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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

Jane Ursula Harris

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Jane Harris. Courtesy the artist.

I met Genesis in 2007 at the opening of a show I’d curated called Keeping Up With The Joneses. Along with work by Pope.L, Laurel Nakadate, LaToya Ruby Frazier (in her New York City debut), among others, it featured a photo of Lady Jaye in their Gates Avenue apartment dressed for work in one of her dominatrix outfits. Like a Vermeer by way of Pierre Molinier (one of Gen’s favorite artists), she stands gracefully in the tiny cluttered kitchen, her long slender body extended by stilettos, and her blonde pixie cut refracting light from the window behind her. I’d wanted work related to their pandrogyne project, which I’d discovered via a friend, but fate intervened. A month before the show was to open, Gen texted to tell me Jaye had passed, a devastating revelation that made the gauche prospects of negotiating what works to include impossible. I let Gen decide, and s/he picked the large-scale photo of Jaye in the kitchen.

I arrived late to the opening (a bad habit I have even when I curate), and it was very crowded. My ex came up to me and told me he’d given Gen some kind of pill (Oxy I think) to ease he/r pain. I don’t know if s/he took it, but I share that anecdote because I don’t believe in moralizing the use of chemical substances to alter oneself whether for peace of mind, spiritual growth, or pleasure. And Gen made lots of work—music and art alike—under the influence of various substances, particularly hallucinogens, which s/he treated as ritual conduits. I still covet one of the beautiful gridded collages made from heroin baggies that s/he and Jaye made, and Blood Bunny (1997–2007), the life-sized wooden rabbit they rubbed with blood derived from the ketamine injections they took for astral travel. When I wrote an essay for the Believer on Gen’s survey at the Warhol Museum, s/he showed me the related scars on he/r arm; small cuts made by Jaye to bring he/r back into he/r body.

At the opening, Gen wove he/r way through the crowd and immediately asked me for a hug. I remember the urgency of he/r body, how hard s/he clung to me; our first embrace. We’d been corresponding via text for weeks on a daily basis, a habit we maintained. I’d made a vow to Jaye upon her passing that I’d look after Gen, a vow I tried my best to keep all these years. Some might find the idea ridiculous or maudlin, but Gen didn’t, s/he appreciated it. The reciprocal sense of loyalty we shared and our friendship grew out of that dedication because it allowed Gen—who quickly became Genny to me—the freedom to talk about Jaye, and process her loss in ways others, as s/he told me, found disturbing and morbid. Gen’s devotion to Jaye, which never abated despite he/r great loneliness, along with visionary intelligence, remain what I cherish(ed) most about he/r. With the exception of he/r utopic views on technology in relation to the body, we were in perfect accord, spiritually and politically.

On my routine visits to the “nest,” we often discussed the sort of things one finds on the dark web, what others might call conspiracy theories, or occult nonsense, along with more mundane gossip. I loved talking to he/r, s/he inspired me endlessly. I’ll remember in particular how much s/he enjoyed sharing he/r music—new recordings, songs, re-releases, mostly—with me, and our listening sessions laying on the couch, eyes closed, for hours sometimes. Watching Gen disappear into the sounds and lyrics s/he created was a mysterious, strangely intimate experience as s/he seemed to relive the performances and all the sensations they recalled. We did the same with all the many books and publications that featured he/r work, though in these moments s/he avidly watched me pore through them, narrating as I went along, and getting miffed if I skipped a page, lol. Increasingly, we lamented the collective psychosis of our denial as a species in the face of our imminent, self-made demise. Given all that’s transpired since with this COVID-19 pandemic, no wonder Jaye came to get he/r when she did.

Gen was of course an icon, a cult music figure, a “cultural engineer,” the founder of TOPY, COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, pandrogyne, etc., all of which I’ve written about and documented elsewhere, but s/he was also a vulnerable human being like the rest of us, one whose generosity and courage as such is just as mythic to me as the life s/he lived in the public eye. One night we were having dinner at a restaurant in the LES, a yuppy sort of place, where the usual stares followed us to the table. This was long before trans rights had gained any currency. Once seated, when they still continued, I got angry, and loudly proclaimed that if these ignorant assholes didn’t stop, I was going to go over there. They stopped, and with he/r eyes watering in gratitude, Gen pulled a ring I’d admired off he/r finger—the last in a limited series s/he’d made from one of he/r cast gold teeth—and gave it to me. A year later, in a 2010 interview we did for my now defunct blog janestown.net, on the subject of sexiness and aging, not only did s/he recount the well-known story of how s/he met Jaye in an S&M dungeon, but s/he went on to reveal the return of he/r long-standing issues with body dysmorphia in Jaye’s absence:


We fell in love at first sight, quite literally. We were together almost every day for 14 years. We never got bored. We felt just as lucky, just as horny at the end of our earthly time together as we did that first time we made love. Perhaps Lady Jaye somehow knew s/he would die that day? S/he recreated our first lovemaking day for me. Pampered me rotten, took me for breakfast at a diner like that first day and we made stupendous, mind shattering, Divine love. S/he alone convinced me that it was me that was sexiness to her, nobody else. We felt the same way about her.

We found our SELF a widower at 57 years old. With the best will in the world, past our prime. Worse still, without Lady Jaye’s reinforcement and insistence that we were beautiful, we felt ugly again. Uglier than ever before, because we knew what we had lost was a magick mirror that reflected the best of me back. There was nothing sexual left to explore, for we had taken each other everywhere we could possibly have contemplated. My earlier fantasy of “being” the female sex worker had even been realized when s/he and we worked together as dominatrices in a dungeon. We lost our perfect partner overnight leaving me resigned to being left alone and sexless by death.

That death, which once separated them—if in body only—has now brought them back together again, is a great consolation despite my sadness that I could not make it to Gen’s funeral. And while I could go on and on with memories and eulogy, I’d rather imagine my dear Genny with he/r dear Jaye plotting new adventures in the stratosphere, and fucking themselves silly.

Contributor

Jane Ursula Harris

Jane Ursula Harris is a Brooklyn-based writer who has contributed to Art in America, Artforum, BOMB, The Paris Review, Flash Art, The Believer, Vice/GARAGE, Surface, and Time Out New York, among other publications. Her essays appear in catalogues including Carnegie Mellon's forthcoming Jacolby Satterwhite: Spirits Roaming on the Earth; PARTICIPANT INC's NEGROGOTHIC: M. Lamar; Hatje Cantz's Examples to Follow: Expeditions in Aesthetics and Sustainability; Kerber Verlag's Marc Lüders: The East Side Gallery; Phaidon's Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing, Phaidon's Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting; Universe-Rizzoli's Curve: The Female Nude Now; and Twin Palms' Anthony Goicolea.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues