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Mar 2020 15

It’s with heavy hearts that we learned that the inimitable Genesis P-Orridge died on March 14, 2020, after being diagnosed with leukemia in October, 2017. In 2008, while promoting his new CD, Mr Alien Brain vs The Skinwalk, he spoke with SG contributor Tamara Palmer. His comments on the U.S. healthcare system seem particularly prescient at this time:

Most of the countries in Europe have had universal health care for decades and they’ve survived very healthily in the economy. When you want to know what’s going on, look for the vested interests. And it’s clear that pharmaceutical companies, the doctors’ associations, the hospitals, the health insurance companies none of them want universal health care. They’re able to just blackmail and extort huge sums of money out of the current situation, why would they want it to change?

The Clintons tried to bring in universal health care and they were shot down almost immediately. There’s this huge inertia from these lobbyists and the corporations who just think in terms of their own profits and not the wellbeing of the nation. And that’s going to be a real problem in the United States. It shocks me that when people talk about having health insurance for everyone, a lot of people that you wouldn’t expect go, “Well, that’s communism! That’s socialism!” What? That’s humanism! That’s a precious gift that a government can give to its people, housing and health care. There has to be a huge rethink.


– Genesis P-Orridge

Full interview with Genesis P-Orridge first published by SuicideGirls on December 23, 2008.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge — founder of the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV — has been an icon of the psychedelic and industrial rock music underworlds for some 30-odd years. S/he’s amassed a catalog of substantive and provocative sounds and visuals that draw influence from a wide swathe of musical and social sources, including the cut-up theories of personal friends William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. With the prompting of worldwide followings, both bands have resurfaced over the years through tours and special one-off events, and Psychic TV’s current incarnation, PTV3, has recently released the new CD/DVD set, Mr. Alien Brain vs. The Skinwalkers.

It’s a pleasure to speak with the affable and imaginative P-Orridge, and our recent conversation touched on topics from the fanciful (the possibilities of human hibernation) to the tragic (the loss of one’s life partner). The latter is still particularly fresh since it’s just a year on since the passing of P-Orridge’s “other half,” Jaye Breyer (best known as Lady Jaye), due to heart failure. The two had previously embarked on a years-long pursuit of pandrogyny, undergoing painful plastic surgery procedures in order to become gender-neutral human beings that looked like each other. As s/he explains, this was not about achieving a standard of beauty. Once the body is no longer viewed as sacred, the possibilities are endless.

Tamara Palmer: Pandrogyny is not a mainstream concept, so can you explain your process to a lay audience?

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: The one thing that’s important to point out probably with pandrogyny is that it was never about beauty or trying to look in some way subjectively better. It was always about trying to look like each other and not caring how it was measured in terms of aesthetics, you know?

It was really interesting one day when we decided that I would have work done on my face and have cheek implants put in so my cheeks would be more like Jaye’s. We were standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror before the surgery and saying out loud, “This is the face that you got naturally through DNA, and tomorrow you’ll have another face and you don’t even know what it’s gonna look like! How weird is that? In 24 hours’ time, this face will have gone, and we don’t know what the other is gonna be.” And then we just shrugged and thought, it doesn’t matter what it looks like! It was an interesting moment to realize how arbitrary it really is, the way that we look.

TP: So you didn’t really have a hard time saying goodbye to your old face?

GBPO: No, not at all! We wondered if we would, but no, not at all. It’s really through this process that becomes apparent how the human body is just raw material, or as Lady Jaye would say, “a cheap suitcase!” It’s just there to move the brain around. It gives you mobility and it gives you the ability to experience through the senses and to travel and expand consciousness by having the most options. But it’s not the you you know when you’re thinking to yourself, you think “I this” or “I that?” That person that you talk to in your mind is you, that consciousness, that mind. The body’s not you.

