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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

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APRIL 2020 Issue
In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Douglas Rushkoff

Courtesy the author.

It was 1993. I was working on my book Media Virus, and about to return home to LA from San Francisco, when Timothy Leary called to ask if I could make room for a “friend in need” who needed a ride. That friend turned out to be Genesis P-Orridge.

I had known of Gen through his music and reputation alone, and was frankly a little afraid to meet him. If the “coyote” boys I knew in The Temple of Psychick Youth were modeling themselves after him, I could only imagine how fierce Gen might be. But when I pulled into the parking garage where we were supposed to meet, and saw the diminutive Genesis P-Orridge standing there with his two gorgeous young daughters and all their suitcases, my perception of him changed entirely.

And over the next eight hours, so did my perception of the world.

Gen had just been quasi-exiled from England after a video he had made for Channel 4 (in which he carried out a mock abortion and ate the fetus), went viral in the tabloids. While Gen was in Thailand, the authorities ransacked his place, seized his archives, and made it clear he was no longer welcome in the UK. So he flew to California instead, essentially homeless, and was feeling pretty out of sorts as we drove. As his two daughters fought in the back, he told me, “if only people realized I was also a regular dad with two kids fighting in the back seat.”

The rest may as well have been straight from the Tweets of QAnon. We talked about the child pedophilia ring controlling the world, the way a powerful “ov” was changed to “of,” the value of taking a wee bit too much of a psychedelic because “the only good trip is a bad trip,” and how piercing and scarification are an extension of Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique. It was a bonding road trip—not just for the way it broke open my brain, but for how it broke open my heart.

If anything made Genesis P-Orridge scary, it wasn’t his machismo, Satanism, or risk-taking, but his openness, honesty, and tenderness. Yes, he did scary things—like piercing his scrotum, getting gold teeth, summoning demons, becoming a they—but the scariest part of all was staying soft, squishy, loving Gen through all of it.

We decided to write a book together about, well, everything. I had made about five hours of tapes of our conversations over the years, and then we holed up in a country cabin to make more tapes. Gen had a compact disc recorder and we recorded around eight hours of material. But when he got home he called me, quite upset, that none of them had recorded properly. It was the moment he decided digital was not a good thing.

I eventually helped him re-conceive the band Psychic TV as PTV3, and even went on tour with him as he became a she and a they. I got to watch—from safe behind him and a set of keyboards—as he showed his brand new breasts to a crowd of confused, mostly male devotees. They were still wearing macho army outfits from one of Gen’s prior incarnations. They were shocked. Was their hero softening? And over the course of the evening, I think they came to understand that he was daring them to break their understanding not just of gender, but of courage and autonomy (I still call him a he at that point, because when I asked if he saw himself as a chick with a dick, he said, “no—more a man with tits!”).

Of course, Gen turned out to be neither and both—a pandrogyne, breaking sexual binaries and attempting to revolt against not just the prejudices of our society but the authority of DNA. “It’s an alien virus,” they would often tell me, that turned previously immortal creatures into separate genders, limited by death.

Courtesy the author.

Genesis embarked on the pandrogyne experiment with partner Lady Jaye, originally Miss Jackie, a dominatrix who worked at a dungeon in Manhattan on Lex and 23rd. I remember the day Gen met her. He showed me two huge slices she had gouged in his chest with a razor and smiled, “she gets it.” They were married shortly later.

Gen and Jackie were among the few friends who my wife Barbara and I could just go to dinner and be totally normal with; like perfectly bourgeoisie couples on a night out. They would often present Barbara with a mod skirt or tiny sweater they found at a vintage store and thought would be “perfect.”

And they’d have fights—long drawn-out ones where Gen would get fed up with her drug habit, become convinced the relationship was over, and then stay on my extra futon for a few days at a time. But they worked through it, and from the moment they embarked on the pandrogeny project for real, they were like one being. They wouldn’t change genders so much as become a complete gender, together.

That’s why when the great Lady Jaye suddenly died, Gen was so broken. It’s terrible enough to lose a wife and a life partner. But they had just spent the last decade merging life, art, love, gender, and self with Lady Jaye. There was no he or she—there was only they. Gen lost half of themselves.

We spent many weeks, maybe months, looking at whether “breaking sex” should become “breaking death.” Gen was convinced s/he could still communicate with her on the other side, and that maybe the project was finally reaching its true fruition. She was pushing certain pictures off the wall and books off the shelf, and Gen was inferring the meanings and coincidences. We considered the possibility that they could not only cut and paste pictures, music, culture, and gender…they could cut and paste life and death. Break the illusion. Liberate from the tyranny of DNA. This was the Big One.

As time went on, though, the visitations from Jackie became less frequent and less convincing. Gen returned to music and poetry, now as a single “they.” There were new girlfriends, even a new true love, about whom Gen couldn’t help but share all the steamy details. Almost like high school.

As Gen got sick with leukemia and more limited in what they could do, shows got canceled and things got occasionally scary. Gen started on a book about their life, told through the encounters they had with everyone from Mick Jones to William Burroughs. Maybe we can get the finished chapters online; they were good.

I’m glad I am not charged with writing Gen’s obituary. There were many Gens, and that’s probably part of the point. By the late ’90s, as the terrible future of digital surveillance became obvious to anyone who cared to notice, Gen explained that anomalous behavior is our only defense.

Gen may have been the greatest enactor of anomaly in our lifetime. But no matter how much Genesis Breyer P-Orridge mutated over the decades, Gen’s kind, sweet, and vulnerable essence remained a constant living reminder that staying soft and playful no matter what, is the greatest possible threat to the status quo.

I love you,
GenGen.

Contributor

Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff is an author and documentarian living in New York.
http://rushkoff.com

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues