen! Growing up in Nebraska and Minnesota, I always dreamed of the lifestyles and culture he talked about in that book, and his dialogue was so ridiculously funny while telling such a dark and horrific story.
It has always been a dream of mine to write a book. I would like the world to know about my parents and what lead them both to suicide, and how to get through life after experiencing that… and somehow make it a comedy!
That would be quite a read. So, let’s get back to the beginning: You grew up in
the Midwest, as you said. How do you sum up life in that region of the country to a NYC bitch with no idea?
I am so happy I grew up in the Midwest, even though no one from the East Coast has any idea where the Midwest even is. The Midwest is very basic, but not boring or void of culture. Minneapolis and Saint Paul actually have a ton of art. There are enough professional theatre companies for actors to make a living. Yet people constantly think I grew up on a farm.
And the people back home are great! I think people from the Midwest tend to have a great sense of humor because there isn’t as much to do; they have to entertain each other.
So, art and creative performance were part of your life from a young age.
Actually not until my early teens. I was in Nebraska until I was 12, so it wasn’t until I was living in Minnesota and a teenager that I even knew what a musical was. Once I discovered the gayness of Chicago, Rent, and Wicked, I was like, “Get me some fucking tights, I’m a dancer now!”
I don’t know how much you want to get into this, but you mentioned your parents’ suicide. I can’t begin to imagine what a terrible experience that was for you. Were you using art and creativity to cope, or escape, when this happened?
I used alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. My dad was always a mess, in and out of prison, drug abuse and heavy alcohol abuse. I was 13 when he died, and it was something I was almost prepared for.
My mom’s death was another story. She suffered from Multiple Sclerosis, and had lost so much strength and movement. Four years ago, she lost most of her vision in her right eye, so she was prescribed an insanely heavy dose of steroids. It didn’t help, and made her go fucking apeshit. She had to leave her job, and the feeling of defeat was too much for her.
Her entire life felt like it was a punishment: parents who never loved her, husband who couldn’t be helped and died, her second husband who was an asshole, and a disease that would kill her in the end. She became determined to end it all, and I begged her not to. I even told her, “don’t make me be the kid who has no parents,” but there was nothing we could do.
It all happened six weeks before I was set to move to New York. And I came out here friendless and jobless, and legit just drank a bottle of vodka every night to fall asleep. Every day felt like I was living in a dream I would wake up from.
I started doing drag because I needed something new and artistic to call my own. I honestly needed to become a different person.
That does sound like a living hell that you went through, and drag totally makes sense as a way for you to reinvent yourself. Now, it was Our Lady of Saliva–the grounds-breaking Tuesday night drag competition at the Ritz–where you kinda stumbled into it, right?
It totally was! Like I said, I was always obsessed with the book Party Monster, but had never seen that crazy avant garde style of drag until Saliva! Thorgy in particular changed the way I saw drag as a performance, and I wanted to be a part of it! I also just needed to make friends after all the heartache.
What was it about Thorgy specifically that compelled you?
I think it was that level of unclockable confidence. She can be so sexy while dressed like a clown. She has this air about her that says, “you like the way I look? Fuck you, I don’t care”
That’s a great description! So, when you found Saliva that first time did you returned immediately as Terra Grenade?
I actually saw Saliva when I was visiting, and once I moved permanently three months later I started going every Tuesday–and yes, Terra came out around that time.
How’d she look on her first night out?
Like a young Edward James Olmos.
Ha! Well, it couldn’t have been that bad, cuz you were gobbled up pretty early on by your drag mom Kizha Carr.
Oh ya, I think Kizha snatched me on my second night ever in drag! She must have been wasted. In fact, she was blacked out.
What’s the most important thing you learned from Kizha, drag-wise?
Do the basics! She used to tell me all the time: I don’t need to be shitting bubbles and popping them with my dick. It took awhile to sink in, but now when I see newer queens, I wanna give the same advice. Just turn out a solid performance!
That is a gorgeous turn of phrase! I’m sure most people reading this already know, but for the old farts, Terra Grenade is some sort of video game reference, right?
