Neve Be

By Kerri O'Malley

In summer 2013, there was only one song that mattered: Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” Not because a remix of the track was on the radio or because the Born to Die backlash was starting to meet its own end.

No, dear babe-readers, it was because that was the summer I met Neve Be, and their performance of that song at an open mic night would mark the end of our brief but beautiful time spent in the same town in New Jersey.

Since that lovely summer of midnight wanderings through dark small-town streets, impromptu crazy-dancing in otherwise empty bars, and incessant, mind-expanding conversation, Neve has moved to Oakland, a place that they say allows them to be all of the things they are, and things they didn’t know they were. Now, Neve has gone from being an incredibly busy and engaged artist, thinker, and activist to an almost inconceivably prolific version of all of the above…aka a full-time babe.

They write articles and creative non-fiction and are now working on a book. [Editor’s note: Neve identifies as multi-gender and uses “they” and “them” pronouns.] They conceptualize, choreograph, and act out original performances with the likes of Sins Invalid and Mangos with Chili. They have built a much-loved name (albeit a different one) for their porn performances, erotic art, and sex advice columns. They are an active, loving part of the community they live in. They are passionate about disability justice, supporting the queer community, women’s rights, an end to capitalism, and treating our bodies well…just to name a few of the many important issues and ideas they fight for, discuss, and think about every day.

On top of all of that, they fell in love, giving themselves to a “vivacious, beautiful, growing, dynamic, learning-intelligent, sexy relationship” that I never tire of hearing about (most recently in their beautiful creative non-fiction piece, “Virgins in Time” for Plentitude Magazine) because I always learn something new about love in the process. Neve plans to move to Seattle to live with their partner, Tony, next year. We’re wishing these babes all the best!

Neve was one of those people that, for me, came out of nowhere and changed the way I see the world in just a few short weeks. I hope that the dozen Q&A’s you’re about to read between Babe Squad and the amazing Neve Be do the same for all of you!

lyric seal

Photo by Isabel Dresler

You’re working on a book now, which is so exciting! What is it about?

My book is called Taking It Lying Down/Crawling Like an Animal. Taking It Lying Down is a title that has been floating around in my head for a long time. Originally, because I do porn performance and erotic art, I thought it would be a collection of short stories about sex.  Stories of consensual, non-consensual, and not non-consensual sex was my original subtitle. That was before there was anything that was going to be inside of the book. I have a TV brain, so I, like, imagine the cover of the book and press releases and myself in a cool outfit signing books before I imagine what would actually go inside the book. [Laughs] I have been working for a couple of years on the idea, but I’ve been working much more on it since I signed a contract with ThreeL Media last year.

The book has turned out to be this collection of essays that I write in a combination of lyrical prose and political manifesto-y critical theory. I’m writing about my body and societal dichotomies that my body has been forced into as a disabled woman of color, particularly dichotomies and stereotypes surrounding sexuality and my agency in sexuality.

How did you get hooked up with ThreeL Media?

It was through Nikki Silver, who does this porn site Naughty Natural. She is kind of a hairy-porn goddess and also a really rad, super-smart human being. We made this movie together called “Waiting for Beast” last year that was included in the Bike Smut film festival. We’ve turned out to be pretty fun collaborators.

Nikki recently published a book of photography, Unshaven, through ThreeL Media and has a professional relationship with Gregory Kaplan, who started the company. Gregory wanted to meet with friends of hers that had book ideas. I had some misgivings about talking to him at the time because I wasn’t really trying to make a porn book. I didn’t know if I wanted to publish as my porn name. And I didn’t really have a book!

But we met for coffee, and he asked me, “If you were going to write a book, what would it be about?” I told him, “Well, it would be called Taking It Lying Down, and it would be a collection of essays about the various circumstances, interactions, and relationships that have led to my emotional, physical, sexual, and psychological conception of my body as a disabled person.” And he was like, “Done.” [Laughs]

Neve reading

What are you hoping to achieve with the book? What are you hoping readers take away from it?

I feel like I have lived under…I picture it as a shell or a big mushroom or some kind of covering of organic substance that is not impossible to move but, because I have grown up under it my whole life, it seems so inherent that I don’t know how to move it. That is a shell of shame, particularly shame surrounding sexuality and my body and what choices I make with my body. That comes from enduring medical trauma, enduring abuse from many different places as a child, and also just growing up as a disabled, queer girl of color.

I resist writing a memoir. I don’t want to become an expert on any subject. I don’t want people to refer to me as a “pioneer.” What I would really like is to bring into conversation something that is unique about sexual shame experienced by disabled women, disabled women of color, and trans people.

A lot of trans people I’ve talked to have also experienced this caught feeling where you’re stuck between either “I am always a victim in a sexual context. I am always being touched when I don’t want to be touched, and I’m just taking it because I’m passive,” or “I feel like I am a predator. Any desire that I have is wrong, gross, and unwanted. If I even let someone know that I desire them, that is a predatory action.” That dichotomy is something that I grew up not really knowing how to interact with, and not feeling like anyone felt similarly or even just experienced their bodies the way I did.

I’d like to have someone who is reading the book—whatever age they are—know that this is something that someone else has felt and think, “Maybe I can spend one less year of my life beating myself up for things that I think I’ve done wrong and start living in a sexually embodied way.” I don’t think that’s something that you can just snap your fingers and do, but I think that we’re taught that it’s a waste of time to heal. I would like to encourage a lot more people to start healing.


