This bearded queen has been turning fierce looks and performances both fun and insightful in Brooklyn for a minute now. With recent events pulling them indirectly-yet-horrifically into the Charlottesville clusterfuck, one might think they’d be deterred from living openly and fabulously. But Ms. Ter has art to give to the world, Nazis and Trumpies be damned!
Thotyssey: Hello Ms. Ter! How are you today?
Ms. Ter: Hi darling! I’m fantastic.
I know, right!? He’s so fucking talented, and I’ve admired his work for so long and I’m glad I got to commission something from him. He really hit it out of the park.
Totally! He got the beard down perfectly! And now that we’re on The Beard: do you consider “Bearded Queen” to be a certain genre of aesthetic, or a statement, or do you think of yourself more as a drag queen who just happens to have facial hair?
Great question! I think it’s all of those things. Bearded queens are definitely a subculture within the overall drag umbrella; I would say similar to club kids or drag kings, but we still play into the overall landscape of drag. Which is frustrating, when we get excluded from opportunities when people don’t think we are “drag enough.”
I feel like most bearded queens don’t keep their facial hair just because they are lazy; they use it to convey some sort of statement. For me, I use it to blur the lines of gender even more than drag already does. I enjoy confusing people, and making them question what is feminine, what is masculine, and what is drag.
I think what helps me is that I tend to utilize all the other tricks that queens without beards use to transform themselves into hyper feminine figures: I wear nails, I wear hip pads, I have very heavy makeup, etc. When I do all of this, people tend to look past the beard and see me as a feminine presence, which I hope makes them question their ideas of femininity.
So in a way, I do see myself as just another drag queen. But with facial hair.
Werk! When you’re in a room with, like, Hellvetika or Lady Bearica, do you share a Beard Bond, or are you all maybe trying to Outbeard each other?
Oh, there is definitely a bearded sisterhood. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mistaken for other bearded queens. When I fist got to Brooklyn, I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked if I was Cybil War. And even to this day I still get asked if I’m Lady Bearica, Vic Sin, or Casey Yalater. Which I find so funny, because I feel like we are all so different!
Let’s jump back a bit. Where are you from, and what were you into growing up?
I’m originally from Los Angeles, a little suburb called Downey. Growing up, I was always interested in art. It’s actually crazy: I just went back to LA earlier this month to help my mom move out of my childhood home and I got to go through all of my old stuff, and it was so cool to see how creative I was even as a child. I was always drawing, making up my own games and characters, and writing stories. My imagination was always on overdrive.
That’s cool! Were you starting to play with drag at that time?
No, it wasn’t until college that I discovered drag. I moved to a small city in Northern California called Santa Cruz to study art. Initially I was only drawing and painting, and steadily I got more and more interested in experimental forms of art. By they end of college, I was really into performance art and making pieces that intersected my life and made it a form of art. That’s where drag came in.
When I was first introduced to drag, everything clicked. Drag is an art form that makes you into a walking piece of art. To me, it is an ultimate form of performance and creation, and I fell in love instantly.
What was the earliest music you were performing to… and has that changed or evolved much?
The first song I ever performed was ”Gold Trans Am“ by Kesha, so I would say that, yeah, my music choices have changed, haha! When I first started, I was just picking music that I thought I could form a concept around. I used lots of props and costumes, because I thought that’s what people wanted.
It wasn’t till I moved to Brooklyn that I realized that sometimes it’s just all in the song choice and a good performance. That’s when I became more attracted to the music I’m currently doing, which is more nostalgic rock. It illicits a response out of the audience without being obvious.
What brought you to Brooklyn, and how did you discover the nightlife scene there?
Boredom, honestly! I was totally done with my life in LA. I had moved back after college for about two years. My roommate, who I was friends with in college and was living with in LA, got into grad school in New York. So I just said fuck it, and moved across the county with her. Looking back, it was a totally crazy decision… but probably they best one I ever made.
Before I moved, I came to visit Brooklyn just to make sure I liked it. I flew in on a Monday and decided that I should go out to a Drag Race viewing party (it was one of the final episodes of season 7). I ended up at TNT to watch the show, and stayed for Mondays on Mondays with Ruby Roo and Thorgy Thor. That was my first introduction into Brooklyn nightlife, and I loved all of it. The show was so fun and unlike anything I had seen before. They were so funny and so different, and it really made me feel at home. So when I officially moved here a few months later, I made sure to go back to that show and TNT, and that just sorta opened everything up.