Only slightly. My mom never had a daughter, but the name she was going to give one if she had was Tara. But the main character in Final Fantasy 6 was named Terra, so I spelled it that way. Grenade had no significance whatsoever, I just thought it was fierce. I realized about 6 months ago I am not fierce, I’m disgusting. So I now have a name that’s gross; Terra Hyman.
About three months of me in drag I met Bob, who was Kitten Withawhip back then. He was nothing like I thought he would be, because I knew her from this ad where she was making a stabbing gesture and a scary face. I assumed he would have a huge attitude, the type that reads everyone to filth. He was the sweetest guy ever. We both did drag for the same reason: we’re actors who wanted to make our own act and persona.
Y’know, I recently came across the glorious Wizard of Oz medley that Bob led as an opener to the 2015 GLAMs–and there you were as the Tin Man! I remember what a fun production that was. But it must’ve been a grueling rehearsal, right? I mean, there were so many of you, and lots of choreo!
We had one rehearsal It was just one long-ass day in the basement of The Monster, which involved lots of fighting and way too many distractions.
So, before you stumbled into Saliva, how familiar were you with Drag Race? Were you a fan?
Yeah, I watched the show right around when Season 3 ended, and it changed my entire perspective of drag! Growing up I assumed, as a lot of people do, that drag queens are men that want to be women. Seeing that it was all about the art of transformation and performance made perfect sense I loved it because I had always wanted to do drag, but didn’t know if I would be right for it.
Now, the only problem with that is, I feel like the magic is gone. The mystery behind “Do these men want to be women?” made people uncomfortable and curious while watching drag.
Lots of people still ask that, though! And more and more straight people are coming into the bars and making these discoveries about drag and gender. Does it feel weird, that there’s a growing straight audience that’s learning all of our secrets and appropriating them?
Appropriating, like having their own television show to watch straight celebrities lip sync? Or how Jimmy Fallon will spend half of a fucking episode lip syncing with Seth Rogen? I find that aspect lame as fuck, but I personally love performing for straight people. I want my audience to be a little uncomfortable, to not know who I am. When you’re only performing for gays, they want to know “What’s your real name!? What do you look like out of drag!?”
Gays want to know that more than straights, really?
Oh yeah! Every gay man wants to be besties with a drag queen. Or fuck one.
Those tacky bitches should learn to appreciate a good mystery!
So after you were the big winner of Saliva (congratulations!), you did the seminal drag competition at New World Stages that Paige Turner hosts, “So You Think You Can Drag?” In general, how fun and/or terrifying was that process in that early stage of your career?
It was a blast, actually! It was about a year into me doing drag, and it started up immediately after my win for Our Lady of Saliva All-Stars, so I was really feeling my fantasy at that point. It was huge publicity, and the themes forced me to up my drag majorly. I of course lost, but Sutton Lee Seymour was so solid. I’ve found that all of the runner-ups each year always do well in life: Pattaya Hart, Dusty Ray Bottoms, Heidi Haux. C’mon second place!
That’s my motto! So, here comes your controversy! When Season 6 was first being promoted in 2014 and Logo was teasing us with unlabeled photos of the new season’s girls, lots of people (including me!) thought that Milk was you, because it was a pretty uncanny resemblance, in that pic at least. Milk was relatively unknown at the time. When people started saying that the pic was you, did you see the resemblance right away?
Oh it totally looked like me. My boyfriend legit thought I was hiding a secret from him. I just went with it as a joke, and it blew out of proportion. It was great for publicity, but people still bring it up today when they hear Terra Grenade. That’s the main reason I changed my name!
Ha! Milk was ultimately cool with your subterfuge though, right?
Oh, she didn’t give a fuck! It was three days of popularity for me, and a lifetime of success for her, why would she care?
Ha! So, I guess your first weekly gig was old Boots. People who were never there really missed out on one of the strangest gay/drag venues in the city, I think. That space was so tiny and intimate, and the audience was so eclectic… and some nights it would just be packed like a sardine can, right?
It was! I miss the old space because it was so intimate and you had no choice but to pay attention to the queen!
You had a popular show in the larger space for awhile, which I hope comes back when management gets their ducks in a row. Dare I ask about what you think regarding their recent bathroom scandal?
Oh God, let me tell you something: a drag queen caused a scene and was asked to leave. They put up a sign the next day making the bathroom gender neutral, end of discussion.
