ruminations on sexiness and aging with the inimitable genesis breyer p-orridge 01.05.11
One of my silliest memories of hanging with Genny was an evening back at The Gates Institute where we’d taken Biggie for a walk in his new giant “pram” (British for stroller). The latter had been purchased in anticipation of Genny’s upcoming move to a condo in the LES, inhabited largely by Hasidic Jews, that didn’t allow dogs. It was intended to be a disguise vehicle for getting the little Jack Russell mutt in and out of the building and also to enable Biggie, who’d grown frail with age, to get outside more without the pain of walking. There we were strolling along Myrtle Avenue on our way to a Dominican diner, Biggie sitting upright in the pram looking to and fro through its thick plastic pane, pleased as punch in his extravagant carriage. And more or less invisible to the passing naked eye lest one peer hard enough at the oddly contoured baby inside with his pointed noise and tall perky ears. Could there be a better way to travel? Periodically, a bold or curious child would try to look inside, and you could see their surprise… is that a dog?! Indeed so. Genny’s canine “son” we’d explain. Our giggles and theirs sum up what I love best about Gen: h/er generosity and patience with those that might stare (as many often do), h/er ability to disarm ignorance with humor and grace (though never resorting to condescension), and above all else h/er noble sense of daring.
Fate is many things but rarely indifferent, and this is how I must describe my friendship with Genesis, which grew in the aftermath of h/er greatest tragedy; the untimely passing of h/er beloved wife and “Other Half”, Lady Jaye. I’d been curating an exhibition called “Keeping Up with the Joneses” that was to include their work, and the utter shock of Jaye’s passing broke my heart. That such a rare and beautiful love as they shared could so mercilessly be derailed in what was obviously its prime was, and remains, truly heartbreaking stuff. Still, as I grew to understand, the special bond they shared was very much alive. Transcending the physical limits of bodily form, after all, was essential to their project of pandrogeny as was the desire to create a third sex and unified being. This is why Genesis still often speaks today in the pronoun of “we”. Like Gilbert & George who once informed me they weren’t a collaboration, but rather “an artist” the concept of identity for Genny extends beyond both gender — and ultimately, the grave. H/er ruminations here on sexiness and aging then necessarily revolve around and entwine h/er relationship with Jaye, revealing in the process this pandrogenous notion of transcendent integration. As s/he signs all her correspondence, “’S/HE IS (STILL) HER/E’ New TOPI Proverb. DEDICATED TO THEE MEMORY OF MY GUARDIAN ANGEL, LADY JAYE BREYER P-ORRIDGE 1969-2007,” so too I dedicate this article to the spirit of Lady Jaye.
JH: I think that people feel – and are! – sexier as they grow older (providing they are sexual people to begin with), but how to manage the ironic fact that our bodies grow less sexy with age. Or is this already the wrong assumption? I tend to think that its instinctual to associate decay – i.e.. wrinkles/sagging flesh – with mortality yet know that feeling sexy can make you sexy, right?…or is this wishful thinking?
Men, of course, have traditionally dealt with this mortality factor by exercising their social prerogative to fuck younger women/bodies – an advantage extending from greater economic and political power and the fact that they can procreate longer…Women, gaining ground in this area, are doing the same now (I have), even if their prowess is still pejoratively limited by terms like “cougar” and “MILF” (another topic for another day). I must admit that I’ve always felt resistant to dating older men as it seemed so easy and without challenge. The older I get, of course, the more I feel I should adjust this attitude. Yet like sex with beautiful people, which I’ve also had the luxury(?) of, sex with younger men – beyond the initial conquest – often holds little satisfaction, as sexiness, in the end, is more important and often independent of looks and age…For me, anyway, sexiness is very much rooted insomeone’s sense of themselves as an embodied creature, though I’d be lying if I said my initial interest wasn’t always governed by a sense of chemical and physical attraction….I have always generally liked conventionally good-looking men as well, a somewhat embarrassing fact – for its uninspired superficiality. Though I’ve fallen in love with men I didn’t find particularly handsome at first, most have been sexy in their own way.
