Genesis P-Orridge with daughters Genesse and Caresse in New York
Photo: Genesis with daughters Genesse and Caresse in New York

‘There Was Always Openness’ – Genesis P-Orridge’s Daughter On Family Life

Genesse P-Orridge talks growing up on the road, co-editing Genesis' memoir 'Nonbinary', and becoming the caretaker of their complicated legacy.

The story of artist, musician and occult experimenter Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s life is a kaleidoscope of creation and self-reinvention without a clear timeline. Most famed for forming the first industrial band Throbbing Gristle in 1975, Genesis P-Orridge reinvented sound, performance art and created new ways of cohabitation, while remaining deeply at war with conservative British tradition.

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Genesis P-Orridge’s memoir Nonbinary, released is most rich when they are describing their early years; they died of leukemia during the process of the book’s writing. Blossoming first through 60s counterculture, you read about a young Genesis immersed in hippy lifestyles, embracing Pink Floyd, acid, beat poetry, alternative living arrangements and The Incredible String Band. This was a complete rejection of lessons learned at their ultra-conservative, hyper-masculine English boarding school.

But Genesis did not stop there: this desire to challenge all British social mores would lead to their rejection of their given name Neil Andrew Megson, to their embracing of “pandrogyne” gender in the late 80s, merging spiritually and physically with their partner, the dominatrix and nurse Lady Jaye. Genesis refers to their former name with a deliberate remove but interestingly without rejecting this past incarnation entirely. 

If you’re looking for an insight into the fraught personal relationship between fellow musician and performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis that led to Throbbing Gristle’s first breakup, Genesis’ memoir isn’t the best place to start. What you get from Cosey Fanni Tutti’s viewpoint in her own autobiography Art Sex Music, is that Genesis’s drive to avoid all pre-imposed social norms was just one aspect of a difficult, at times seriously violent character. This was someone who despised social control but was rather imposing on others. Despite Genesis’ charisma, Cosey’s allegations should not be pushed into the background.

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What you do get out of Nonbinary however, are compelling anecdotes on Genesis’ long list of projects. Of particular note is Genesis’ recounting of Throbbing Gristle’s 1976 Prostitution exhibition at the ICA, following which they were described as the “wreckers of civilisation” by Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn. Readers also receive a different perspective on how Scotland Yard would raid Genesis’ home in Brighton, looking for occult artefacts and evidence of satanic ritual abuse that were allegedly never found.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Family Photos

Photo: Genesis P-Orridge's Family Photos

Genesse, Genesis’ daughter and co-editor of Nonbinary, remembers this upheaval, which culminated with Genesis and their family moving to America to begin afresh and escape the fallout. Genesis somewhat defied the role of father through their “pandrogyny” transition, but Genesse still refers to Genesis – even to this day – as “dad”. We talk to her to find out what it was like growing up with such a complex figure.

VICE: Let’s start with that photo in the middle of the memoir of you as a baby with your sister Caresse and Genesis in Beck Road, 1985. You were thrust into Genesis’s world post-Throbbing Gristle, when they were involved in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, and had a growing interest in Aleister Crowley and the occultist/artist Austin Osman Spare. What sorts of ideas do you remember being surrounded by at the time?
Genesse:
It’s interesting, because last time I was in England I went to Beck Road in August of this year. I was able to go in, which was really cool as an adult to see everything. I went with my Uncle, who used to be in Psychic TV, and he was like: “this is the nursery!” It was a completely black room and there was a pentagram on the wall. I was like “what?”. But it was a joke: it wasn’t actually the nursery! We slept in a different room. He said: “This was the room where we did our little rituals and hung out.” But I brought that up to Caresse and she was like: “Oh yeah I had to go and do time outs under the pentagram!”

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How about being on the road with Psychic TV?
I went when I was pretty young; five and six – there were a couple [of tours] close together. I remember it being great. I loved it. I know a lot of people might think that’s a chaotic environment for young kids to be growing up in, but for me I loved it because I was being included. I got to be part of it instead of being left at home.

