Back in 2018, photographer Seth Caplan began to photograph friends and acquaintances who are queer nightlife creators. What emerged in the end was a celebration of New York’s queer nightlife in all of its messy glory. Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring each subject from this project in their own words, along with a portrait of them at home.
Who: Terence Edgerson
What: Host, promoter, event producer
What was your first time out at a gay bar or queer nightlife space?
It’s so funny to think back on what that was like, and how long ago it was. There’s this bar right off of Christopher and Seventh, and it has an upstairs…
Duplex! That was first gay bar I went to in New York City. I wasn’t ID’d. I think I was 18 and I didn’t have a fake. I remember going inside and it was a lot to take in because I was feeling like, wow, I’m here. There were all these jittery feelings of — this is what it’s like to be gay. It’s dark, there was some kind of disco light. I sat by myself and took it all in. It was very exciting. Mostly because I was in a gay bar and I wasn’t pretending to be straight. I grew up in Michigan and for all of my life, I was hiding everything. There’s something that Oprah said — your entire childhood is a lie. When you’re living a lie it’s hard. You’re trying to navigate without living your truth, without speaking, without being open and honest. And so the initial feeling when you are, in a place where you can be yourself and free, it’s a mixture of shock and excitement and relief.
It seems like a nice place for your first bar too, because it’s not an overwhelming bar.
I think that helped that it was not this overwhelming bar. There were no pretenses. It wasn’t a place where people were stuck up.
So you came to New York at 18. How did you get into nightlife?
This DJ I knew reached out to me on Facebook who played sets at Vig 27. That was my first hosting gig!
There’s something that Oprah said — your entire childhood is a lie.
Yes, that bar! I tried to be a waiter there while I was just starting out after college as an artist but they didn’t hire me.
Oh my god, yeah. Well, that was my first hosting gig. My first time where I got paid to show up and invite people. I got a check. I couldn’t believe it. This was so long ago in my early years in New York. That DJ told me Vig 27 wanted him to DJ there, and I was like sure, I can bring people. It’s so funny to think about, because this was way before Instagram. I was on Twitter. I was some kid from Michigan, you know, how am I bringing people? But even early on folks said, “Oh, people know Terence.” So it was me and a couple of other people and we would get dressed up. I think it was on Thursdays. We would dance and get a couple of drink tickets and invite our friends and dance around. That was my first experience with queer nightlife.
The DJ was gay, I’m gay, the other guys were gay, the manager was gay. I think that created a vibe and it was cute. It was my first experience understanding that you can get paid to promote a party. That idea was so foreign to me coming from Michigan. I came here to work in fashion. I didn’t think I’d go out and someone would pay me to show up.
How did you go from Vig 27 to today? From Terence to @nysocialbee?
I started on Twitter with @nysocialbee.Then I jumped from Twitter to Instagram. From the very beginning, I always had @nysocialbee on my social media, I never had my name. So whenever I would go to a party, people would say, “Hey Social Bee!” People would tell me they didn’t know my real name. It’s so funny because it’s taken on a life of its own. Everybody knows Social Bee. It cracks me up that I literally came from the ground up. I have always been called a social butterfly, whether through friends or my report card through teachers like, “Terence is a social butterfly in my class.” I was making a Twitter handle and I was like, hmm, social butterfly, I don’t like that. How about New York Social Butterfly, or New York Social, or New York Social Bee? And that’s how it came about, and it took on a life of its own from there. Buzz buzz!
The DJ was gay, I’m gay, the other guys were gay, the manager was gay. I think that created a vibe and it was cute.
How did you evolve into the space you’re in right now within queer nightlife in New York?
I was going out a lot for a long time. It wasn’t hosting at first. I was going to Horse Meat Disco before I was hosting it. I was going to Wrecked when they were in Manhattan in a basement of a bar that was slightly illegal. I was going to Paradisco from the early days. I was going to Phoenix Friday’s, which used to be so fun. I was a big regular at Eastern Bloc. They had a stripper pole and go-go boys. I would go there all the time. I would go to Urge, I would go to the Cock.
That’s such a diversity of kinds of places, the Cock versus Paradisco. What about these different nightlife spaces was bringing you joy and continuing to draw you out?
I was searching for more connection. I wasn’t always finding it, so it made me return. I also love the music. A lot of people knew me, but I didn’t always have a core group of friends. I’d go out with one person or I’d run into people at the bar, but I didn’t know them well enough to ask, I wasn’t vulnerable enough to say hey, can I hang out with you guys? It took me years before I got to the point where I had a group of friends I could text to meet up with.