The body is just a container. And that’s where the big disconnect has happened in the media here, and it’s happened in reverse. That the body is you and the body is your logo, your brand, and the body has to be perfected in really traditional ways, which is very oppressive and is not the way to evolve change and grow as a species. It’s regressive, it’s traveling back in times almost to medieval days, when women were just decorative property. There’s a real strong aspect of that in the way people view looks and the body, especially in the west. It’s a fascinating area, the clash between the ongoing war for the male to dominate the species and the new options that are becoming available to challenge that in new ways, as we’ve been trying to do.

TP: I still think it would be hard to let go of the face you had for so long, but it really wasn’t?

GBPO: Ultimately, it’s DNA that we’re talking about. DNA is the software of the body. We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn’t expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other’s other half. DNA is really the new battleground for evolution. If we want to survive as a species, if we want to hopefully colonize space and do incredible things, we have to completely reassess how the human body works and realize that it’s not sacred, it’s just stuff. It’s time for us to step away from the prehistoric acceptance of the human body as it was and design ourselves. Why can’t we learn how to hibernate if we are going to go into space? Best way to travel to space is to be asleep for long journeys. Animals hibernate, so it can’t be that difficult.

TP: I’m pro-hibernation, definitely.

GBPO: Wouldn’t that be great?

TP: Oh, I’d love it!

GBPO: And why not be cold-blooded, so you don’t have to worry about what you eat while you’re in space, or whatever? Why can’t we have fur or feathers or scales or all kinds of things? And once we let go [of the idea] that the human body is a finished evolutionary object and we just see it as raw material that continues to evolve and change, then the possibilities of what we can become are amazing! And that change in how we perceive ourselves as a species can then reflect back on social organizations and actually lead to positive change in society too.

We’ve been through a long phase, for maybe 30 years or so, or even back to the Sixties, of people wanting to reclaim their individuality. That’s why things like tattooing and piercing took off, [because] people were reasserting their rights to control their own bodies in the same way as [being able to choose] abortion was a way for people to have control over their own body.

For some reason, society has always tried to legislate and police people’s bodies. So that must mean it’s a very powerful place. The human body is a place of warfare in society. If we can start to see ourselves as individuals, that’s the first battle. And that’s been going on for quite a while now. But what we feel is, that at a certain point, that separation into becoming a self-chosen individual somehow seems to require the responsibility to then re-enter and become part of the whole species again with the responsibility to guide, to explore, to propose new ideas and to set new examples.

If we don’t start to view ourselves as part of the human species, then we’re gonna doom ourselves. If we separate, there’s friction, there’s violence, there’s bigotry and there’s conflicting ideas of social organization and politics and economics. We’ll be trapped in this loop of competition and fear and paranoia. We really feel very strongly that people have to let go of that obsession with self at some point and then use the power they’ve regained by getting themselves back to actually give to society as a whole.

TP: This would be a great moment in history for that to happen, especially here in America where we are at our most vulnerable economically. Maybe Obama’s election is an indication that we’re more ready to think of ourselves collectively?

GBPO: Do you think Obama’s gonna make things better? I mean, are you hopeful?

TP: I am hopeful, but I’m not under the illusion that anything will change overnight. For example, I am shopping for health insurance and people keep telling me, “Obama’s gonna help you out.” I think he might be able to help me out at some point, but I still need to figure something else out in the meantime, you know?

GBPO: It’s ludicrous because most of the countries in Europe have had universal health care for decades and they’ve survived very healthily in the economy. When you want to know what’s going on, look for the vested interests. And it’s clear that pharmaceutical companies, the doctors’ associations, the hospitals, the health insurance companies none of them want universal health care. They’re able to just blackmail and extort huge sums of money out of the current situation, why would they want it to change?

The Clintons tried to bring in universal health care and they were shot down almost immediately. There’s this huge inertia from these lobbyists and the corporations who just think in terms of their own profits and not the wellbeing of the nation. And that’s going to be a real problem in the United States. It shocks me that when people talk about having health insurance for everyone, a lot of people that you wouldn’t expect go, “Well, that’s communism! That’s socialism!” What? That’s humanism! That’s a precious gift that a government can give to its people, housing and health care. There has to be a huge rethink and that’s why it’s good that there’s someone like Obama.