Here’s the question I ponder at the moment: Does sexiness assume a physical dimension for most? And/or is power the ultimate aphrodisiac? Sometimes I believe it is just as mysterious and impossible to quantify as any other “taste”, but if power is the current – the energy force – that drives all human relations (as I believe it is), can one assume that powerful people possess and access sexiness more readily than those with less power? If so, is this the result of animal instincts? Or am I just conditioned by the exploitive hierarchies of capitalism to think this way?
GBP: When you first threw this subject at me we were not exactly daunted, but, surprisingly swiftly, (as our thought streams played around with those two seemingly innocuous words,) found that each bout of contemplation appeared to actually conceal clarity from my inward search. This was a process of layering, not unlike putting on “our face” with cosmetics. Our inner gaze was being distorted, even tricked.
This distortion should not have come as such a surprise or revelation. After all, our invitation to probe a little deeper into this enquiry was, at least in part, because of our chosen path as one half of the artist “BREYER P-ORRIDGE” otherwise known as the “PANDROGYNE” and, through that investigation, our gestural use of the hermaphroditic body as a transformative tool and a symbol for the eradication of gender altogether!
At the core of our Pandrogeny project are some threads of thought that entwine to create an integrated, hopefully new, form of symbolic “being” through which to achieve that eternally sought after state that we call “unconditional love” or “soul mate” or “my other half” as Lady Jaye preferred. We felt ourselves driven to pursue total mutual integration. So consumed by our discovery of what Lady Jaye dubbed “Big Love” were we that our deepest desire was to, in a sense, quite literally be totally absorbed by each other (if a means ever became possible and accessible to us). We were driven by a boundless passionate energy to eventually achieve absolute union by whatever means became available to us.
Now, please, don’t mentally imagine/visualize this concept as annihilation by one of the other; nor as one single cell that splits to form two separate cells of a whole, like identical twins. No…we picture two single cells that meet and at that precise point on the cell wall at that infinitesimal nanosecond they touch there is a blinding flash and those two previously single cells have become one much larger (not necessarily double-sized) autonomous single cell. Breyer P-Orridge call this process of the transfer of positive passionate energy from one human being to another “COSMOSIS.” And of course the bright new shiny penny of a single cell created by this recombinant event a Pandrogyne.
Nevertheless, as artists, Breyer P-Orridge believe we must seek an eventual resolution of our enquiries through and with our art practice. Our puzzling over questions like: Why we are here? Is there a God? What happens after our body dies? Why don’t men get menstrual cramps? (Well a chosen few DO with fastidious practice) and so on. And, as artists, we turn to creation as an expression, notation, and vision of our internal dialogs. If we are fortunate artists we also get to “SHOW”, to “EXHIBIT” the evidence and detritus. Lately, our own complicated after-modernism works have been injected into that mysterious life blood of our species…CULTURE, thereby generating an external dialog, what we see as a conscious viral invasion of a host body by artists, or “CULTURAL ENGINEERING”.
Who have been our most mischievous secret agents for change? Those visionary creators who have been covertly honing their skills and talents for centuries under the very noses of their natural born and, probably, sworn antagonists who we shall dub the Aristocrats of Inertia. As artists we still swim in the same cultural stream of miasmic blood as everyone else, distilling and purifying as much as possible before apathy, greed and layer upon layer upon layer of bureaucracy and fear censor us. We exist within an inherited system, a status quo we do not choose. One that is constructed to simplify and homogenize moral standards and traditions innately bound to the maintenance of a self-serving hierarchy. This out of control edifice IS control. A monstrous, useless self-serving monolith fueled by hypocrisy, bigotry and hate always with a threat of intimidation and censorship close by. William S. Burroughs once said to me “When you want to know what’s really going on, look for the Vested Interests”.
So it was that the passionate energy regenerated by the collision of my SELF with the SELF of Lady Jaye became our very own Little Big Bang calling into question ALL our inherited conditioning, our sexual identities until we found our SELVES referring to the prevailing status quo… “nonsensus reality.”
