“The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye”: Genesis P-Orridge’s transformative ‘Pandrogeny Project’

By on February 22, 2016

Today is the 66th birthday of cult singer-songwriter and musician, poet and performance artist, occultist and underground avant garde legend Genesis Breyer P-Orridge — born Neil Andrew Megson on February 22, 1950, in Victoria Park, Longsight, Manchester, England — and so we’d thought we’d use this opportunity to tell you about Marie Losier’s documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye.

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The documentary follows the story of P-Orridge’s childhood, through his/her time with the bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, to his/her pandrogyne marriage/surgically-altered fusion with Lady Jaye (real name: Jacqueline Breyer), which continues even today, nine years after Breyer’s death (she reportedly had a heart condition that was possibly related to stomach cancer), replicating her appearance with the addition of peroxide hair, full lips and gold teeth.

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P-Orridge — who now identifies as a third gender, and uses the pronoun “we” when speaking in reference to himself/herrself (you’ll see why in a sec) — has been a pioneering figure in music for many decades, going all the way back to the late sixties when he/she co-founded (with “Jesus” Joheero) an outrageous art collective and transgressive performance art group, COUM Transmissions (1969-1976), inspired by the Fluxus and the underground Mail Art scenes.

COUM expanded its members from 1970 to 1973 to include Cosey Fanni Tutti, Spydeee Gasmantell and others, and they continued to be influenced by an abiding interest in the occult and avant garde, as well as mostly 20th Century art movements, especially Surrealism and Dada, as well as the cut-up method (découpé in French), an aleatory lit technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text, pioneered in some of the writings by William S. Burroughs and especially Brion Gysin, who, in the summer of 1959, cut newspaper articles into sections and then rearranged the sections at random.

After dropping out of studies at the University of Hull, P-Orridge adopted the name “Genesis Breyer P-Orridge” as a nom-de-guerre and moved into a counter-cultural commune living situation in London in 1973. COUM’s idea was to focus on edgy topics such as pornography, serial killers, occultism, and their 1976 “Prostitution” show — at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, in October, 1976, which was based around photos from Cosey’s career as a model/actress for pornographic magazines and films.

Tory MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn decried the show as “a sickening outrage. Obscene. Evil. Public money is being wasted here to destroy the morality of our society. These people are the wreckers of civilization!”

The “Prostitution” show was also the accepted premier of Throbbing Gristle, who were thereafter active between 1975 to 1981, becoming pioneers after merging in-your-face live performance art and industrial music, which was then a burgeoning new sub-genre of electronic rock music.

In this excerpt from The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye, Genesis P-Orridge tells the story of the naming of Industrial music.

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In the early 1980s, he/she founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and the experimental band Psychic TV, and from the year 1988 onward fell under the sway of both acid house and techno music.

In the 1990s, Genesis P-Orridge and his second wife, Jacqueline Breyer, known as Lady Jaye, moved to Ridgewood, Queens, in New York City, and it was here that they began the process of modifying their appearances in what they termed their “Pandrogeny Project,” which was influenced by the cut-up technique.

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P-Orridge’s and Lady Jaye’s face and body essentially became transformative canvases, exploring and challenging the “very fundamentals of biology,” saying that the “self is pure consciousness trapped within the DNA-governed body.”

Beginning in the year 2000, they both underwent a series of plastic surgeries in order to more closely resemble each other, spending nearly $200,000 on surgical alterations, with Genesis P-Orridge receiving breast implants, cheek and chin implants, lip plumping, eye and nose jobs, tattooing, and hormone therapy.

Genesis P-Orridge has said: “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.”

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As of January 2013, P-Orridge’s official website says, “Since that time Genesis continues to represent the amalgam Breyer P-Orridge in the material ‘world’ and Lady Jaye represents the amalgam Breyer P-Orridge in the immaterial ‘world’ creating an ongoing interdimensional collaboration.”

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Losier’s documentary The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, her first feature film, tells Genesis P-Orridge’s story through the use of many interviews, home movies, and live performance footage, and ends up being a no-holds-barred exploration of their pandrogynous relationship, highlighting how two can become one, their very liknesses physically altered in order to more closely resemble one another.

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Here’s an excerpt from the director’s own film notes:

“In a typically miraculous New York City coincidence, I met Genesis at a gallery opening in Soho, in one of those sardine-can spaces where you can barely walk and hardly breathe. Being relatively small, I got pressed into a corner where I inadvertently stepped on someone’s toes. I turned to apologize and there was Genesis smiling, his goldcapped teeth glittering down over me. We spoke briefly, but in that time I felt something special had passed between us. He asked me about my films and gave me his email. Whether it was fate or pure clumsiness, this marked the beginning of an artistic collaboration that would develop into a close friendship.

Like many others who have encountered him, I saw in Genesis the simple and profound notion that the manner in which you live your life is the highest and most unimpeachable form of art that exists. My project is not about gender” he said. “Some feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body, others like a woman trapped in a man’s body. The pandrogyne says, I just feel trapped in a body. The body is simply the suitcase that carries us around. Pandrogyny is all about the mind, consciousness.”

Both Genesis and Lady Jaye were born with life changing illnesses, imprinting upon them from an early age an incredibly complex relationship to their bodies. Later in life, they became gender variant activists, their mutating appearance based on gestural aesthetics, a living project documented through their collaborative paintings, photographs, writings and performances.

By allowing me unprecedented access over these past many years to film their professional and personal lives, I believe I have material that transcends most fiction films, but whose message is ultimately grounded in the most humanistic and basic of desires: the affirmation of love.”

Losier’s documentaries — described as “whimsical, poetic, dreamlike and unconventional”  — explore the life and work of interesting artists and filmmakers, and are regularly shown at prestigious art and film festivals and museums, such as The Tate Modern, the Whitney Biennial, PS1, MOMA, The Berlin Film Festival, The International Film Festival Rotterdam, Tribeca Film Festival, The Cinemathèque Francaise and the Centre George Pompidou in Paris… She was also included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum, NY) .

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2011, and won two awards for best documentary, The Teddy and the Caligary Awards. Since then it has been showing in every festivals around the world. It opened in February 2012 in the United States.

Losier lives and works in New York where she is film curator at the Alliance Française, since 2000, where she presents a weekly film series. She has hosted many notable directors and artists, including Raoul Coutard, William Klein, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, Jane Birkin, and Jeanne Moreau.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.