When you see Teri Gender Bender of Le Butcherettes onstage, it’s as if the devil has risen and is effortlessly annihilating any and every wandering thought from your puny mortal mind in order to, as the philosopher Walter Benjamin would say, truly witness the aura of an authentically epic work of art.
But when you have a conversation with her, it’s all warm laughter, earnest words jumping between English and Spanish, coming from an energetic woman actively working through her issues who still can’t quite believe her own power.
This polarity is coincidentally (or fatefully) what Teresa Suárez Cosío, aka Teri Gender Bender is currently exploring in "struggle/STRUGGLE," Le Butcherette’s latest three-song EP on Rise Records, which is dropping 10 years after the release of the band’s debut EP, 2008’s "Kiss & Kill." Teri takes my phone call from a closet somewhere in El Paso, Texas, the city she’s been living in for the past three years.
"We all have demons, you know, and sometimes mine tell me that I’m a piece of s---, and you kind of feel like locking yourself in a closet! But not right now -- right now I’m locked in the closet for good reason: to meet you!" Gender Bender says with a laugh.
Family, race and gender have always been driving forces in Gender Bender’s work, and in this particular installment of her saga, she’s deep-diving into her family history and her disconnection from her roots. The new EP contains one idea stemming from one of Gender Bender’s darkest times, crafted through three very different and very distinct processes and collaborations.
The first song, "struggle/STRUGGLE(bi)," has Marcel (aka Eureka the Butcher) composing the music and it begins the journey on the darker side of the spectrum. The second, "struggle/STRUGGLE(MEN)," is a more joyous take, with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame taking on guitar and production duties. The final song on the release, "struggle/STRUGGLE(TAL)," exists on the other side of Gender Bender’s looking glass; in her words, it’s "Teresa in Mother’s land."
"In a few words, to be direct, my mother suffers from [sighs] a mental illness, and all my life I never knew that that was real, I didn’t even know mental illness was a thing, it was always a big elephant in my home," Gender Bender says. "And then, growing up I started to come out of my nest, but the way I did it was very inconsiderate because I was afraid of my mother. I just left the house one day without any explanation, and I carried that guilt. And then when I came back, I wanted to, like, make it up to her so I invited her to live with me and that was like, f---, a very interesting hell, in the sense that I didn’t know she was mentally ill, and all this time I was judging her and lacking empathy, and I think that made her feel even more alone because she didn’t know, either."
So how does Gender Bender deal with the duality that stems from this kind of trauma, with the complex relationships and feelings that are born from her first steps?
"At the beginning I was very reactionary," Gender Bender said. "If I was feeling hate, I was physical; I would punch a wall. But that’s not good, either, ’cause you scare people and you instill trauma in them. And if it was a feeling of love, I would cry uncontrollably from happiness. But it’s the same thing -- I just have to have more awareness with people who maybe don’t know me that much."
Relentless introspection is what makes Le Butcherettes’ art so worthy of attention, and Gender Bender’s raw power has guided her on a road that will take the band on tour in November with Death From Above 1979. Gender Bender first met the band last year in Europe while touring with them and At the Drive-In.
The mood of our conversation lightens when we discuss a shared guilty pleasure: the Spice Girls.
"Oh, Posh Spice! I loved her elegance and her stance, her hair and everything, and her, like, purple dress with black lace!" Gender Bender said, confessing her favorite. "[Who] was yours?"
I was really into Baby Spice, which I think maybe was one of the first clues that I was bisexual.
"Oh, right? Me too!" Gender Bender told me from inside a closet -- but really "outside the closet," a fortuitous moment, as dual and complex as human beings get.
Be sure to catch Le Butcherettes at Mous Tache Bar in Tijuana on Friday, Oct. 19, for a grrl-power-packed-night with fellow bands Le Ra, Nina Dioz, Stars at Night and Cool Era.