Genesis P Orridge is in a constant state of flux. In three decades as a provocative and controversial performer, writer, artist, and musician with his bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, he has drawn admiration and contempt in almost equal measure. His ethos has been not to so much push gently at the boundary of acceptable behaviour as mow it down in his enthusiasm to escape its constraint.
Back in the seventies he appeared regularly in the crosshairs of media commentators, often referred to as a corrupting influence on the impressionable youth of the day. Such was his antagonistic relationship with authority that in 1976 he was even name-checked in the House of Commons when Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn labelled him a "wrecker of civilisation" for his part in the infamous 'Prostitution' show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Ironic then that one of the stated aims of his current long-term works of art is rescue civilisation.
Along with Lady J, his "other half" of nearly fifteen years, he's taken his artistic expression into a new medium, his own body, which he's committed to changing through any means possible to be more like Lady J. He now looks not unlike Courtney Love on a good day. He has the same blonde hair, the same wild eyes and suspiciously full lips. And he also has similar breasts. But there's no turning back now. "There should be no limit to the redesigning of a human," he says. "The human body, in and of itself, as it stands, is not sacred – that's our conclusion."
Genesis and Lady J first got together in 1993. "As soon as we met, we started dressing the same," says Genesis. "It was just an intuitive thing. As time went by we thought more and more about it and to become each other was a very romantic way to fulfill being in love. Some people will be satisfied with a mutual orgasm, some people will have babies to express the two of them becoming one, but we wanted to actually do something different. So we decided to take the whole idea further."
Throughout his career Genesis has enjoyed the company of, and collaborated with, some of popular culture's most famous figures. He was close to William S Burroughs and Genesis says that in a roundabout way he was the inspiration for the manner in which he and Lady J took their initial idea "further". Before his death Burroughs gave Genesis "a task for life", which was, "How do you circuit self-control?" Genesis says that one day when he was talking to Lady J it struck him that there was a link between Burroughs’ question and their decision to abandon their unique individual identities. He was also inspired by Burroughs famous 'cut up' method of creation where existing pieces of art were cut up and then reassembled as a new work. It gave him an idea.
"Suppose you took two people and cut them up and reassembled them to look like each other," says Genesis. "It would create a third being. And that third being could only exist when the two people were together.”
He explored the idea and came up with a name for the “third being” – 'The Pandrogyne' – which is a blend of the words 'positive' and 'androgyne', a term for a person who doesn't fit into either the accepted masculine or feminine gender roles of their society.
Genesis and Lady J decided to explore the idea with surgery. The first operation that Genesis had was a vasectomy. "It was so that I could actually say that I was going to no longer propagate DNA," he explains. That was an important step because although he admits that the idea of the pandrogyne “began as being very romantic” it soon grew into something else. "We realised that the impulses that we were having we still romantic but it went beyond that, there was a lot more."
He became aware that it could also be seen as a comment on another of his preoccupations, namely man's "prehistoric behaviour patterns" of aggression, violence, greed and an aversion to anything 'other' that, he feels, are threatening its future. In a quiet, fragile, high-pitched voice Genesis says that man must change or destroy itself.
"For the first time you've got prehistoric behaviour with really dangerous toys. It's not going to be hairy apes throwing stones at each other this time. It's going to be something much more catastrophic. At the moment those behaviour patterns are triumphant. We're regressing politically, economically and spiritually at a tremendously frightening rate. We've done nothing concrete, nothing conscious, to adjust our impulses to fit with the current environment. That's one of the reasons that you have this polarised, dogmatic, violent environment around you filled with greed and ignorance and consumerism," he says.
"Ultimately it's not even about how you look," he says. "It's about the choice of the human species to knowingly and consciously evolve or be doomed."
The following surgeries were purely to make Lady J and Genesis mirror images of each other. Following the straightforward first surgery they had to find a plastic surgeon that was willing to do the other operations. It's not as simple as going to your local cut and stitch merchant and telling him what you want done.
"We told him that we were doing an art project and about the idea of the pandrogyne," says Genesis. "And he said: 'That's amazing’. We explained that we wanted to look as much like each other as possible so that we gave maximum impact to this idea of becoming two halves of one new being, or a reflection of what the new human species might look like in its early stages. And then we said, 'But here's the thing, doctor – Lady J wants to have breast implants… and so do I.' He said, "Ahh… hmm… I can see how that would make sense with what you'd told me. Okay. I'll do it'."
Genesis and Lady J both got their breast implants on Valentine's Day 2003, so that they could wake up next to each other on the most romantic day of the year, both with new breasts. And Genesis and Lady J now visit a plastic surgeon "every three or four months" for a consultation. "He advises us how our body shapes and face shapes are changing based on various surgeries," says Genesis. "And then he recommends what to do next."
One misconception that Genesis is keen to correct is that he is having a sex change. He’s definitely not. "We don't want to be identical twins – that's not what it's about," he says. "If it was possible we would have all the biological attributes of each other, both forms of genitals for example, but science and medicine and genetic engineering are not yet capable of living up to the idea of the pandrogyne. So, for now, the surgeries we've had are a statement that we are truly committed to the idea of the pandrogyne."
"Lady J often says that she wishes it didn't seem to be about gender because it's not, it's about identity and behaviour. And she said it would be wonderful when we get to a point where people can design themselves and say, 'I want to have fur like a tiger and little horns, and I want an extra eye on the back of my head, and four arms so that I can type and run something else at the same time'."
And it’s not just Genesis having the operations. He and Lady J consult the surgeon together about who it will be easiest to manipulate to look like the other, and make a decision from there. "Lady J is having her eye shape changed because mine are very deep set," says Genesis. "Hers are more Asian. The next surgery she's going to have is on her upper eyelids so that they are much more like mine. Then there is shaving the brow bone. And then I have to get my Adam's apple shaved down flat too."
Genesis has had more lip surgery than Lady J, so in the near future she'll have operations to catch up. "We've had a permanent new form of silicone in our lips to give us both much larger lips and eventually be both of us have far larger lips, but the same size."
So far, in total, including teeth and lips, Lady J has had twelve surgical procedures on her face and Genesis has had fourteen, including cheek implants. "Some are subtle," says Genesis. "I got two beauty spots tattooed on my face, on my cheek, where Lady J has two natural ones."
They would look more alike if it weren't for the cancer that both Genesis and Lady J were hit by in the last 18 months. Lady J had a tumour in her stomach; Genesis had three in his brain. The side effect is that he's lost 40 pounds and ten inches off his waist. The cheek implants and various other facial surgeries have left his face a different shape to the one that was intended, but they plan to rectify that. "We discovered that random events can change how your body looks. She's had a chin implant to look more like mine, but now mine is pointier she has to get a new implant. We might have to go back and adjust how we look."
Right now, the biggest hurdle to the transformation becoming complete is money. All of Genesis' original teeth have been replaced with solid gold replicas, which won't be cheap to copy in Lady J. At the moment it can take years to save up for operations. Genesis says that he's thinking of launching an appeal so that people can donate money, as it’s become his “obsession”.
“It's become an obsession because it's one of those strange paradoxes that humans en masse can be so depressing, so disappointing in their behaviour and yet they’re also wonderful and miraculous and fascinating and well worth preserving.”
Just before we went to press on this piece, we got the sad news that Lady J had died. Not from the cancer mentioned in this article, but an undiagnosed heart condition.
A MySpace page where you can leave messages of condolence has been set up at myspace.com/ladyjayebreyerporridge
Genesis told us, "I have had an irreplaceable force of creation ripped from my being that can only be healed when our two halves reunite in the next, post-mortal dimension."
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