I loved that I could go to the Cock one night and meet an actual hot guy and go home with him. I loved that I could go to Eastern Bloc and watch a hot go-go boy and hear some great disco music. I also was growing up pre-Grindr. I call it growing up because you’re never finished growing. My twenties in New York, pre-Grindr was probably the pinnacle. You had to talk to people. And even when I was shy, or no one was interested in talking to me, I still took in everything. I’ve never minded going out alone, but when you’re a young gay man finding your place in the world, there are stumbling blocks. It all comes with age and maturity. I’m very grateful for all the things that I learned through nightlife.
Nightlife will always have a place in the world, and it holds a special place for gay people in general because it is a safe space. Being called faggot on the street, you go to a bar after to be reminded that you are loved and you are validated, you are worthy. You look around the room and it’s all these people enjoying their lives, smiling, and it seems very surface-level. But when you get to the deep part of it, it’s love. We exist in this space where everyone is carefree and having fun because it’s a safe space. You are with your queer brothers and sisters and you are just living your life. That’s why I keep returning. And that’s why it’s so precious to me that I get to host or promote these parties.
Being called faggot on the street, you go to a bar after to be reminded that you are loved and you are validated, you are worthy.
It is so special that we get to go to Carry Nation, Horse Meat Disco, Papi Juice, Bubble_T, Paradisco, Heaven on Earth, all of that. It’s a fuck you to the world that I’m here, I’m gonna dance, I’m going to live my life and I’m going to dress up, I’m going to put on pearls, I’m going to put on lipstick, I’m going to put on heels, I’m going to dress up, I’m going to be whatever I want to be. And fuck you, who cares?
It can be hard to go out by yourself, it takes a long time to make close gay friends in New York. I never like going out alone because I feel so nervous and self-conscious. I didn’t have a close group that I felt comfortable with for a long time either. There was one period when I went out dancing alone at Sugarland often though and it was amazing.
Oh my gosh, Sugarland! I wish we had met then. I was going by myself too. I loved Sugarland.
I still feel nervous when I go out. I know I’m going to run into people I know. I will see someone. Sometimes I look forward to going out alone and having a moment to myself, but if it’s a new place or something, I do get nervous.
I’m gonna dance, I’m going to live my life and I’m going to dress up, I’m going to put on pearls, I’m going to put on lipstick, I’m going to put on heels, I’m going to be whatever I want to be. And fuck you, who cares?
I want you to talk about what you’re up to now. You started doing Love Prism with the DJ Ty Sunderland. And there’s your Thursday party LINDA at The Public Hotel, and you’re joining forces with Horse Meat Disco.
All of it has paved the way for the next thing. This is my first time really producing parties on my own. I’ve always been a host, which meant I was responsible for bringing people and promoting it. I am hosting Love Prism at 3 Dollar Bill which Ty throws. The music’s great. I saw you there. I’m hosting Heaven on Earth at China Chalet once a month. I’m hosting Horse Meat Disco, which is now at Elsewhere. I’m hosting Carry Nation, which is at Good Room. I’m hosting No Expectations, which is at R17 on Pier 17. That’s my party. It is the first time that I’m creating my own party. And I’m also hosting Hive Thursdays at Rebar. Hive, you know, for Social Bee. I switch each Thursday.
What was the genesis of No Expectations?
No Expectations came to be because my friend Kofi brought me downtown to South Street Seaport to show me a couple of venues and if I thought it would be possible to do a party down there. They have a space down that reminds me of Rusty Knot, and I thought it was cute. It could work as a Sunday brunch but maybe not Sunday because Paradisco is happening and Rusty’s happening, and Ultramaroon. You want to get in where you fit in, not where there’s already stuff happening. We saw this space across the street, R17, which is the restaurant on the roof of a building on the pier. I thought it had major potential. Matt Ford saw it with me and co-hosts the party with me. They asked how fast we could plan something. Originally it was supposed to be a months-out project, but they asked me to turn it around in three days. So I threw together a Facebook invite. That’s how it started.
And you’ve done three now?
Four. It’s been really good. I’m so surprised that people have come out. It’s on the water, you have to go down to FiDi, and then you have to go into the Seaport, on the pier, and then go upstairs. So it’s a destination party, and the fact that people have come, I’m very grateful and thankful. It’s one of those things where you assess and reassess and see what works and what doesn’t and the fact that people have come consistently each week and bought drinks and danced, it’s really a testament to having built a solid reputation for throwing a good party. Also having great DJs like Mark Holcomb, Timo Weiland, and Ty Sunderland.
What are some trends you see happening in queer nightlife today?
