The Pink Supper by Nando Messias/Dancing with Judas
at the end of the world, G-d will anoint a mashiach to hold all people inside them so that we are all redeemed. I tagged along to the Pink Supper because Hava was being a disciple in it. I didn't have a ticket but I thought being trans might be my in, surely they couldn't kick me out? I got in to a brief chat with Nando’s mother-in-law, probably the most important person in the room, about the candlestick holders. The candles in them were comically droopy, it seemed purposefully so, and she told me that was only the case because they'd been left out in the heat. Eventually, someone turned up with a spare ticket and I was ushered to the front to claim it. It belonged to a lovely older gay man who took one look at me and said oh don't worry about it and I felt #affirmed. I stood around awkwardly feeling unimportant, rubbing shoulders with people who are in charge of things and celebrity transes and being asked what do I do. Hava came back to summon me to the inner sanctum - they were a queer short so I got to fill the trans masc quota. We walked down the stairs to the performance space after Nando and then made the famous image of the Last Supper and then we got to sit in the front row to see the rest of the show, except when Nando asked us to help out with a costume change. And then we got a little bow at the end. Judas was there, he was handsome and white with curly dark hair and he gave Nando a little kiss during the photoshoot (get it?) and I was in to him probably because he looked exactly like Maz 30 years in the future.
In the gallery enterance bit where everyone was shmoozing after the show the nice gay came up to maz and said: honey you came here a nobody, you left here a star!
I don't really know what to say about the show except that it was really really good. I have seen lots of shows that have been very bad or at best mediocre, and to imagine this show you would have to imagine one of those shows but what it would have been like if it was actually good. It's hard to write about the show, because it said and did everything that it set out to do, so what is there left to say? Contextually, the Pink Supper was commissioned by The Library of Performing Rights and by the Live Art Development Agency. So it was, specifically, supposed to be about human rights which is a tricky phrase and a tricky brief. I think the way Nando did not articulate the central suggestion of that commission, which is implicitly a paternalistic gloss on art-activism about what ‘we in the West’ can do, was central to how good the work was. That it was not about a collection of facts of people suffering in the global south that privileged white westerners don’t need to think about. That it was entirely channeled through Nando’s self, who is not white and not western and who was not an object to be looked at. And that Nando did not at any point at all allow that whiteness, that flattening gaze, to creep in to it.
There's a slippery quality to live art especially but all capital A Art in general that allows for a lot of mediocrity and actually, just bad work to rise to the top, because we have no indicator for what's good. There's a certain revelry in the lack of skill, that your skill exists in self abjection or the prostration of one's identity, that one's existence is enough, echoed in bad political echo chambers online, rewarded in funding applications looking to fulfill diversity quotas. But Nando is actually good. Nando trained as a ballet dancer, Nando’s body moves in ways that make me aware of it as a body, not just aware of my own body in my full body cringe at someone's needlessly bad dancing (I thought queers were supposed to be good at that?) And there is skill in the words that have meaning, that are always the right words that cut through and have maybe been thought about but maybe just felt. There is complete economy of meaning. It holds itself to an intense standard of self integrity. It understands its subject as serious and holds itself to fully exploring those depths. Nando holds the show to such high standards that it becomes a true martyrdom: a sacrifice for others, not the false martyring of our sisters who did not want to die. We sit there wondering if we even deserve to witness it. The mercy is that we do, and the miracle is that Nando survives the martyrdom.
The show was a collection of images and actions and songs and costume changes and monologues tied together by Nando. By Nando's body, by Nando's experiences, by Nando's explanations, by Nando’s voice. Nando’s body became a vessel for our collective pain, Nando’s words a vessel for meaning. Just one of the sections of Nando's show would've been enough to sate me, to give me hope and joy and feeling. Instead Nando gave us so much that it overfilled and overwhelmed and spilled out of my eyes (we sobbed throughout the whole show) I feel so used to sitting in shows with some well meaning person performing an anger that a cis audience is supposed to feel confronted by, feeling to be honest quite bored. I'm used to queer performers declaring their pain to a queer audience who is also in pain, like it's a competition. I'm so used to trans people shouting the pain of being passed over for an opportunity or show like it's the same as a death spectacle of trans women of colour. Nando says, I'm lucky to be here I should do something with it, not just I am here and that is enough.
We’re used to seeing Elizabeth Warren or at best an afab enby say these names as a performance turning dead trans women of colour in to unwilling martyrs. Martyring their memories is hijacking their memories, making their passing somehow an inevitable part of the struggle and not always pointless and always evil. Nando remembers them as sisters, recounting pet names and nicknames and chosen names for each pair of lacy pink knickers shuffled down to the feet, picked up and dropped off gently (and surely these names mean more than their full titles? Why do we feel that we have to say things 'properly'?), before getting to the last pair of knickers and speaking Nando's other name, Nancy. The difference is that this could have been Nancy too, and who would be there to speak the name this way, and really feel it? Who would get to turn these names into art, into an inevitability? Nando tells us of leaving Brazil as an act of survival, not as a choice, and of experiencing a death already as a little girl undergoing electroshock therapy. Nando lights candles for the memories of our sisters and for the Amazon and the burning of the world, because these things are all linked together. I think about being partly Latina, about my body walking in the US and the UK, of hoping I’m looking especially white today, of being followed around a store, of being hit with a bottle on the street.
