A supermoon pink-flooded the workshop and all things therein. An ebay-bought second-hand digicam and an ex-professional camera dolly had appeared in the workshop. Belahg was sleeping on the floor alongside the kitchenette. Blulip was editing underwater footage for Tulep.tv. A neo-scientific drama failed to unfold on the laptop screen. A poetic experiment perhaps, with a camp ethos, conducted under a rarer, queerer star, but not the future blockbuster Blulip had hoped for.
A knock on the door. It was P.I. Belagh’s rival, P.I. Loveday. Hi. Long time, no see. P.I. Loveday was paying Blulip an unwelcome late night visit. May I come in? P.I. Loveday asked. Not really, Blulip replied. Blulip said she was editing. Ah! Let’s have a look. P.I. Loveday let herself in. She pulled over a chair and sat down next to Blulip.
What on earth, P.I. Loveday said.
A close up of an aquarium animal, sure, but where was the action in that? Jacques Cousteau’s Night of the Squid sprang to mind as a superior example of the genre, or perhaps Jean Painlevé’s Les Assassins d’Eau Douce (1949), Freshwater Assassins. With Genevieve Hamon, haute-bourgeois avant-gardener Jean Painlevé had been pioneering surrealist science-films such as Les Assassins d’Eau Douce, Les Danseuses de la Mar (1956), and, significantly, the anticipatory betterment of Blulip’s programme, Les Oursins (1954), Engl.: Sea Urchins. Watching a Youtube version, Loveday felt that Les Oursins handsdown outperformed Blulip’s footage, if not in terms of poetics, in terms of action and drama. Further, P.I. Loveday contended, Les Oursins had been shot in ‘54, sixty-odd years ago, Loveday wanted to know what this, Blulip’s sequence of an aquarium animal, added to the existing attempt. How was it new, how exactly? Unlike… THIS, P.I. Loveday continued, Les Oursins had advanced ‘neo-zoological drama’ in significant ways. Neo-zoological Drama had been a concept developed by Jean Painlevé in the pseudoscientific, hoax text of the same name, which he had submitted to l’Académie des Sciences in ‘29. Given these high calibre precedents, Loveday insisted, it was not a moment too soon that Blulip stopped and reflected and asked herself what constituted drama today. “What constitutes drama today?!” Loveday insinuated that the future of Tulep.tv depended on these and similar questions. “Audiences love drama,” Loveday declared. As well as Les Oursins, the French haute-bourgois dramaturges had produced Cristaux Liquides (1978), and a film showing a male sea horse in labour pain, L’Hippocampe (1939). L’Hippocampe, Hypercamp. Painlevé Hypercamp just popped into existence. Shadow of her future self at this stage, Painlevé Hypercamp would become Blulip’s future drag alter ego. Blulip did not tell P.I. Loveday about Painlevé Hypercamp. For now, Blulip kept Hypercamp to herself. Blulip put Hypercamp on the backburner for now.
P.I. Loveday, meanwhile, was on a roll, debating the future of drama in terms of its past. Come to think of it. Loveday came to think of it. What had been the public reception of Cristaux Liquides, or L’Hippocampe? Fanatic, but marginal. The films had incited isolated instances of fanaticism, but they had not attained widespread popularity. Here’s another example, Loveday continued. Forget the French. Neo-scientific drama was taken to the next level by Austrian nationals, of all people.
Like the better-known Jacques Cousteau, Austrian Unterwasserfotograf, Tauchpionier, Meeresbiologe, and Patriarch Hans Hass (1919-2013) had extended Painlevé and Hamon’s early concept of neo-zoological drama, producing neo-scientific blockbusters. MENSCHEN UNTER HAIEN (1947, 84 Min.), for example. MENSCHEN UNTER HAIEN featured an early-development underwater breathing apparatus that in one instance had caused Hass’s onscreen oxygen intoxication. The crucial transformation from documentary into feature film, Kassenschlager, mit Millionenpublikum, had been attributed to the contribution of Lotte Hass, Loveday said. Secretary, underwater fotographer, underwater glamour model and actor, Lotte had outperformed Hans’s sharks on a regular basis. Sie stahl jedem Hai die Show. Née Baierl, the media were quick to rename her Lotte Haierl. Lotte Little-Shark. Charisma and showmanship had transformed underwater poetics into box office hits, and that was the sort of drama Blulip should develop Tulep.tv according to. Place a human amongst the beasties! Give the audience a way in! The presence of a shark lady mitigated the fundamental alienness of a baby-seal killing predator. Go further. Anthropomorph your monsters. Call your sharks ‘Mr. Shark’ [sic]! Make them relevant to your viewers. Meanwhile, proliferating aquatic scenarios conjured another one still. Blulip half-remembered an Argentinian/French short story from the 1950s, Axolotl, that featured the eponymous Mexican walking fish. The axolotl’s utmost otherness was the precise quality that the story’s narrator recognised and connected with, despite the absence of Lotte Hass or any other interspecies intermediaries. “Anthropogenic!” P.I. Loveday exclaimed, disrupting Blulip’s reverie. “More importantly: Photogenic! If in doubt, provide EYE CANDY,” Loveday advised. “I leave it with you.” And with these words, P.I. Loveday left.