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I’m seeing a lot of people finding their places, creating their own spaces that haven’t been there before. I think it’s amazing because when I was first going out in New York, there weren’t really spaces for minorities. The queer world is made up of everyone, whether you’re Asian, Muslim, Hispanic, Black, or Brown. There has to be space for all of us and we all want to dance. People are starting to realize if that space isn’t there, create it. There are a lot of queer people taking things into their own hands. There are so many people that are like, we can do this.
Is there a place where you feel, as a Black gay man, that’s a safe place for you to go out and be your full self?
That’s something I’m working on. People look to me. They say, “Terence, you’re big in the nightlife scene, there’s not really a Black party, there’s not really a party where we can go and dance, just us.”
I know 718 Sessions is historically a strong Black space, but it isn’t a queer-only space. It’s a big mix, which is also really nice.
718 Sessions that Danny Krivit DJ’s amazing. It’s a mix of straight and queer people, old, young. The 718 Pride boat party they do is such a thing of joy! I would love to create something like that for the Black gay community and admirers. I want a place for all the Black queers to come and dance, but I also want to make it so everyone can come and join in. It’s important to have Yalla and Papi Juice and Bubble_T, but I also want to make sure that while we have safe spaces, we’re not also getting to a point where we’re segregating off into little boxes where we don’t communicate. I think the most important thing, like how Horse Meat may have become a predominantly white masculine, or ‘parading as masculine,’ party, it’s still a place where everyone can come and it’s such a great party. The music is so phenomenal.
I would love to educate white gays or, they can educate themselves. But I want everyone to play a role together. I don’t want it to just be segregated like all the white gays go to that, and they don’t look at anyone else. If you want to come to this party, meet new people. Let’s fix the problem instead of just acknowledging that there is a problem.
Hi boo. It’s so good to catch up with you. I’d love to go back to the start of the pandemic and talk about what you were up to then at the start of lockdown and during the big transition to digital.
It was very dark at first. I remember we were debating if should cancel Horse Meat. One by one, things started getting canceled. It was more serious than we thought. I had a tremendous amount of support, which was amazing. I had just watched a video of James Baldwin talking and he says about suffering that when you’re in it, it feels very low and full of despair. You think you’re the only person that’s in it, no one can relate to you. And then you realize that suffering is what connects you to humankind. When Instagram Live started being this thing, I knew I could bring some lightness and lean into my role as a community organizer or someone that leads a scene. I hopped on Instagram Live and started talking. Ty came on. It was so funny because some people said to make this a show. It was really great because none of us were seeing each other in person. I was at home alone for several months. Some people were just happy to see each other’s faces. The messages that I got from people, I took like screenshots because they were so beautiful.
Did you do anything else with your community those first few months of lockdown?
I work with Ty and we did one or two parties online. Ty always looks out for his friends and for the people in nightlife. It was so fun because they would move the Zoom Spotlight around. I like dancing in my apartment, changing outfits and everything. Carry Nation did live streams and I brought my laptop into the bathroom and danced in the shower. One time I started cutting up a wig. It was fun to lean into costumes and silly lightness. I met new people through the Livestream dance parties, a lot of people donated. It really showed that although we couldn’t be in person, our community was still strong. Everyone came together to support DJs, to support the community, whether it was through donations or privately. I think there’s a deeper appreciation for nightlife, the people that are in it, and in what it takes to survive. People came out to support us.
I was so inspired to see how many calls there were, especially for those who were still employed, to keep spending the money they’d normally spend on nightlife, and to see how many people followed through. We have all these amazing people who make amazing spaces for us and we need to care for them.
That was really touching for me. So many people needed that and they also needed to know that people didn’t forget about them.
That is what mutual aid is. Something that we talk so much about now, but those first two months no one was really using that word yet.
It was mutual aid. That was and continues to be important. When we talk about community, oftentimes we talk about how there needs to be more of this or more of that. Sometimes we forget how beautiful it is when people do actually come together and what they can do. People sharing funds from their positions. And the people that weren’t able to give them monetarily but who could boost and share. That was very touching.
I’d love to hear if there were any connections or crossovers for you between your nightlife communities and the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
Just by the very nature of being a Black gay person, my life is a protest. The world is not set up for me to succeed. Everything I do and that I accomplish is going against the grain of what has been put in front of me. The protests and everything were very draining on me. It’s very exhausting having to hear about people being shot and killed consistently, while also trying to have peace of mind. The crossover that I saw was how everyone came out through their actions and their words. People doing the work themselves and then calling up their friends and saying we can be doing better. It’s not just a summer thing or the next shooting. It’s something that you need to work on for the rest of their life. Seeing people from the nightlife come to protest and be moved was really nice.