The pink knickers formed a nice pile on the table and I thought about the circumstances of the deaths, something abstracted from other ritualistic listing of names as if they'd all vanished and not been murdered, as if we didn't know why it happened. I'd never seen this kind of mourning coming from someone who can demonstrate the real capacity to mourn. How can we mourn our sisters when we have no framework? How can we mourn on Instagram? How can we make our mourning better than someone else's? How can we perform our pain correctly? How can we mourn when there is no shared public life? How can we bridge the gap between us and the dead, who were treated as if they were dead already? Let’s not pretend that we’ve fixed a problem. No wonder you can't move for bad approximations of ritual and religion in art these days, the rituals of life have been ripped from us a long time ago and over and over again.
Nando felt guilty and I turned around and saw the audience and wondered how they didn't feel 100 times that guilt. Nando felt the guilt of someone who'd been given a one person show when they could've easily have never been here. Speaking the names of sisters who were never given one person shows, knowing that not all of us get given a one person show, knowing that some of us will only find a brief fame in death, knowing that some of us will achieve fame and then die in spite of it, some of us because of it, some of us will have a brief moment of glory perhaps coinciding with a one person show which will fade and then we will die quietly. Nando felt deeply vulnerable and someone to be protected. Nando is the gay messiah, so we are redeemed in that grace.
In one moment, Nando is lying on a table which is slowly removed by the black clothed Judas. The tables are removed slowly, Nando becomes more precarious, Judas lies on the floor and lifts Nando’s body up and for a long while they dance together. Nando suspended, Judas strong and holding. I thought a lot about loving men, and how men hurt us and kill us. I thought about when a man spat at me in a cafe and then I jerked off that night to the thought of his stubble and his starched overalls and his fists. The other side of these women’s names are the men who killed them. Here is a man, the only man in the performance, and he holds Nando’s body and doesn’t break it. How strange to be in love with men. What can we girls do? How can we talk about this? How can we have a politics about this, an ethics to the strange movements of the heart that could be socialisation or that could be what is us anyway? How can my girl-body hold the gayboy that I was, now that I’m a straight woman and not a faggot? Because Judas was the man I love, gentle and caring and there. To be soft, do we need hardness? (‘I'm just a Holy Fool, oh baby he's so cruel, But I'm still in love with Judas, baby’... perhaps Lady Gaga was trans after all*).
*Hava would like to add that Lady Gaga set the gays back at least 20 years
The show ends with all lights off and Nando reflecting pink sparkles off the gown, another practical effect that some other artist would’ve based a whole work on, here imbued with meaning and magic as Gay Messiah plays and Nando sways out of the room leaving us in the dark. I loved being bathed in the pink sparkly sequined light, which was a very holy light. Have you ever been lit by someone? I thought of Christ washing the disciples’ feet with his hair, which is to say it was a final act of humility and grace.
After the end of the show I encountered Judas again, and I think we realised simultaneously that we had the same hair, the same clothing, similar frame, same masculinity? I felt an intense connection to him. Judas held the Gay Messiah up, providing a hard invisible pedestal for Nando's body. I saw this somehow as my role, how my invisibility should be used to hold up my sisters but in this act can simultaneously use them as a human shield. A way to cry we are dying when I know I can put my hood up and walk home hunched and be much safer, my masculinity a protection until I'm clocked and then my whiteness. Many months later we saw a terrible irish-american stand up performer who kept shouting about being killed, the fear of being killed by men they were dating, the fear of coming out to men as non-binary as opposed to the cis woman they’d presumed them to be, as if it was anything like the fear of a trans woman having to tell a date she’s trans. Every example of suffering they raised was the suffering of trans women, particularly trans women of colour. Every time they raised it, they asked: why can’t you just respect us? Why can’t you just get our pronouns right? To be so unimaginative with demands in the face of a genocide shows how cruel it is to perform someone else’s experience, someone who is supposed to be in your community, but who probably isn’t. They’d expected only cis people to come to the show, perhaps wanted only cis people to come to the show so that they could be the best victim. Nando could be relatively assured to be the best victim in the room during The Pink Supper, but had no time to waste on that bullshit. We have a whole world to win, and each of us must play our part with honesty.
We’ve covered maybe like one tenth of the show. I wanted to talk about when Nando talks about always buying shit impulsively, like I do all the time (big up ASOS), and how that makes Nando and me feel shit. I wanted to talk about when Nando talks about hating pink (everything in the show is pink), which made me think of buying all this pink shit when I first came out even tho it is the worst colour and is clocky as fuck. I wanted to talk about the facts and figures of trans death, I wanted to talk about the anger Nando felt and how anger isn’t helpful all the time. I wanted to talk about being Latina, and how much that means to me even though I feel way too scared to talk about it. I wanted to talk about how Nando took Catholic ritual, a site of some of the worst homophobic and transphobic violence, and made the rituals beautiful and how Nando literally took all the sins of the world and Catholicism and redeemed them. I wanted to talk about how we both cried literally throughout the show because we had never seen feelings like how I feel expressed so clearly and funnily and angrily and lovingly. I wanted to talk about how, when I was eighteen, I wanted to be a priest. I wanted to talk more deeply about all these things. But I find myself with very little to say.