Diva Magazine Interview: Teri Gender Bender
Mexican rocker Teri Gender Bender calls herself an ignorant punk, still her band Le Butcherettes released one of the best albums of 2011. As DIVA’s Bella Qvist looks back at the year gone by she remembers an interview with a nervous girl who touched her heart.
It was earlier last year that Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes spoke to me in an interview that got under the skin of the feisty punk rocker. Voicing strong opinions with heartbreaking honesty this 22-year old likes to cover herself in blood on stage whilst breathing new life into queer feminism.
“Hello, I’m so sorry I left my cell phone on silent and I didn’t hear anything and I was in the car but everything is good now and I apologise with all my heart.”
Teri Gender Bender answers the phone speaking in a speedy and regretful manner, standing on a car park pavement in Los Angeles. She has spent the day travelling and subsequently missed me calling her for the last twenty minutes. Once she gets talking though, she doesn’t really stop.
22 years ago Teresa Suaréz was born into a poor and corrupted Mexican society ruled by men, violence and the Catholic church. What she experienced as a child planted seeds in her mind and the life of this rebellious young woman was soon shaped. At the age of 17 Teresa, under pseudonym Teri Gender Bender, started Le Butcherettes with a female friend.
“No one really believed in us and a lot of people [thought] that because of our gender we weren’t going to amount to anything, that it was just something for the men to go and see and enjoy in a nasty perverted kind of way.”
Playing relentlessly in small bars across Mexico the music eventually spoke for itself and Teri’s message soon became clear. By playing angry punk music and wearing 1950s housewives’ style clothes and aprons covered in blood, she represented women enslaved to the kitchen and challenged the deeply rooted stereotyped ideas of what a woman should be.
“I used those elements [female attributes] on stage but it kind of contradicted with what I felt at the moment which was a bunch of rage. It was like therapy for me. That’s where Le Butcherettes came from.”
It wasn’t long until Mars Volta’s Omar Alfredo Rodríguez-López discovered the band and brought Teri and her new male band mates over to the States where their success blossomed. Playing alongside heavy metal bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Queens Of The Stone Age she is now often the only girl on, and off, stage.
With shows that have been known to feature a real pig’s head, Teri isn’t afraid to let her inhibitions go even when she’s surrounded by a bunch of male tattooed rockers.
“There’s no right way of doing things. Don’t feel shame of just being… your true self. Let your energy out, let it be on stage or writing a book or cooking a delicious meal, just don’t limit yourself with rules.”
“When I’m on stage a lot people think I’m acting but I think it’s quite the complete opposite. When I’m off stage I have to keep myself together and pretend in a way that everything is okay, to not make others feel uncomfortable and that is unhealthy because… it starts gathering up and it starts blocking the arteries until eventually one little thing might make me explode. So playing on stage helps me vent.”
“And that’s what this band has been doing for me or what I’ve been doing to the band… It’s also helping find out the stereotypes of what a woman should be which is why I wear the dresses and the apron with blood on it. It’s more symbolic.”
The call breaks up and when I ring back Teri is even more regretful than when she first answered the phone. And she is starting to sound a bit stressed.
“A friend of mine is in a restaurant but this is cool, I have all the time for you, that’s good, she can wait for me. You can ask me all the questions, I’m actually really grateful someone has time to actually listen to them, listen to my…” she stops and laughs.
“Oh, I’m so nervous!”
Don’t be! You were talking about how you are yourself on stage.
“Exactly, yeah. I’m being myself using the elements that were imposed on me when I was little when people were trying to make me believe that I was just a girl and sometimes speaking your mind is not so ladylike. I know it’s kind of weird that people still think like that nowadays but it still goes around.”
“I did the pig head and the meat in Mexico because of the drug problems that was going on and a lot decapitations and kidnapped girls and mothers. All these things were just constantly happening and the police would know and not do anything about it…”
“[I was] trying to make a statement but even my own people in Mexico wouldn’t understand it because I wasn’t easy to digest… They were like ‘oh she’s trying to copy the movie Army Of Darkness, she must be a Bruce Campbell fan.’”
Do you ever worry you might alienate yourself from women who share your views but who aren’t fans of blood and nudity?
“Yeah of course… People who choose to be housewives because they want to do it, I have nothing against that at all. I would some day love to, you know, get married and have children and start a family; there is nothing wrong with that at all.”
“I don’t want to insult… What I’m trying to send out is just don’t let people speak for you, always use your reason and also your intuition as a woman.”
“… it’s the same thing with successful women that don’t really want to have successful jobs, they think they get a really good job as a lawyer but they really don’t want to do it, they just do it to please their loved ones or their friends. Just, do something for yourself!”
“Recently I was in the same position, well this is personal but kind of to prove my point. I was living with a man for seven years since I was fifteen, I just recently broke up with him because, and he was amazing, but I just wasn’t happy. I was with him because I felt like I owed it to him and ironically I was becoming a hypocrite… I’d let all my anger out on stage and my frustration, but I was just really mocking myself… when I’d come back from tour I’d go straight to my house to wash the dishes and not do it out of love, just do it because I felt like I owed that person love.”
“My mother thank the god or world, she is a housewife but she’s really happy so she’s inspired me to some day want to have children… settling down doesn’t necessarily mean that if you have children or kids that means your life is over, quite the opposite. You can always live your life if you want to… “
Asked about her unusual stage name Teri Gender Bender has said that she chose it because she wanted to take her gender, bend it and throw it out of the window.
What do you mean by that? Is gender not important to you?
For the first time, Teri doesn’t have an answer straight away.
“To me it was more like… When someone thinks of a woman they think of curves and I don’t know but then it’s just like a general interpretation of a whole western American society, a curvy lady with big hips where big bosoms and feminine is the first thing that comes to mind. Dress, make up, and that’s really creation because a woman is so much more than that cliché. And to me that’s why it’s Gender Bender.”
“Basically don’t lose yourself within the invention of society, that’s what I mean with Gender Bender. I love you for who you are, for what your ideas are and if they’re different than other people’s ideas then oh my god, that should be taken into consideration.”
“Me being a girl, at school, I’d be taken for granted a lot because of my sex, because ‘oh she’s just a girl, she doesn’t really know any better’. And it sucks, it sucks so bad that people limit themselves to crazy inventions imposed on us. I know I sound like an ignorant punk right now and my language is a barrier for me and I can’t really express what I feel.”
Is gender important when it comes to the person you’re with?
“I don’t think so at all. I can play with musicians that are female or male as long as they get me.”
“In a sexual way I actually don’t want to limit myself either… Right now I’m in love with life and I don’t see life as feminine or masculine, I see life as both. And lots of people are kind of weirded out by me when I stare at a woman walking down the street and I’m like ‘woah she’s so beautiful’ and they’re like ‘what are you, a gay?’ It’s like why do you have to label anything, I feel what I feel in the moment and if I want then I’ll go towards it and hey of course with objectivity and maturity one must approach a person with empathy at all times.”
She pauses as someone says something to her.
“Oh, I don’t want to be rude but my friend is kind of giving me the eye, I have to hang up.”
And so I say goodbye to a truly inspirational young woman.
Le Butcherettes may not be hitting our shores for quite some time yet but I highly recommend you keep an eye on Teri and her band in 2012. This is one bloody ignorant punk who definitely deserves our attention.