S/he (Lady Jaye) was biologically 24 years old and female, 5 feet and 10 inches with a women’s size 7-8 shoe size and 36 x 22 x 34 inch figure. S/he topped off that supermodel body with a Brian Jones (of The Rolling Stones) blonde pageboy/shag haircut, the naughtiest, most compelling ever twinkle in her brown eyes. On the day that we met Lady Jaye, she informed me “…if you can’t run for and catch an MTA bus in 5 inch high heels you shouldn’t wear them”. Watching her demonstrate this speed running in 5-inch “pumps” (as they are known here), wearing the tiniest “pussy grazer” mini skirt with the “essential accessory”, a cigarette, s/he was indubitably New York born and bred. Or, as s/he preferred, s/he was the “ARBITER OF ELEGANCE.” And, s/he was insanely, incredibly sexy. WHY?
As a teenager we came from an age where there were NO porno magazines, no sex education. Severe censorship in the cinema and even books now considered classics like Henry Miller’s “Tropics”, William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”, Jean Genet’s “Thief’s Journal”, and many others were considered obscene and prosecuted as such. So my knowledge of even the rudiments of sex came from other boys at all male schools and our often exaggerated discussions during naïve but erotic circle jerks. Our first constructs of sexiness begin there, right then, at the time we are exposed to combinations of orgasms and images, from the taboo and suppressed to the popular.
We grew up in a household of three generations of biological women.My grandmother, my mother and my elder sister. We vividly recall watching my sister having her long hair brushed and being jealous of the entire process. The sound, the sensuous length which was at that time taboo for males, the communal aspect of a somehow secret circle rooted in the “privilege” of being female. We also found it baffling that women’s clothes were so various and exotic, colorful and ever-changing with fashion’s whims. We felt unreasonably deprived. Why couldn’t men wear glamorous and multi-layered clothes, distinctive make-up and limitless hairstyles? It was early on, about 10 years old, that the trappings and apparent freedoms of style and display we associated with being a woman became erotic, certainly, but also, more than sexiness, they represented an oppression of my outward expression of sexuality and sensuality through display and gesture. Somehow for me, femininity in all its outward guises became inextricably linked with sexiness. The fact that it was a taboo for a biological male to desire “peacockiness”, never mind to speak of coveting the apparent freedoms of women added another layer to my burgeoning triggers of desire. We found that anything erotic that was inappropriate, or considered “perverted” turned me on and generated an ever deepening urge to explore and experience it. Or was it that anything inappropriate to the prevailing modality was by the very nature of BEING “verboten” erotically magnetic?
When we were born we were considered in great danger from being extremely underweight. All my childhood became a battle to try and make me eat, and we were forced to drink strange protein concoctions called “Complan” to try and fatten me up. My nickname at school was “Auschwitz”. Oddly enough Lady Jaye was also a sickly child, always considered too skinny and was even also called “Auschwitz” at school. Just a couple of many, many conjunctions and synchronous similarities we discovered after we met. But, to return to my teens where my concepts and imprints of sexiness were developed and imprinted. Mine was the era of Twiggy. The androgynous boy-like girl image seemed to permit a cross-over that might liberate cross-dressing. We will carry a wish to be as skinny as Twiggy to the grave. To this day we retain a small but cherished collection of Twiggy memorabilia. The other critical addition to my ever more formed standards of sexiness was the television program “The Avengers”. We would try to see every episode on a Saturday night, fascinated by the character Emma Peel who wore skin tight leather cat suits with buckles and belts, knee high boots and a violently effective karate kick. The Avengers brought fetish into my world, though we were unsophisticated enough at 15 to know little about its more specific role in sexual practice.
