Terry Burris is a well-known figure in the Charlotte drag scene, after growing up in the Concord area. Now 48, Burris owns Chaser’s gay bar on The Plaza and performs there and at The Scorpio as Tiffany Storm, award-winning female impersonator. Having been involved with the art of impersonation since the early 1990s, Burris has seen it all and remains passionate about the out-and-proud face of the LGBT community that is the drag industry.
How long have you been doing female impersonation?
I started female impersonation at Oleen’s in 1991.
Have you seen the art of it change over the years?
Oh yeah, a lot, tremendously. You know, in the ’90s, I got to Oleen’s. I was underage but somehow I ended up getting inside. I met a few of the girls who were outside and that’s kind of how I got introduced to the art of female impersonation . . . Drag has changed a lot. Then, the gay bars were sanctuaries. They were safe havens for us, our release in life. A lot of them live two lives. They’d do their banking or professional jobs during the day and then come to gay clubs where there were female impersonators. [Impersonators] were their Chers and Madonnas, they were like icons. Back in those days, there was no Ru Paul. If you were in drag and you had a good following, you were admired by the gay community. These shows were their release, and the place would be packed every weekend. People drove for miles just to go to these certain gay clubs, because there were only so many.
What’s your perspective on the relationship between female impersonation and the trials the LGBT community are currently going through, with HB2 and the Orlando massacre?
It was the drag queens who started the Stonewall riots and stood up. I think people look up to female impersonation as more of an art form now, and I know a lot of people still look down on it. But Ru Paul has kind of put female impersonation on the front burner, as in it’s okay to dress as a woman and entertain. HB2 is crazy because people just don’t understand that if you’re a transsexual woman, you’re not going into a bathroom to do any violence. That’s who you believe in your heart and soul that’s who you are. Janice Covington is the only one who’s had the courage to stand up until recently.
What’s the hardest part of doing female impersonation?
A lot of people don’t understand that just because I dress up as a woman and entertain, I have no desire to be a female. This is an entertainment, like a singer or a dancer. There’s a misconception, and it’s hard to make a relationship with someone once they find out you’re a female impersonator.
Who inspires you?
The first queen that I met in Charlotte who inspired me is Kasey King. She was the show director at Oleen’s. I was young, and I looked horrible, and Kasey said “you’re a pretty queen. You’re going to be really good.” I always identify with her because she had a tough road being the first African American female impersonator who broke onto the scene, and she was the first to transition over to the Scorpio where all the big name girls worked. She taught me to always be classy and to treat people the way you want to be treated.
Do you have a persona when you perform?
I always just try to make people laugh. I have the gift of gab. When I’m on the stage and the spotlight hits, the wit goes to work, and it just seems to work. The mouth is wicked.
What is your favorite pageant system or a rewarding memory of female impersonation?
I started off doing the U.S. of A. and won a few regionals. Then I met Thom Guinn and he suggested I do Miss North Carolina America pageant. My first year I got runner-up, and Thom and I worked together. With a little determination and a little hard work, I thought I really could win that pageant… When all was said and done, they called my name and I won the pageant. That year I went to the Miss Gay America pageant. There were 61 contestants, and I was 11th place. After that, I never did any more pageants. I had achieved my dream of being Miss North Carolina.