Left alone, Blulip contemplated what she would come to think of as Loveday’s brief. The pink supermoon, perhaps, and her wish to repeat Tulep.tv’s recent success had rendered her strangely susceptible to Loveday’s influence, Loveday’s brief. That was despite Loveday being a rogue agent that Blulip herself (regretted she) had (ever) recruited.
Blulip began manufacturing a version of a bikini from a theatre backcloth that depicted ‘day’ and that she had discovered in the workshop. Blulip sewed a daylight delight, a nifty bikini. There was no women’s underwear in Blulip and Belahg’s shared household that could be adapted. Not really, only already appropriated men’s pants and Bjorn Borg™ hybrids for gender non-conformists. However, Loveday’s brief, Blulip’s ambition w/r/t Tulep.tv, overlapping subaqueous scenarios, the short story Axolotl, and Lotte Hass coalesced to engender a figure that required a nifty kit, a bikini outfit. Introducing: AxoLottl, the character, the audience attractor, the aberration. The eye-catching bikini-wearer, EYE CANDY, and Tulep.tv’s next star and agitator. In the small hours, Blulip fabricated AxoLottl’s bikini. Finally, it was done.
“Belahg, put some clothes on,” Blulip said. “Put these clothes on.”
Belahg rose. She was wearing a large soft-cotton T-shirt and large men’s underpants. Blulip strapped the new digital camera to the professional tripod dolly. Then she addressed Belahg, priming her, calling out: “AxoLottl!” Blulip handed ‘AxoLottl’ the bikini bottoms she had sewn. Still half asleep, AxoLottl (Belahg) put on the bikini bottoms over, repeat: OVER, her men’s pants. Next, Blulip handed AxoLottl the bikini top she had sewn. AxoLottl put on the bikini top over, rpt: OVER, her oversize T-shirt. “Supra,” Blulip approved. Next, Blulip produced a cubit-long, aqua-bleu budgerigar figurine, another upcoming star of Tulep.tv. The cubit-long, aqua-bleu budgerigar figurine was THEE inhuman(e) object, THEE objet de concern, that AxoLottl was to render palatable, attractive and relevant to an otherwise indifferent audience. Blulip’s budgerigar figurine was Hans Hass’s shark, Jean Painlevé’s oursin, and representative of anything that was likely to feature heavily in Tulep.tv’s subsequent programming. Anthropomorph the monster, Blulip recalled Loveday’s brief. Anthropomorph the cubit-long, inhuman(e) objet de, by sheer anthropo-proximity. Using gaffer tape, Blulip proceeded to strap l’objet de concern, the aqua-bleu budgerigar figurine, vertically to AxoLottl’s right thigh. Producing anthropo-proximity, Blulip strapped l’objet de concern lengthwise to AxoLottl’s right thigh. Then Blulip retreated. Operation ‘AxoLottl! Anthropomorph l’objet!’ was operative. It was all systems go. The digi-cam was recording. From here on, AxoLottl was meant to extemporise. The idea was for her to enact a mutual connection between l’objet and the AxoLottl character, so as to transform l’objet, AxoLottl, the lot, into something with a lot of public appeal. The strategy backfired. For starters, AxoLottl was not as at ease in her bikini as Lotte Hass might have been. Supra or not, AxoLottl was not. AxoLottl blew her top the moment she became half-aware of what she was wearing. She went ballistic. Not for nothing had she, Belahg, b.1975, spent 1976-201x rejecting the bog-standard femininity epitomised in the item of clothing she found herself wearing. Try putting a butch in a bikini. Not for nothing had she, Belahg, spent 1976 to today rejecting the bog-standard, bikini-sporting, frock-donning femininity enforced by an autobiographical family, autobiographical paediatricians, autobiographical teachers, autobiographical schoolchildren, and an autobiographical public, in order of vehemence. At significant personal cost, Belahg had not gone near a bikini in living memory. There existed photographs of a ten-year-old in a variety of ill-fitting suits and incongruous cravats. A series of abortive hair-do and hair-dye experiments, 1981-1990, were archived photographically, epitomising the coming-of-age related crisis experienced specifically by the genderqueer teenager. Do not say that EVERY teenage is critical. Look at the photos. Ebony Black. Night Blue Black. Black Violet Black. Blackest Black. And, godhelpus, Auburn. Blond highlights in Ebony Black, starched-collar white