What was your first performing gig here?
I was got booked at Loaded Saturday at TNT with Elizabeth James, B. Hollywood, and Ragamuffin. Liz and I were working on a benefit gig for the next month, and she was like, “hey wanna perform this Saturday too?” It was amazing, and just sorta snowballed from there.
Were you crushed to see TNT close last year?
Oh, it was definitely a huge blow. For me, it was the first bar that felt like home. It was the first place I performed in Brooklyn, it was the place I would end up every night, it was the bar where I could walk in and know everyone. I think it’s always hard to lose that first bar. On top of that, it meant one last space for queens to get booked.
Luckily, I think other bars have really taken over the TNT legacy, and with some distance I think Brooklyn Nightlife has mostly recovered from that loss. However, nothing can beat that space and that stage.
Do you see yourself as being entirely a “Brooklyn Queen,” or do you think your performances can translate in other gayborhoods? In other words, can only Brooklyn “get” you?
I see myself as a Brooklyn Queen mostly because I perform almost exclusively in Brooklyn, and this is really where my community is. However, I don’t think that Brooklyn is the only place that can get my drag. When I was in LA, before I moved, I was performing in Orange County and Laguna Beach at venues that were not accustomed to Bearded Drag, and people loved it! I was so afraid that people wouldn’t “get it,” but the audience loved to see something different from the classical drag aesthetic.
I guess it’s time to talk a bit about this motherfucker in Charlottesville, although I don’t enjoy giving him free press. An “alt-right” protester named William Fears joined the Hatefest there this weekend, and he showed up on social media brandishing a poster depicting a Photoshopped image of you shooting yourself in the head, as an anti-gay or anti-trans message of some sort. It was both horrifying and baffling, and just completely out of left field. What was your first reaction when this came to your attention?
Well, when I fist got wind of it, I was working the door at Metropolitan for Valentina’s show, so I was definitely in a weird head space. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it initially. Yes, I thought it was disturbing – but it also didn’t necessarily surprise me. Being a queer person is already divisive, let alone a bearded drag queen who lives their life openly and unapologetically. Also, any attention is good, right?
It wasn’t till I had a chance to think about it that I really got to analyze how fucked up it was, and how there are all these dark corners of the internet where people openly voice their hatred of queer people and how easily that digital violence could transform into physical violence. That was what really shook me. And frankly, it’s something that has always been there, I just tend to forget about it.
It’s a very dark place out there, indeed. Have you made any contact with this person at all, or do you want to?
No. I’ve definitely stayed away from direct contact. Obviously I’ve posted about it and brought it to the attention of my community and Twitter, but I’m not looking to have a dialogue with a monster like that.
I certainly don’t blame you. How does something like this affect your art?
It makes me want to do more, and be more myself for the people who are afraid to because of people like him. Like, I can take it – I’m used to criticism and judgment – so let Ms. Ter be the subject of your threats and violence, as long as it keeps you away from other queer folk.
Truly brave and genuinely noble of you… you’re an inspiration to us all.
Okay, on a lighter note… how was that Valentina show? Did you catch any red M&M moments from her?
Haha, no. She was literally there for an hour! Like, she was in and out. I didn’t catch any drama, and everyone who talked to her said she was sweet, but I didn’t get a chance to have a moment with her. There definitely was a diva aura around her, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Obviously I’ll be at Drag Con and Bushwig next month, which I’m super excited for. Other than tha,t you can catch me at random nights here and there all over Brooklyn. I’ve been known to stumble into Macri Park on any given night.
Werk! Okay, in closing… if you had to suddenly perform right this second, what song would you do?
Oh, since it’s a beautiful summer day I would perform “Ocean Avenue” by Yellowcard. Also, I really want to go to the beach… so maybe that’s my inner SoCal girl talking.
Surf’s up! Thanks, Ms. Ter!
Ms. Ter co-hosts the “Red Room” underwear party at Macri Park on Sundays (10pm), and also co-hosts “Failure: A Queer Workshop” at Bizarre monthly first Thursdays (10pm). Check the Thotyssey calendar for other upcoming appearances, and follow Ms. Ter on Facebook and Instagram.