Amongst my peers the basic, and to me base, urge to simply fuck was everything. Boys wanted to fuck to prove their manhood, and women did everything they could to deny that pleasure. For me, the mere act of fucking was already a mundane idea by age 12 or perhaps younger. My tastes were for complexity. Starved of sexual imagery in photos, films or on TV we were forced to imagine what might transpire with a willing partner and the very act of persuasion, far from being frustrating to me, was satisfying and exciting. Simple surrender was not sexy. It turned out that what we pictured in our fantasy exploits was already beyond the socially acceptable norm long before we lost our so-called virginity. Oral sex, anal sex, group sex, mutual masturbation were all in my imaginary repertoire. It came as a shock to me as we began to explore the delights of the flesh that our desires far outmatched the menu available. So we lived a dual existence. What it was possible to persuade a lover to do, and what we pictured in a future as we did it.
Sexiness for me became very much about what occurred in my mind and with that self realization my quest began to search for a person. An ultimate sexual mate to explore every nuance of possibility with.
A final point perhaps worth noting is the explosion of neo-dandyism that happened as psychedelia hit the British mod-scene in the mid-sixties. Suddenly people like Brian Jones dressed in silks and brocades, grew their hair long and it became acceptable for the male to be as meticulously exotic and flamboyant visually as they could afford or imagine. This permission briefly bloomed across the Flower Children era in 1967-69 in England. Then it was sadly drowned in a sea of denim and tie-dye Grateful Dead t-shirts, except, in particular, amongst rock musicians. We mention this because it relates to my personal experience in terms of aging. This androgynous gender ambiguity gave public permission to those of us feeling constricted by convention to create a personal SELF regardless of any status quo or social norm. We have exercised that generous freedom ever since.
These formulative imprints of “sexiness” we believe become fixed templates for all that comes after. This is why so many men remain fixated on young adolescent women. Its not just the scent of youth, nor the porcelain smoothness of new skin, not even the irresistible hormonal rush of lust within passion. We each create an individual, personal stereotype that we crave over and over. We are forever repeating our fetishes and fantasies over and over in a perpetual loop. We may hide this archetype we have assembled, consciously or unconsciously, but we remain forever vulnerable to it, seeking this unattainable yet precious and unique embodiment of perfection throughout our lives. For some of us as obsessively as one seeks spiritual truth.
My search took me through various forms of relationships.
Because my totem for “sexiness” was solidified early in my life, we sought out partners who initially seemed to exhibit enough of my required characteristics to potentially be, or become my ideal. So strong and clear was my template of desire that it led me to damage perfectly healthy relationships by pressuring and persuading lovers to explore my fetishes in order to please me. Needless to say all our lovers had already passed the skinny test! As time went by we found ourself unconsciously being drawn towards women who worked in some area of the sex industry. Usually, without knowing it in advance, we would find those objects of our affections to be strippers, performers in porn films, dominatrices and topless go-go dancers. We found it easier to socialize and converse with women who were at ease with their sexuality and erotic potential. We did not identify with the male gaze or the male audience. Rather we felt a kinship with the women. In fact we imagined being them, flaunting and taunting from within a female anatomy. Just as we had coveted my sister’s privilege to have long hair and dazzling clothes when young, so now we fantasized having breasts and vagina and being an embodiment of worldly sensuality and display.
So somewhere along the line our masturbatory fantasies were no longer about finding the perfect example of my fetishized ideal, but about merging the one desiring with the desired. In fact even that is not quite right because it implies too strong an aspect of narcissism which would be incorrect. There is, of course an element of narcissism but the aspect of MERGING was the real key to this situation being sexy, whether imagined or physically realized.
In fact as time went by we found each new relationship was a little closer to satisfying and manifesting sexiness. And our picture of that sexiness had grown and evolved. It still required skinniness, smooth flawless skin, but it also became essential for there to be no pubic hair, Why? Not, as is often, sometimes angrily assumed, because of anything to do with pre-pubescence.
Well in 1981 we began getting genital piercings and tattoos in intimate areas from a practitioner called Mr Sebastian. He it was, who pointed out that pubic hair and body hair over tattoos and piercings covered and spoiled them. That they should be displayed clearly and never hidden. Since that sage advice we have not only shaved as much of our body hair as we can reach, but all my lovers have shaved too and we find it well nigh impossible to eroticise a vagina with pubic hair! Sexiness came to include this smooth state. We also found that we love vaginas and love to see them in their glory. To hide them away seems a sin.