It wasn't until later on in life, in my late teens when I got into the rave scene in the Bay Area, that I made the connection. I thought: the reason why I love this crazy psychedelic bass music so much is because I grew up in it. That acid house Psychic TV is my favourite era. I remember my mum dancing on stage, like, spinning her giant braids around – all of that. And my sister was a lot more bold. She would be up front, dancing in front of the stage, and I would be hanging back by the drummer, bobbing. It was exciting and fun, and we got to meet so many people and get these TOPY outposts. It was a really cool time.

It was in 1991 you moved to Kathmandu, do you remember anything about this time?
It was such an influential experience for me, because there wasn’t any censorship. My mum and dad didn’t overexpose us to stuff, but there was always openness. So travelling and working in the soup kitchen and volunteering, we saw a lot of poverty. We saw a lot of children that were begging who had signs of polio. They also did regular cremation ceremonies in the public area by the river in Kathmandu. Watching rituals in the street, blood sacrifice.

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It was really an informative experience because we saw so much and we were taken along for the ride; we got to go up into the Himalayas and just visit monasteries. We got to see how other people lived in other corners of the world. And I think it really helped to shape my perspective, even into adulthood, of how I have gratitude for things that a lot of people wind up taking for granted, because they’ve not seen other ways of living or experienced it. 

It definitely helped me with moving to California in the way that we did. It gave me a good comparison of like: ok this is a challenging, turbulent time, but we still have so much. 

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Family Photos

Photo: Genesis P-Orridge

So when you were living in Nepal, am I right in thinking that Scotland Yard raided your house back in Brighton? How did you feel around that time – did you have a grasp of what was going on or were you too young?
In retrospect I have thought about it a lot because it was a traumatic experience, for all of us as a family. And just being a child, and you’re being torn away from your home. I was used to travelling and being away for long periods of time. We moved to Kathmandu but it was really just supposed to be this extended trip. We still kept our home and everything, right? But to leave with this idea that you’re leaving to come back, and just never going back, was very hard to navigate. I think my dad did a really good job of shielding us from the panic of the time. It was more like: “we’ve made a decision, we are going to continue this fun family adventure, we are going to see our friends in California.” 

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It wasn’t as if they just raided our house and took suspect things; “suspect” in quotation marks because there wasn’t a lot of crazy stuff. They took our childhood photos, and video tapes of our birth, which were never returned. It was very intrusive, and they really went after our home. But I think for the most part we were shielded pretty well, and we had good places to land. That’s the beauty of that whole TOPY network; having these people who were able to rally around and support us as a family when we were needing a lot. Because we didn’t have anything.

When you moved to California, it was around this time that Genesis separated from your mother Paula. Genesis had full custody of both you and your sister. How do you feel about that?
Well I should say, with the custody thing, that fluctuated. At the beginning, when my mum left because my mum just went with someone else, my dad was given temporary full custody of us because we needed someone to take care of us. But I think that going back to the Scotland Yard stuff, that was the breaking point for my parents. It was really hard for them to recover their relationship. They had been struggling prior to that, I don’t have memories of that. But being in California, and restarting – I think it was just a much harder time. 

I know both my sister and I wanted to be with our dad. My dad was much more the caretaker and breadwinner, and I think it was the best thing for us at the time. My mum didn’t have a place for us to be with her anyway. They did an alternate “week on week off” thing for a while. Ideally I would have liked to have been with my dad and stayed in California instead of moving to New York. I didn’t want to leave California by the time we went to New York. 

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Genesis, Bee, Genesse.jpg

Photo: Genesis and Paul Bee Hampshire holding Genesse.

Genesis P-Orridge & Genesse NYC, Tom Banger, 1986

Photo: Genesis and Genesse in New York, by Tom Banger.

And so then what was it like growing up with Lady Jaye?
Interesting! We weren’t super aware of the dominatrix aspect of her life, and when she came to live in California from New York she was very vibrant, very glamorous, and just very fun. She would play with me a lot, I was still at that age where I wanted to play. As she was a nurse, she would give me all these medical supplies so I could do surgery on my dolls. She wore these really epic heels from Frederick’s of Hollywood. She would teach me how to walk in them, and stuff like that. I would borrow her clothes and we would all get dressed up as a family. Even though we lived out in the country, we would go to the small little town nearby all dressed up! A loveable pack of weirdos. 