TP: For sure! You’re originally from England but have lived in Brooklyn for quite some time. Are you still happy living in this country, especially with a new administration coming in to power?

GBPO: Yeah. My own country threw me out for seven years and treated me abysmally and took my archive and destroyed it. There’s no Bill of Rights in England and it’s interesting that it’s thought of as the home of democracy and yet the Queen is still the head of the church. She’s still the head of the armed forces, she’s still the head of the police and she can still dismiss Parliament if she wants.

TP: So they’ve got the health care correct, but that’s about it?

GBPO: [laughs] Well, you can imagine that, probably if they could get away with it, the rich would probably like to get rid of the health burden. But it’s too much a part of British life now. When Britain joined the European Union, even the condition of membership was that they had to have a Bill of Rights. And Britain refused, but were actually let in anyway as the exception. But that says a lot that they wouldn’t have one, that they didn’t want people to have any real political rights or constitutional rights. That’s very sad that there’s still this sense in the powers-that-be that the rest of the population is somehow inferior and almost a sub-species that has to be looked after despite the irritation that they cause. It’s a very patronizing way of running a society and it’s why these old bigotries are still entrenched: Racism and sexism and all the other bigotries. They’re all entrenched in these old, outmoded, archaic institutions.

We are really at a crossroads, in my opinion: We either regress into a new Dark Age, where everybody is just fighting each other for what little bit of resource there is or because somebody has a different view of God. We’ll either do that or we’ll have to have a completely new, evolutionary rethink and take the miraculous abilities of humans to create and make technologies and tools that are amazing and almost beyond imagination and focus on the wellbeing of all and progress towards a new, utopian future. There really doesn’t seem much point in being here if you’re not trying to make the world a better place.

TP: I like the scenario you’re describing, if I may have a vote amongst the human population?

GBPO: [laughs] Well, thank you! But yeah, America has been very kind to me. It’s been much more tolerant of my ideas. The fact that we can go to universities and give talks at Rutgers, they said that my lecture had the highest attendance of any lecture in the history of the university. Now that’s really hopeful, isn’t it?

TP: Yeah, that’s really something.

GBPO: So there’s a definite groundswell amongst the youth. They see through the stupidity and the pettiness and the obsession with status symbols and know there’s got to be another path. We use the pandrogyne as a symbol of unity and inclusiveness. It’s about similarities, not differences, and about absorbing lovingly everything, rather than separating from things and squabbling for a tiny bit of power.

TP: Now, I have a bit of a stupid question, but how is pandrogyny received within the transgender community? Is it welcomed, or is there fear and distance placed between the two?

GBPO: That’s not a stupid question; that’s actually a really good question. It’s interesting because the transgender community has been the most resistant.

TP: That’s what I would have guessed.

GBPO: This is no way critical, we still do things to support the transgender community for example, there’s a halfway house for teenage trannies in New York and we give them beautiful designer clothes that we are not using. But the difference in a way, as Jaye would explain it, is that transgendered people feel as if they’re a man trapped in a woman’s body or that they’re a woman trapped in a man’s body. The pandrogyne just feels trapped in the body. And there’s a certain part amongst transgendered people’s vision of themselves that they want to become another gender. Our ideas are not about gender at all, although they can look that way.

There’s been this sense of feeling, not exactly threatened, but that we’re betraying their struggle for the right to change gender by not being so concerned about gender. For them, that’s the big issue. And we’re saying, it doesn’t matter. That’s the only community that’s sort of been aggressive towards us, which surprised us at first. We weren’t expecting that at all. But when you look back at the struggle they’ve been through for any kind of acceptance, it’s been very recent that people are starting to be aware of that general issue through television programs and so on. And it would be wrong to belittle that struggle that so many people have.

We’ve been very fortunate, coming from a context where life is art and art is our life and we’re self-employed and so we can create our own fantasy life with the minimum interference. Other people don’t have that, they’re trapped in mundane jobs and they’re trapped in small towns maybe and they suffer in terrible ways from violence and humiliation and ridicule. But we’re not the enemy. We’re there to embrace and include them, too.

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