A thin wiry body and a softer body, its bones padded with tissue. A body that walks flat on the ground and a body that fashion decrees sexier in heels. Bodies that are designed to fuse and procreate: at least, that’s the only thing it’s OK to talk about in sex education. Bodies that are binary, in gender if not skin.
The first half of Out is a portrait of two bodies resisting. Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony wear identical outfits: big black pants that stretch from waist to upper thigh; nipple patches; black mesh body vests, quickly removed; black spike heels. The half-nakedness could make anatomical distinctions more obvious; instead, the difference between them disappears in the synchronicity of their movements, their pulse and grind, tremble and writhe. In the most positive way, they portray themselves as simply humans: two bodies alike in having skin and muscle, brains and blood.
It oughtn’t be anyone’s business what they do with those bodies, and yet here we are, still struggling to figure out why for so many people it’s an abomination that they should fuck their own gender, rather than each other. In Jamaica – the land of their heritage – that outrage is embedded and made violent in the culture, whether in the Buggery Law inherited from colonial rule, or in church sermons, or in often virulently homophobic dancehall, all of which are woven into Young and Antony’s soundtrack. It’s by turns exhilarating, bracing, agonising to watch their bodies pulsate to cries of hallelujah, knowing what’s being praised is the condemnation of LGBT+ peoples.
There’s a cultural specificity in this section that I – not Jamaican, not queer – couldn’t always follow: sometimes it was the choice of song that mystified me, sometimes the accompanying movement. I say this as a point of interest, not because it had any negative impact. I caught elements of vogue, a sensuality sometimes queer, sometimes not, an instruction not to “hide who you are” because that’s “the best part of you”, a sense of camaraderie between Young and Antony, genuine pride in their bodies and their sexuality, pride in their multiple ancestries – familial and claimed, from the long history of queer radicalism. That was enough.
But also, that was only the first half. In the second half, the duo slide off the heels and don felt hats instead; pull up an oil can each, and sit either side of a big tub of oranges. The room is silent now: the only sound their patient breathing and the scrape of sharp knives through the peel. Like men sitting in front of a cafe, on a porch, in the town square, they take their sweet time. Peeling oranges, sucking the juice, peeling more, eating more. It is slow, boring, repetitive. It is also mesmerising. And a memory trigger: entirely personal. Mine involves eating fresh almonds, cracked from their shells, around the kitchen table of my grandparents, whose language I never learned to speak. There is so much love in Young and Antony’s bodies for this older generation, the people who begot us, but whose values we reject. I thought also of a conversation I had last month with Hamed Sinno, a Lebanese singer, also queer, about the death of his father, and how in his lyrics he recognises the need to bury an entire generation of fathers. Inevitably, the oranges give a nod towards a British cultural reference: Jeanette Winterson’s quasi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, in which the mother dispenses oranges in an attempt to suck young Jeanette into rigid heteronormativity. In their slowness, their repetition, their total absorption in their task, Young and Antony open up space in which to reflect on all the mothers and fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, who are killing us with their rigidity. And still, and still, this love.
It is glorious when the duo recognise that act of shared reflection by beginning to dispense oranges among the audience. The more people eat decorously around her, the more Young problematises this eating. Juice begins to drip from her mouth, her arms, down her torso; she slaps the fruit against her body in self-flagellation. We can’t murder our elders: we need to find ways to live with them. To drink up the juice of their wisdom and discard the rest: the pith, the peel, that which will not nourish us, that whose taste is bitter. Finding ways to do so is hard. But with slowness, patience, commitment, our queerer time will come.
Out was on as part of In Between Time festival in Bristol, on until 12th February 2017. Click here for more details.