Fernando, is that you?
The piece was about some out-of-towner hitting Libby’s car Fernando and how that felt. It was about how the car was a thin metal skin around Libby and how the skin got punctured and the metal punctured Libby and so it was about a trans body in trouble. Libby got on stage and put on a black leather collar and restraints and tied some rope on those restraints and then to the front bumper of Fernando, their car, and then around their neck and it was really really good. Libby restaged the car crash as a love scene with their car. And we knew about the pain of the crash, how they made eye contact with the man as he collided into Libby and Fernando. And Libby asked us to think about the themes of the show before the show happened in a nice little meta skit and there were lots of themes but im fucked if i can write them out here. The piece was 15 minutes long.
I haven’t read Crash but I saw the film and this was better. It’s nice to experience art about the fear of penetration by someone who’s actually been penetrated (altho I imagine JG Ballard actually loved it up the arse) (Cronenberg too (nice Jewish boy says Hava)). It’s a pretty balls-out move to take a hard masc AFAB body, dress urself up like ur gonna top someone all night long, and then stare down the audience straight in the eye as you slow dance with something that nonconsensually fucked you. Are we supposed to be turned on? Are we supposed to be turned off? Are we, and this is probably it, supposed to be both? Libby was using a kind of normative white afab masc enby attractiveness as their material. Somehow this hot trans body was in Exeter, not London/Paris/Milan/NewYork. Somehow this hot body was also the injured body and also, really, the nonconsenually penetrated body. And the car, their intimate accomplice in these countryside drives to the date or to the houses or flats of new lovers, got unceremoniously fucked up by a man too.
We’d been driving around Devon with Libby in the car they got with the payout from the crash. They’d moved back home to their parent’s house, which is down a long country lane. Hava practised driving there while we blasted Kim Petras, and we felt like we were in a queer coming of age movie, except we were all too out and too old. What happens when we leave for the big city and then we have to come back? How do we navigate the small scraps of queerness we find, the smaller selection of community, hiking up the distance on our Tinder etc. when we have known something that is supposed to be bigger n better? We watch Mamma Mia 2 several times, for starters, and then rewatch the Cher bit a few more times. How do we tie our queerness to a one-night stand, when our selfhood is so funny and weird and strange?
Later, after the show, a white afab femme of unknown identity (let’s say ‘Vox’, I’ll let you decide whether that was their name or not) approached us to ask ‘what all that was about’. They asked me first, perhaps getting 2 trans mascs mixed up, perhaps trying to flirt, idk, and i was like ‘wot?’ they repeated themselves, and hava said ‘wot?’ and Vox fully jumped out of their skin and stopped short on our walk to the smoking area. Hava’s used to it cus she hasn’t done vocal training and also because certain queers absolutely love having a trans woman to get disgusted at, especially in the wild.
I could hear Vox’s screeching laughter even as I tried to disengage in the conversation that a coterie of queers were having around us, about which person was hot, what pronouns they used now, alternately calling people hot and misgendering them simultaneously. Libby omg all of my friends were saying how hot you are purred Vox you were really hot
Vox, it seemed, had not understood the nature of the piece. Vox was stuck in objectification mode, and a vague connection to queerness had allowed them to revel in this objectification and even applaud themself for finding Libby attractive. But of course Libby is attractive - they are the poster child for sexy androgyny. They are a straight woman’s girl crush, except they are not a girl. The objectification seemed an endpoint of the allowance of ‘female’ sexuality to become just as gross and toxic and assumptive as ‘male’ sexuality, and that this is empowering or good. And yet I can’t see Vox saying these things to a cis-het male performance artist. And I definitely cannot see Vox saying these things to a transfemme or trans woman performance artist. Practically ran away from one but 5 minutes ago. Vox had absorbed this patriarchal gaze, but Vox really believed that they somehow had a Queer Gaze and it had gifted them the sight to be really in to Libby Norman regardless of the context or consequences.
This gaze was Libby's methodology, their body the material. I think that was the point of the work. It was very, very moving, because it was the story of this person getting hurt and losing something. Way more than a car or a lover, because it was really gesturing towards the cumulative hurt of Libby’s queer self. The suggested cis het history. The glimpses of men and their place in Libby’s story. The words about their antidepressants and the clattering of their brain. But it was also like having a one-off fuck with Libby Norman, because it was you and them in a room and it got a bit sexy but it also got a bit sad and a bit weird and it’s like - how can we do this good? How can we navigate this? What’s up with all this internalised stuff that we haven’t been able to shake? Is it okay if I’m in to this? What should we do if I’m not?
The piece, which was at the Exeter Phoenix, was part of a programme called Come As You Are. It was programmed by a white cis woman with a cis boyfriend who had a beard and who was probably called Craig or Damien or something. She brought him along the next night to Libby’s other show, and made eye contact with me by accident and looked awkward and embarrassed and afraid and indignant. Come on craig, let’s go she whispered to him. They walked hand in hand to the car, and he opened the door for her. They kissed with intention, as if nobody else in the world existed, and nobody else did. He drove her home and she felt warm and safe in his Toyota Yaris. He looked deep into her eyes before careering into the road and almost killing someone, someone else. She screamed and dragged herself out of the car. She clambered across the wreckage to the other body, a queer body, and she said: ‘Hello, would you like to perform in next year’s Come As You Are Festival?’