At the beginning of the memoir, Genesis talks about their meeting with William Burroughs and Burroughs asks the poignant question: “how do we short circuit control?” I’m wondering whether or not you think it’s possible to achieve what Genesis set out to do, from what you’ve seen of their life?
I know from my dad it was this constant evolution, because you break through one thing, then you break through another. Then something else moves to the front that you want to break through or address. I like to think it’s possible. I think that it would be a really great thing if some of these sources of control that are imposed on our societies from these very distant overseers, if that could be shaken up and broken apart, that would be fucking fantastic. 

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But I think that ultimately a lot of people become disillusioned and they feel like there is not much they can do as one individual. How much can one individual make? This sort of question. That apathy is sort of toxic for that mission, right? Because if we all get defeated like that, there isn’t going to be these changes, this short-circuiting of control. I think I’m with my dad on that, in encouraging people to keep pushing for those things they believe in, and pushing against the systems of control in a way that makes sense to them. 

Have you seen any influence from Genesis on the British mentality, in terms of how it sees itself? Genesis was always railing against this idea of the British monarchy, and obviously that still kind of hovers over everything. 
It’s almost grandiose to think like: “Oh yeah! My dad definitely shifted the whole British psyche in some way!” But the more I think about it, the more I think “well, yeah”, because there were these big influential movements, even just using Throbbing Gristle as an example of railing against traditional sound and music. Creating this new way of making rock music, and kind of challenging people. That has that domino effect of influencing others. And then those people take what they are inspired by there and they start creating, and so forth, and so forth. That weaves into the fabric of the psyche of society, right? 

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So the fact that my dad was around and part of such a monumental time back in the 60s and the 70s and 80s in England when a lot of transformations happened, and just being a part of it in that way – yes. It’s all relative because there are a lot of British people who don’t know who my dad is, but they might be influenced without being aware of it.

Genesis P-Orridge Family Photos

I thought this was quite an interesting part of the memoir and I’m not sure how much you’d be able to answer it, but during Throbbing Gristle, Genesis had a close friendship with Ian Curtis. I noticed that Genesis told Tony Wilson that he was killing him, and Wilson replied “even better publicity”. Do you think this haunted Genesis at all, this idea of the artist dying and being no longer able to change?
It was a newer story for me – I didn’t know that much about it until my dad was sending me that chapter. They were writing it, and I feel like there was this sense of haunting and tragedy because they struck up a bond pretty quickly, moving in that kind of music scene. They came across each other and I think that they had some mirrored experiences within their band. How they were being maybe pulled apart or treated by the people they were in bands with. I think my dad really related to that. There was so much tragedy in how that unfolded [for Ian Curtis]: a lot of people just not… caring.

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This moves onto the part where Throbbing Gristle dissolves, I think Cosey is starting to distance herself from the band around this time. And from the memoir, the story feels a bit patchy as to what the cause of that was. It sounds like Cosey found the whole situation quite overwhelming. Is this something you can understand in some way?
My dad quit Throbbing Gristle in ‘82 and was in the States with Throbbing Gristle. I can understand, but not in the way that Cosey would see it. I didn’t really take it as her leaving the band so much as my dad leaving the band. Anyone who has gone down a YouTube rabbit hole watching videos of my dad speak, or has seen my dad perform, [will know that] my dad had a very strong presence. A very charismatic personality that really draws people in. It is intense, and for me I found it very inspiring and thought provoking. But I can definitely see how being in a band situation with somebody like that, who just has this natural spotlight, it might be a difficult thing to be around. But it’s hard because I wasn’t around to see the dynamics in place. 

I read it in a couple of days and the whole time I felt completely absorbed into Genesis’ world. So even just through the writing you get that feeling.
Exactly. I just think it’s been an unfortunate thing that’s happened a few times with a few people, and they just feel like they’re struggling a little harder for the spotlight than they want to. And you know, I get it.

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Cosey made some quite serious allegations about Genesis in her autobiography, about them being at times violent. And obviously Genesis doesn’t really appear to touch upon this time.
I mean I was pretty involved in the editing process of this book. I pretty much did most of that with the editor at Abrams. I jumped into the role of being that creative voice, stepping into my dad’s shoes because my dad had passed away mid-writing the book. So it wasn’t finished. I realised after reading it through the first time that an afterword would be a really good idea to bring into context the fact that it was unfinished, that my dad did die while writing it. It gets up to about 2008, and my dad died in 2020. 

