Q&A with Boylesque Extraordinaire Tess OZteron

By Isabella Cornell

Perth-based Boylesque artist Tess OZteron embraces his inner unicorn through elaborate performances which range from the playful to the dark. As a queer, Muslim, Asian man, Tess’ journey has been a unique one, and his performances reflect this.

Born in Indonesia, In 2010, he was selected as a youth ambassador for Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program. In 2011, Tess migrated to Australia under skill-migration as a subsea engineer. He has represented Indonesia as an independent contestant in Mr.Gay World 2014 in Rome, and in 2016, represented Perth in Vienna Boylesque Festival as the only representative from Australia. Currently, Tess holds the title of Mr.Boylesque Perth 2016.
We had a chat to the ever-charismatic and eccentric Tess about Boylesque, religion and cultural identity.
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Tell us a bit about boylesque performance? What is involved?
It’s like a burlesque, the art of teasing, but performed by a male-based identity. It involves storylines, costumes, unique skills (circus, dance, gymnastic, etc.) and a big tease with the audience to show them what they want, but what they cannot get. If you are catching your breath, probably you are in a boylesque show.
What do you love about it?
I can make my performance art into a statement. I can use it as a platform to channelling my personal experience. On top of that, I love to make the audience relate to me, a figure that might never be represented before.

What was Vienna like?
Vienna was like the tip of my unicorn horn, very sparkly! I have been there twice, for Christmas holiday and for my first international gig to represent Australia at Vienna Boylesque Festival. I always had a fabulous time. Especially when I went to the historical gay sauna that was built in 1889. Happy Ending.
Why did you choose a unicorn as your performance alter-ego?
To me, unicorn symbolises minorities and freedom. Sometimes it’s tiring to look at me as a human. I’m a gay Asian coming from a conservative Muslim family. People often fight over race, sexual orientation and religion matters. That’s why being a unicorn is enough for me.
Obviously your time as a Youth Exchange Ambassador influenced your future in Australia, what made you want to stay?
I have been living in Australia for about five years. I had seen myself at the zero point when I arrived with one luggage in Melbourne airport questioned myself “What now?”. I had to move to Perth because I couldn’t find the job. Then, I taught myself to build my dream life. I put it 5cm away from my vision so I could fight it every day. And I did it. That’s the reason I stay.
What are some of the biggest differences as a queer man between your experiences living in Australia and Indonesia?
It’s definitely the social pressure. As a queer man used to live in Indonesia, it’s like breathing under the water surface. I need to stay under, and occasionally breathing just at the surface to keep me alive. Living as a queer in Australia does not mean I don’t have social friction, but at least there is such thing as government legislation that could protect LGBT rights from any discrimination.
How do you reconcile your religious identity as a Muslim and your sexual identity as a gay man- do you think they even need reconciling?
I celebrated Eid Mubarak with my family in Indonesia, right after I had the gayest European holiday in my life (from the party, cruising, and performing). I always see my spiritual as vertical and horizontal lines. In vertical connection, I have my relationship with myself and God. Horizontally, I also have the relationship between myself and others. I always be myself, without the need to reconcile for my sexual identity as long as I can spread the love, joy and compassion.
Have you faced many difficulties or adversity in the Muslim community, either in Indonesia or Australia?
I went to Mecca for pilgrim when I was 14 y.o. I prayed and cried in front of Kaaba because I did not want to be gay as I heard it was just wrong. In university, one day at the mosque, we had group discussion after Friday Prayer with the topic of LGBT. My mentor said it was a propaganda run by the Western media. Some of them just don’t understand that this is not a result of propaganda, nor our option. Who would choose to become a second-class citizen in society, where some people have to fight to the death just to walk with their heels on the street. So, I often have moment “agree to disagree” with some Muslim people.
What was your experience like as a contestant at Mr. Gay World?
I decided to promote the visibility of LGBT from Indonesia. I was accepted as wild card contestant, so I organised everything by myself. But at the end, the journey was too hard to carry alone. On the final interview, they asked me what would I do if I won Mr.Gay World. I said, I would give my title to the runner-up. People like me, cannot have the crown. It will attract more risk than fame.
And finally- you’re a sub-sea engineer! I don’t even know what that is, what does that means!
It’s like a structural engineer, but subsea engineer builds infrastructure underwater or offshore, mainly for oil-gas facilities. I’m the lucky one whose skill recognised by Australian Immigration to enter this country. Otherwise, you wouldn’t see me here with my unicorn horn.
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Tess has made his musical debut with his indie pop-electro single “Like a Unicorn” which you can listen to on youtube, iTunes or spotify.
For more of Tess, check out his facebook or website.
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