Okay, let’s discuss gigs, starting with Sunday night. That’s Look Queen at Monster, which you’ve inherited hosting duties from while founder Bob the Drag Queen is out Purse Firsting. This is a well-received night where competing queens try out their fiercest, most high-concept looks and numbers. What’s your history with Look Queen?
Look Queen is ever evolving, and we are about to change things up some more! When it started two years ago I was with Bob once a month as a co-host. The competition was at the end of every month and I would help out as an assistant for that as well. We’ve done a great job keeping the show alive in Bob’s absence, and he will be joining us for the grand finale of the competition August 28th!
It will be such a blast, with Bob and all of our all stars, and the following week is going to be a rebirth! Dusty Ray Bottoms and I will be co-hosting together with a 2am drag competition and a $100 prize every week! It’s always been our goal to make this party for queens by queens, so we expect bitches to come out in their fiercest and most experimental looks.
So, for several months you and your drag sister Brita Filter were co-hosting the Miss Lady Liberty weekly pageant at the Ace Hotel, which was a fun and–kind of expensive?–weekly event. They only had a few weeks of the pageant left, I believe, when it was abruptly canceled. Do you know why?
We were the ones to cancel it, actually! Week after week we had sound issues. One week we legit made everyone grab their seats and move into another room, because it was the only one that would play sound!
Okay, then there’s your Tuesday night show at Stonewall, Never Been Feltched! That’s the only show now where we can see Terra by herself being Terra. I notice you don’t have co-stars on that night often, is that because you appreciate the significance of just being up there on your own?
Yeah, I think I need at least one show where I’m alone to talk for hours on end about fisting and watching Sailor Moon. Like you said, I like to tell stories, and Stonewall is so perfect for that! It’s also the only show where I’ve drank so
much I’ve blacked out!
Why’d you change the show’s name from Go Fish recently?
I changed the name because I wanted it to have a really glamorous name that shows off how classy I am! Ha!
And who took that amazing poster pic?
Okay, then Thursday’s a big night for you. First at 9ish, you co-host Haus of Mouth at the West End with Brita. You two have a history of shows there, and Brita said she loves doing that one because it’s so large scale and feels like a Broadway show. How do you like performing at that venue?
I love it! It’s such a good cabaret space, and Brita and I are a great team. We’ve been called yin and yang; we’re different, but complimentary!
Are your West End audiences very different people from your other venues? That’s such a different part of the city.
Oh, it’s totally different! Half of the time our entire audience is families that have never seen a drag show before, and they are gagging over us, whipping our wigs off and making out with each other!
Wow, that sounds cray, I have to see that show soon.
And now, you’re part of the Queen revue at Industry, which is still the most successful and well-known drag revue in the city that Holly Dae leads now. That’s late Thursday nights and you’re there for select performances. First of all, do you need to run out of the West End at the end of Haus of Mouth to get to Industry on time?
Oh girl, I’m dodging cars like there’s a Dragonite! It’s the mad dash Olympics to get to Queen. I love the show though, this city is in dire need of a big drag revue, and somehow Queen is the only one!
What’s your favorite number or theme that you’ve done there so far?
My favorite theme was Gods and Myths, because I promised I would do something unexpected and picked Pandora’s Box… But I had a hard time coming up with a way to make that story drag-tastic and funny. I was thinking, “okay, I’m made for some dude, then he gets a box, then I open the box, and the worst thing in the world comes out…. what is the absolute worst thing on this planet? Donald Trump!” So it somehow turned into this political piece, where opening the box turned me into a monster: Future President of the United States D. Trump.
Trump will destroy the country, but he’s done wonders for drag mixes so far, hasn’t he? And Malania too, of course!
OMG I totally forgot that I also did a Melania Trump vs. Michelle Obama mix with Jada Valenciaga! It was just me repeating everything she says, and her beating the shit out of me.
So what’s the protocol with your Queen co-star Phi Phi O’Hara, who’s a Drag Race alum that’s now appearing on that show’s second All-Stars season this month? I don’t know if you performed with her yet, but are you all supposed to “don’t ask don’t tell” with All-Stars?