Sexiness, therefore, if it is actively explored and contemplated, becomes more sophisticated, more detailed and in many ways as a result more demanding of both of us in our quest and of those we desire. So many males just wallow in lust, content to achieve orgasms and little else. In those instances, aging reduces pleasure physically through jaded familiarity. The orgasm chaser maintains sexiness only by switching partners, regenerating the initial thrill of novelty and “conquest” but it’s a sexiness of diminishing returns.
The roué, the person, male or female who has a complex combination of fetishes and qualities that can be infinitely rearranged in different orders, degrees and amounts need never get bored or fall into the mundane. Even when a male can no longer “perform” there are unlimited variations of pleasure, just as many mental as biological.
We count ourself blessed that when we met Lady Jaye in 1993 s/he not only was physically my ideal and still perfecting, but s/he was superbly versed in the nuances of being a professional dominatrix and s/he was a licensed nurse! What more could we want than a lover who looked like a fashion model (my Twiggy!) who had no inhibitions or limitations sexually, and who was more than willing to explore any new variation or fantasy that might occur and who saw gender stereotypes as pointless obstructions. Lady Jaye embodied all the qualities, sacred and profane, we had ever sought in a lover and was an absolute of “sexiness”.
Sexiness for me, by the way, is not something innate, or common to all, nor does it develop for everyone at puberty. That should be obvious despite the advertising industry trying to homogenize sexuality and attraction, beauty and desirability. Sexiness is a malleable thing with infinite potential limited only by our imaginations or bodily constraints.
We have always been shocked at the confident ease and self assuredness of so many people. They seem confident that the mere possession of genitals alone makes them sexy and special. We have never taken it for granted that anyone could ever find me “sexy”. We are not fortunate enough to have a natural confidence in our qualities as a lover. Despite having had the great fortune to have known and had relationships with very special, sexually daring women prepared to experiment and grow in areas normally considered perverse and taboo, despite that, not one fully convinced me we were special, or truly sexy, truly desirable. Their assurances never quite made it to my centre, where whatever is my pure SELF resides. So we always felt hollow, unfulfilled and alone, still seeking a dream. Sexiness never felt completely genuine. We remained unconvinced…
Lady Jaye changed all that and became the first woman to truly make me BELIEVE…believe we were unique, wonderfully sexy, the perfect lover. S/he told me we were made for each other and fitted together perfectly. When we made love the very first time my age was 44 years old. S/he was just turned 25. We had waited a year to be certain we were as deeply in love as we believed before making love. There’s a first time for everything! When we DID make love it was like no other time in either of our lives. We both knew something incredibly precious was occurring and we were both in awe and a little afraid of its power. It was the most perfect moment of our lives and suddenly sexiness, fantasies, fetishes and the like were meaningless because in that amazing moment joined together we had reached every place ever desired simultaneously and transcended our frail imaginations. We both knew we had really found our “Other Half” and THAT union, that merging of two into one is sexiness and is beyond age or even physical existence.
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.
Sexiness now is all those details we built up over years and years that we ultimately found personified in one person, Lady Jaye. Because the last thing we did together was make blissful wild love and within minutes s/he was dead in my arms, we associate grief, loss, and pain beyond words with sex. The two are jumbled up, Eros and Thanatos. But it is not an intellectual consideration. Not a clever essay by an academic. It is a real trauma and it has left me numbed.
By losing everything we had ever desired or dared to even hope for at this age (we are now 60 as we write) we find it impossible to think anyone could ever desire me. My own minimum requirements in a lover of youth, energy, no limiting sexual conditions, skinniness and so on seem presumptuous when we cannot fulfill them in return…who could possibly want this being, so insecure, so self critical and still in love with another? So, while my ideal of sexiness has not changed, aging inevitably reduces the possibility of its recovery or discovery. Maybe other people can be more realistic in their expectations…mine remain the same as they were way back when we first began to fantasize and masturbate.