Nightlife is a gig economy. Without the gigs, you have nothing.
I showed up when I could and I rested when I needed to. The fight for equal rights and justice is really on white people, for them to educate themselves and fight. Black people have been fighting all their lives. That summer I was very vocal online and for a lot of people, I was their source of information. I took that role seriously.
What were you up to during the spring when things were slowly opening up?
Before everything was fully open we did a sit-down dinner series at 3 Dollar Bill with drag shows. That was really beautiful because it was a way for people to see each other and for the venue to keep the lights on. It was a great way to hear music. I was able to see a lot of friends, It was my first time being back inside of a club. Nightlife is a gig economy. Without the gigs, you have nothing. When things started really opening up it felt good, I was able to host again, people could get paid. We started doing calls with different producers to see what capacity was and what we could do. The sense of excitement was kind of palpable. New York was coming out of hibernation.
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Tell me about your Pride. I saw you at Horse Meat Disco which was so fun, and you put on your first full-scale production, Stuntsz.
Josh Wood called me and asked me about doing Horse Meat. We weren’t sure what we could or couldn’t do yet. And I said we should do it, it will give people hope. It’s Pride. It’s the time to be here and see friends. And it was so fun. Getting dressed up, seeing everyone together.
Stuntsz was a big highlight of my year, producing my first full-scale production. I knew I wanted to do a party. I got in touch with some folks who helped me and we talked about locations. For most of June, I was not sure I was gonna do it. I was very stressed. I didn’t have DJs. I didn’t have a location. Every week a new party was announced and I thought, I don’t want to compete with Honey Dijon or any of my friends. And then Dan, my producer, came back and said he got the location I wanted. I started making calls to different DJs and they said that they would love to play. I got an incredible lineup of Maxime, Mike Servito, Justin Cudmore, and Lauren Flax. It was a family affair because Justin Cudmore and I share the same birthday. Mike and I are both from Detroit. Mike Sutphin did production and lighting. I’m still feeling the effects of it. I’m getting ready to do another one.
Pride was a wild ride. I went to Wrecked. I hosted SoHo House Pride. I went to the One Hotel in Brooklyn to host their Pride party with the Misshapes and Symone. I hosted Love Prism.
What was the concept for Stuntsz?
The party was called Stuntsz because I was in a group chat and we were talking about how the stunt is the gag, the surprise. You’re going to pull a stunt and you’ve stolen something from someone, or you surprise everyone. And the stunt was that I announced my party last after everyone else had announced. And I had an incredible lineup and tickets would be going on sale. So that was a stunt. I was really nervous. And then I leaned in fully. I felt really good with my lineup and we did it and it was so good.
What about List Is Closed?
Well, we’ve entered the era of Social Bee. There’s not much you can do to escape that, so my best advice is to buckle up! I don’t know how long the ride will last, but I can tell you you’ll enjoy it. I just produced List is Closed at Le Bain. It was a combination of saying “The list is closed” for years and bringing it to light.
I remember when you performed in drag as Liz T Closed during an early JUDY show at Pine Box Rock Shop.
That was the first iteration of List is Closed! It’s so funny to see it merged with the new T-shirts that say Buzz Buzz on the back and then doing the party. For the party, my goal was to get people on the dance floor to sweat it out. The dance floor holds so much power. I think it is medicine. DJ’s hold a lot of energy in what they can do to move a crowd. We go out to dance, we go out to feel something. The most beautiful thing about dancing is that it’s this nonverbal communication. You get to express yourself with someone across from you.
The party was about giving back to the fans. I don’t think I’m a celebrity by any means, so I don’t know if I would call them fans, but I have some very loyal followers that mean a great deal to me. Doing List is Closed was a nod to them, making it a catchphrase. The people did that, not me. There were calls from people to put it on a tote bag or a shirt. It was a love letter to what Social Bee represents to people and to have fun with it. It’s never something where I am trying to keep people off of a list. The funniest thing about List is Closed, is that I started saying “list is closed” because I put so many people’s names on the list! It’s always been about me helping people get into a party for a reduced rate or for free. How many people can I help get in? There’s no list for List is Closed.
What are your goals or hopes for yourself and nightlife coming up?
I want to keep fostering community. I’m hoping everyone can get vaccinated and everyone continues getting tested. It’s about making sure we’re keeping people safe. People’s livelihoods depend on this. It only makes sense for us to keep taking care of one another. I want to keep producing parties, maybe take it on the road. I’m really excited about the reemergence of queer nightlife and the new people that are getting involved. I’m hoping to see more female headliners, more people of color.♦