The strategy that my dad used in writing it – because there was a lot of life lived – was to start chronologically. So there was a good almost 20 years that didn’t make it into the book. I had hoped that the afterword would help frame things better posthumously, and after the publishing of Cosey’s book in 2017. And although my dad wrote about their relationship pretty heavily, because it was early years heavy, it was interesting to hear some people’s take on that being dismissive of her. Because I was really proud of my dad for taking the high road, and I thought it was very diplomatically, generously written. My dad was complimenting her and talking about everything from a distance, just talking about the stories of the time. Not as an opportunity to fire back, or engage in this conversation, or this back and forth from these allegations. 

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So it’s difficult. Because now my dad can’t speak to that, right? And I really want people to see and realise that maybe if my dad had lived to finish the book, to make through to Cosey’s book there might have been a chapter about that. But it was just chronological storytelling. Before that, I don’t know if it would have really fitted in.

I don’t like to be dismissive of allegations like that. I take them very seriously, because I am a domestic violence survivor. I have really been through it, and lived that to an intense degree. My dad was amazing and supportive of me through that time. From my own experience, I mean there’s no way I would go on tour, travel or perform with my abuser. Nor would my partner do that. 

So this 2009 Throbbing Gristle reform tour: it’s hard for me to do that mental math, and figure out what was going on there. Because I know that Chris and Cosey weren’t hurting for cash, it wasn’t like a financial necessity to do that. That tour didn’t end on the best note between my dad, Chris and Cosey, because my dad quit the tour. It was ill-advised, but my dad was not feeling well treated and had to cut it short. Then we get these allegations. 

For me, it’s hard to rationalise that, especially with my own personal experience. But not everybody reacts the same, and for them it was a long time ago perhaps. Also, I knew my dad my entire life. My dad wasn’t a violent person. I saw my dad definitely provoked, especially by my mother during the divorce. She could get quite violent. My dad would never react, so it’s hard for me. I never talked to Cosey about it, or had that kind of interaction, but I think overall that my dad was just trying to take the high road and not get into that, just to talk about the stories. 

So with “pandrogyny”, Genesis became interested in this idea in the early 80s, and to me this sounds like a real precursor to genderqueer and nonbinary identities, so rather than just existing outside “male” and “female” categories, do you think Genesis was more like a gender abolishionist? 
I like this question, because I really have to consider what my dad thought. It’s like a yes and no thing. My dad wasn’t trying to get everyone to do the same thing, right? Let’s all just abolish these binary systems, and identities, and all be nonbinary. It was more like trying to push people to identify with what they wanted to be, what makes them feel best, the most authentic and comfortable in their skin. 

So no, because my dad celebrated femininity, really glamorous women like Lady Jaye, for example. I don’t think it was about pushing people to let go of things that they felt comfortable in, more just questioning those systems. Showing people that there are other options, and that you can even completely make them up, like “pandrogyny”.

Genesis P-Orridge family photos

Photo: Caresse and Genesse

Genesis P-Orridge family photos

Genesis talks about karma, and resolving something of their father’s past. They talk about how their father had a creative potential lost through fighting in WWII. Do you feel like you have inherited that too, like you are resolving something of Genesis’ legacy?
Yeah, I do, and it’s interesting because we were so close and talked all the time. We would have all these really long in depth conversations. There were a lot of similarities between us in our personalities, and how we view the world, and how we approach things. There was still however a lot to be learned. Until I started getting into motorcycles, and motorcycle culture, I didn’t know that my dad was really into that too. I didn’t know that my grandfather was this badass motorcycle racer. My dad was like, “of course, it makes total sense”.

There’s things like that, a lot of what my dad would call “the of course factor”, between us. There were a lot of these similarities. I don’t know what I’m working on exactly, but I know that there’s been this whole course of taking my dad’s legacy over in a sense, to keep it going, keeping it alive. Keeping that community active and engaged is kind of bittersweet.

@lottiebrazier

Nonbinary is published by Abrams, and available now.

All photos courtesy of Genesis P-Orridge’s family estate.