You know, with All-Stars it wasn’t as secretive as having a brand new cast of mystery queens! I’m sure now that it’s all been announced–I could get the T from Phi Phi–but I personally don’t want to ruin the show for myself! I’m just eagerly awaiting her epic looks, and the hilarity of Detox and Alaska.
Just heard that you’re co-hosting the All-Stars viewing party at the West End starting Thursday, right before Haus of Mouth! Who do you predict you will be shading the most?
You mentioned Dragonites before. What’s the most obscure Pokemon you caught?
Oh girl! I just got a Porygon! On my days off, I play at 59th and 5th, the Plaza. It has five Pokestops with constant lure modules, and it’s now literally become this wasteland of nerds. There’s never less than 200 people there, and half of them are selling merchandise, phone batteries and power banks, and undercutting the street vendors with low price beverages. It’s essentially District 9; half of them look like extraterrestrials and the other half are hot as Hell!
When someone spots a rare Pokemon like the Porygon that just spawned, the entire heard of dweebs runs like mad to get to the location. I once saw traffic stop because so many people blocked the street to catch a Dragonite.
Oh the humanity! Which venue has the hottest guys that you work in?
Girl, have you been to Industry? Apparently every gorgeous man from the Middle East decides to go there on Thursdays. It’s such a boner mall, and I’m always stuck there in drag like, “I want all these dicks and I’m stuck in this prison dressed like a clown!” It’s…. It’s such a good time.
Who was the last customer in a venue you were performing at who really pissed you off?
About a week ago, I had a girl dance in front of me during my opening number at Stonewall. I took it as a blessing, because I wasn’t in the mood to dance and it gave me an opportunity to stop the number completely and make an ass out of her. She was basic as fuck.
Then the next fucking day a guy tried doing the same thing to me! Only this time it was during a spoken word section… I’m standing here attempting to give a monologue, and this dumb fuck is dancing up to me. So I push him by the shoulder, and–not realizing my brute strength–this dude goes flying into the crowd, and all I hear is blood-curdling screams and broken glass. I never saw him again. I think he’s dead. I killed a guy.
Are these real things? Is this some strange, all gay-reality I don’t know about?
It’s all too real, gurl!
Damn, I am out of the loop. Take my gay card, I don’t deserve it.
Okay, more your speed.. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: thoughts? No spoilers!
The nerd card is still fresh! I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child minutes after its release! I loved it. So exciting and fun. I had a friend offer me a free ticket [to the current stage production] and free lodging in London, and I couldn’t go! I have too much shit going on.
Bummer! And yay too, I guess! So, you’ve probably just been on this constantly forward-moving trajectory since you first arrived in New York and things started happening for you. I wonder if you’ve gotten a chance to breathe, to reflect?
Absolutely not. I haven’t had one minute to breathe in the toxic, polluted Manhattan air at all since I moved! I do, however, often realize that I’m living a childhood dream, and I don’t take that for granted. I legitimately have the coolest job in the world. The stress of rough crowds and constant testicular pain is far outweighed by the satisfaction of making a living performing and wearing elaborate costumes, and meeting amazing people all the time.
I’m glad to hear it. Okay, last question! You’ve been up and down the drag world, performing everywhere, in contests and pageants, judging and hosting competitions, etc. What’s the most important piece of advice you can give someone who says “Hey, I want to be a drag queen?”
Get a sugar daddy. This shit is so fucking expensive. Find someone who will pay for it, or quit right away–unless you are certain that you will make the money back!
That’s the best advice I’ve heard all day. Thanks so much, Terra!
Terra Hyman hosts Look Queen at Monster on Sunday nights (she’ll co-host the finale with Bob the Drag Queen on August 28th at 10pm, and the following week it starts over). She’s co-hosting the Miss Lady Liberty weekly pageant with Brita Filter at Boots & Saddle on Monday nights (9pm) until its August 29th finale. On Tuesday nights, she hosts her solo show “Never Been Feltched” at Stonewall (10pm). Terra and Brita co-host “Haus of Mouth” at the West End every Thursday night (9:30pm, and starting August 25th this will be preceded by a RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars viewing party that begins at 8pm), and on select Thursdays she later performs with the drag revue Queen at Industry (11:30ish). Terra can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.