shirt, black skinny necktie, and black pleated trousers, and that’s just one of the more coherent attempts at a look: a ten-year-old’s D.I.Y. wildgirl interpretation of Simon Le Bon. In 1984, any wildgirl incarnation of Simon Le Bon would have been enough… to..? In 1984, Simone Le Bon had caused consternation in hinterland Europe. Subsequently, the eleven, twelve, thirteen-year-old had failed to grow out of it. It had gone on for too long. They had conspired to fuck die Faxen (the nonsense) out of the child. By tacit agreement, the gender police had seen to the dyke child being taught many life lessons. Lest she become a bulldagger. Lest she become a fully-fledged, raving, raging, reckoning and incorrigible adult powerdagger. Strong and unhinged. What if she organised. Already there had been Techtelmechtel with that wildgirl interpretation of John Taylor. Girl-on-girl hanky-panky. Innocent, but. Best nipped in the bud.
Not for nothing had she, Belahg, spent 1976 to today rejecting the bog-standard, bikini-sporting, frock-donning femininity enforced by an autobiographical family, autobiographical paediatricians, autobiographical teachers, autobiographical schoolchildren, and an autobiographical public, in order of vehemence.
Reliving her childhood, AxoLottl was having a meltdown. The bikini had triggered a critical flashback. Anxious to remove her contraptions, AxoLottl was yanking the budgerigar figurine strapped to her thigh. Blulip did a double take. A tiny pink LED was signalling that the digicam was recording. AxoLottl was struggling with extrastrong gaffer tape, crying schlosshund-like. Oh dear, Blulip thought. Experiment ‘AxoLottl! Anthropomorph l’objet!’ was spiralling out of control. The scene’s unexpectedly risqué but not unattractive quality was being undermined by the high levels of personal distress on display. Experiment AxoLottl was, if not failing, derailing. AxoLottl was alienating future audiences the way she was having a meltdown. Not a minute too soon did Blulip realise that only one person could save the day and that was Painlevé Hypercamp. Personification of a post-adolescent context shaped by decades in a queer community, Painlevé Hypercamp was to restore the perspective of a seasoned gay. Rather than Maman or Papa Belahg, Painlevé Hypercamp was to provide the context in which a bikini on a butch meant genderqueer camp rather than normative femininity. In short, Painlevé Hypercamp was to re-establish the abnormality that they inhabited day in day out, and that temporarily seemed to have disappeared in an autobiographical time-warp. Pressed to save the day subito, Painlevé Hypercamp, when it came to it, was just Blulip with her top off, engaging in hypocamp micromovement. Hypocamp micromovement was a strangely microfied, butoh-like, and restrained full-body expression of gay exuberance. In this way, Painlevé Hypercamp microadvanced towards AxoLottl, wildgirl John-Taylor-like. AxoLottl ceased having a psychotrip promptly. AxoLottl returned from her psychojourney prontamente. Painlevé Hypercamp and AxoLottl proceeded to hypocamp in a most consolatory fashion. They made moves to remove Axo’s contraption, the aqua-bleu objet de concern. The digicam was recording. Eventually, gaffer gave way. When it came to it, AxoLottl prevented Painlevé Hypercamp from removing her suprabikini. AxoLottl said that the rescue operation had been accomplished, and that no further actions would be required. Thank you, Painlevé. Pleasure, no trouble. Relaxing into her character and her suprabikini, AxoLottl microdanced with Painlevé Hypercamp into a low-battery indicator LED sunset.
Gaudy Bauble is out now with Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
Isabel Waidner is the author of three books of innovative fiction, most recently Gaudy Bauble (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017). Her short fictions have appeared widely in publications including 3:AM, Berfrois, Minor Literature[s] and Queen Mob’s. As part of the band Klang, Waidner released records on UK Indie labels Rough Trade (2003) and Blast First (2004). She is a lecturer in the English and Creative Writing Department at Roehampton University, and organiser of a series of events on Queer and Trans Writing at Goldsmiths Centre for Feminist Research. http://www.waidner.org, @isabelwaidner