S/he Dropped Her Body

RIP Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The news just broke on Twitter — as it has a habit of doing these days — and it’s hard to know what to say.

There is so much I feel like I must thank Genesis Breyer P-Orridge for: An ability to affirm an amorphous sense of self; a dogged refusal to be what anyone wants you to be; an oppositional creativity as well as an ability to enter into the very depths of things. More than anything, however, on the most banal level, Genesis was responsible for illuminating the weirdness of my own backyard.

As a teenager, having previously internalised and buried the shame of a class position which was visibly usurped by a performative arrogance — my mother was a real-life Hyacinth Bucket and I was growing up to be her protégé — in a city known around the country as a shithole, it was discovering Genesis and Throbbing Gristle that made me think Hull was not such a bad place to be after all. There was poetry here, evidently, and not just the poetry of high society that my mother had a penchant for, but an otherwise evil poetry out to kill all language.

To see Genesis, breaking free of the social shackles I knew all too well, shackles that had won in that dead-end town, and then doing what s/he pleased, was the ultimate inspiration.* I’d already begun to learn about the radicals of the world, far beyond my shithole, but here was Genesis and s/he was ours. As the first domino to topple in my cultural consciousness, s/he led to a fascination with the “lives of the obscure”, as Virginia Woolf once put it, and, fittingly, Genesis increasingly felt like a real-life Orlando, seizing time and space for h/er own aims.

I feel I must add that I never met Genesis although I once had the opportunity. We were sat on opposite aisles of a train back to London from Hull in 2017, following the first weekend of the COUM Transmissions retrospective as part of the City of Culture celebrations.

It was an odd time to find myself in Genesis’s orbit. I’d spent the weekend socialising with Cosey Fanni Tutti that weekend instead, having first emailed her a few years previously, hoping to have a hand in organising the proceedings as a fresh-faced graduate, back in Hull, wanting to see my inspirations represented amongst what I feared would be a sanitised pseudo-corporate affair. When the events finally came around, it was clear that it would be anything but.**

Everyone awkwardly kept their distance from Genesis that weekend, however. Proof copies of Art Sex Music had started to make their way to the press and its revelations about Genesis’s prior behaviour were already being whispered on the winds, and most definitely backstage at that event.

It’s difficult to know how to act when in a room with two people, one of whom has just accused the other of attempted murder in a memoir…

That coloured proceedings indelibly. Genesis’s performance that night — some meandering spoken word thing about memories — felt hollow and superficial. The knowledge coloured my understanding of who Genesis is and was also. This mystic and near-mythical figure re-emerged as precisely those same things, but diminished somehow — a life of tall tales and half-truths and of a hidden energy bubbling under the surface that obviously had a real dark side alongside the nonetheless transgressive productivity of its light.

There are questions that linger about Gen’s conduct over the years. The avant-garde’s Harvey Weinstein? Such a label would surely ring true in some corners if not others. It begs that we try tackle a whole host of questions that I’ve yet to see anyone take seriously. I understand the reticence but I hope it is not completely absent from the coming obituaries.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge inspired generations of people who I love and admire, no doubt in the same way I was inspired. S/he inspired us to break free of our carnal births and make new ones, form new identities and existences that were psychically nomadic if not physically so. There must come a time, however — surely? — when we have to ask ourselves how much of our lives we’re able to keep running from.

There is only one response that rings true for me right now, so immediately after the news has broken:

Genesis has stopped running. S/he’s dropped her body. Her legacy will continue and no doubt continue to complicate itself as the years go on. Nevertheless, may s/he rest in peace. I’ll be thinking of h/er and h/er loved ones and also thinking of others, who I hope can find a different kind of peace now too.

* The most exciting thing about launching my first book at the ICA this past week has been solely down to its stature in my mind as the place where Throbbing Gristle first penetrated this country’s imagination, with their inaugural performance and exhibition, Prostitution, taking place there in 1973.

** I chronicled that occasion on this blog in a three-parter which you can read here, here, and here.

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