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Hari Nef Column 4
Alexis Penny

Read Hari Nef's poem ‘Performance and Severance: A Redress’

From club kid to something more – a founding member of Chez Deep talks about her journey beyond labels

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. This week, State of Sex takes an all-encompassing look at sexuality, gender and all the flavours of the American rainbow.

Depending on who you ask, Chez Deep is avant-drag, post-drag, or simply "drag beyond 2000". Either way, the art collective has one of the most radical visions of art and gender in America right now. Check out all things sisterhood in their Dazed guest edit – here, Chez Deep member Hari Nef glimpses an identity beyond labels. 

Performance and Severance: A Redress

“The archipelagic self is not predicated on a single self-hood that coheres across time and space but is capable of movement through different islands of life that do not need to resolve into one.” – Tom Boellstorff

When I left home, I fell into question.
I yearned, suddenly, to create myself.
I was surrounded by folks creating themselves.
I gave myself up to urgency gnawing from the outside in.

“When I left home, it happened.”
I’d explain myself to acquaintances and old friends.
“Before I left home, I didn’t know I wanted any of this.”
“Why not?” they’d ask.
“I didn’t have an audience for it.”

When I left home, I met Performance. I razed the walls between What I Loved and How I Looked. I was keen to be registered, processed, and consumed. I went downtown and got online. I saw myself as a tree careening toward the woodland floor. I could not happen without witnesses.

When I left home, I met Severance. I bore myself anew, then bore myself again. Desire became risk, risk became practice, and practice became desire all over again. Today became Forever. Memory became Trauma.

When I left home, I learned to traumatize myself. Change hurt but stasis hurt worse. I hurt myself to change myself and thought about everyone else. I feared that if I changed too much or too quickly I would become unregisterable, unprocessable, unconsumable. This fear felt like a fear of death.

When I left home, I learned to hurt, then heal myself in public.
In doing so, I changed.


PERFORMANCE: Open The Floodgates, Shatter “Convention,” Live the Fantasy, Be Brave, Stay Out Late, “Club Kid,” Pile It On, Chug, Shock, Upset, (Appear), “Nightlife Personality,” Cross- Pollinate, Reference, Implement Enduring Loves, “Cyber,” Tumbl, Revel, Fight, Connect, Pose, Hari Nef > Harry Neff, He/Him/His

SEVERANCE: I Have Spread Myself Thin In Pursuit Of An Attention Which – Having Acquired It – I Don’t Know How To Deserve (I Sense That This Could Be More Than Just Fun)

PERFORMANCE: Performance, “Performer” “Drag Queen,” “Weird Drag Queen,” “Goddess,” “Witch,” Live the Fantasy, Power, Command, Weird, Visceral, Reference, Giving Shows, Underground, Fringe, “Warrior,” “Interpreter,” “Enfant Terrible,” He/Him/His

SEVERANCE: I Have No Sustainable Means By Which To Bring New Performativities Up The Stairs And Outside of the Nightclub And Into The Sun (I Would Like This To Feel Realer For Me And Take Up More Of My Time)


PERFORMANCE: “Artist,” “Performance Artist,” “Trans* Performance Artist,” “Non-Binary Trans* Performance Artist,” Transfemininity, Live the Fantasy, “Other,” Fashion, Uptown, Reference, Deference, They/Them/Their

SEVERENCE: I Have Discovered A Glass Ceiling In Regard To The Synchronicity Between How I See Myself And How I Am Seen By Others (I Am Ready To Settle Upon New Terms)

Right now, I’m too close for clarity.
I look forward with high hopes and blind eyes.
I look back in anger and shame.

Right now, I know what I want to say.
I say “actress.” I say “writer.” I say “transgender woman.”
I leaf through my former selves and search for congruencies, finding
many and none. I blot out my name on the dressing room door. I beat
my chest at downstage center. I turn off the light and stumble into
bed. I have fever dreams, but I don’t keep a journal.

Right now, I’m uneasy.
I wince at new comments on old pictures (I don’t delete the pictures).
I pause when old friends don’t recognize me (I am unrecognizable to many who have known me well). I sneer at gay men who ask me if I top or bottom (I built my sexual self around these words for years). I admonish journalists who call me a “club kid” or a “drag queen” or a “he” or a “they” (I am identifiable as a “drag queen,” a “club kid,” a “he,” and a “they” by a quick Google search).

Right now, I’m preparing for the end. 
Desire becomes risk, risk becomes practice, and practice becomes desire all over again. 
My right hand clutches a scepter. 
My left hand, trembling, shields my face from an axe about to drop. 
Desire becomes risk, risk becomes practice, and practice becomes desire all over again. 
When will this Performance end? 
When will the Severance begin again?

Right now, I give myself up to myself. 
I unregister, misprocess, and purge. 
I go out, then go home. I log on and offline. 
I feel myself crash into the woodland floor. I am the only one who can feel myself crash into the woodland floor. 
I surrender to Always. I surrender to Never. 
I Perform and Sever: hardening, then healing. 
I Perform and Sever: in public, then in private. 
I close my eyes and fall forward, into question. 
It’s dark, but I can see myself.