Neve at their workshop at the University of Oregon Women of Color Conference: Intertwined 2015

That’s a beautiful goal! I am so excited to read your book. Even outside of the book, you’re a very prolific writer, writing a column called “Totally Lame” for Maximum RockNRoll and writing pieces for a number of other publications. What recent or upcoming writing are you most excited about?

I’m pretty excited about this trial-run article that I’m working on for Everyday Feminism. I’m writing about FOMO—which stands for “Fear of Missing Out”—and how it affects a lot of young disabled people. There are all these things that you can’t do that your friends act like are the best, most awesome things to do, and they either don’t pay attention to the fact that you can’t do them, or they just tell you that you can do them over and over again. “No one can get you down” and all of this stuff.

I was thinking a lot about it this summer with people going to waterparks and camping and doing lots of, like, adventure-bro-type activities. [Laughs] Which a lot of disabled people do! Particularly para-bros, as I like to call them. Paraplegic dudes who are really jacked and are like, “I’m going to fucking march my wheelchair up Mount Everest!”

I’m not going to do that. But I have definitely pushed myself to do things that were actually too hard for me to do or were really hard on my body because I felt like if I didn’t, I was saying that my disability “won” or something, which is a bullshit choice to make. My disability is a part of my body. I don’t want to treat my body like it is my enemy.

Neve | Maximum RockNRoll

Neve with their interview with Sean Gray (left) and the header for their column, Totally Lame (right), in Maximum RockNRoll

You’re involved in so much more than writing, too. What other recent projects are you proud of?

I just made a short film with Nikki Silver for the Hanky Code anthology, which was put together by Gentry McShane, Lisa Ganser, and Lorin Murphy.

For anyone who is not gay or is gay but didn’t grown up with gay history or culture, the hanky code is a form of flagging. Flagging is how you let someone know that you are interested in having sex with them, and comes from historically gay male spaces. The hanky code is based on colored handkerchiefs, where each represents a different action or way of having sex that you are interested in. Usually that’s accompanied with eye contact and signaling someone to follow you, and then you go find someplace to fuck.

But the hanky code has expanded amazingly since then. Now you have femme flagging, where you paint one of your nails a different color, and it means a certain thing. People wear stuff around their neck, put stuff in their hair…and there are so many different symbols and meanings. The one that Nikki and I chose for the film was white fur, which is puppy play. It doesn’t mean that you want to play with literal puppies—which is what my mother was concerned about when I told her about it—but it does mean you want human beings to dress up as or imitate puppies that you boss around. But in a loving way also involving rewards, usually. [Laughs] The short film is now on tour with the rest of the Hanky Code anthology.

Weren’t you involved in a feature-length film earlier this year, too?

Yeah! My porn persona, Lyric Seal, appeared in a feature-length film this summer. The film is by Shine Louise Houston, who is the creator of Crash Pad Series, a lesbian and queer porn site that is just such a great dream. It’s sweet, and also hot.

The film is a porn noir called Snapshot. It’s kind of a comedy-thriller-porn. Think, like, Hitchcock meets gay Pretty Little Liars. It’s not a sex-driven film. It’s a film in which there are complex, developing characters, and the sex just happens to be explicit.

I’ve seen a little clip of it, and it looks beautiful. The lighting is lemon-cake delicious and all the actors are really incredible. We wrapped at the end of the first week of August, which coincided with the ten-year anniversary of Pink and White Productions, the studio that makes all of those movies. It’s coming out sometime next year.

You are also a performance artist. What are you working on in your performances?

I’m starting to incorporate singing more into my performance. It is beautiful to do an interpretive dance and then say a line of poetry, but it’s also very tired and, for me, kind of difficult to watch. Lately, I have been watching a lot of music documentaries and going to a lot of shows. I’m very fascinated by how different people move their bodies when they’re singing because that’s not choreographed or planned. Some people are as rigid as a pole but their voice still sounds amazing. Some people are, like, rolling around on the ground and tangled in their mic cord and it doesn’t make very much sense because their song is not super-emotional or super-thrashy, but they’re having some kind of next-level experience, you know? [Laughs]

I do monologue, soliloquy-type stuff where I read or memorize a longer piece and perform that as a one-character play or show. I really like thinking about how I move with those words almost like a front person in a band. Like there is a lot of music behind me. I’ve been collaborating with a lot of different experimental noise artists, like Beast Nest and Bed Death, on accompanying tracks to what I’m performing.

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Neve behind the scenes at a Mangos with Chili show and with other Mangos with Chili performers at this year’s National Queer Arts festival

I also happen to know that you have a thing for Lana Del Rey and have incorporated her persona into a lot of your performances. How does Lana fit in?

I am a Lana Del Rey impersonator. In a lot of the performances I do, I secretly work in a Lana Del Rey voice. I really love the idea of playing with the helpless little girl character—which is such a sexist idea and such a sexist staple of how we’re taught to think about women—but to use it in a really intense, creepy context. To be like, “I am a little girl, and you think I’m helpless because I’m feminine and disabled, but I am vicious and weird.”

When I performed as Lana Del Rey at a drag show in 2013, I did the song “Cola.” I was dressed up like her, and I lip-synched to the song and choreographed this dance that was really, really weird. [Laughs] With a lot of those kinds of performances, you’re supposed to do something sexy or funny, but not something upsetting. One of the lines in that song is, “I pledge allegiance to my dad/For teaching me everything he knows.” As I said that, I parted my two fingers around my tongue and licked in-between them. I drooled onto the stage, and then I drooled onto the audience and crawled off the stage into the audience. You’re supposed to tip drag performers, okay? So I’m going through the audience trying to get tips, and people are turning their chairs away from me.  They were freaked out! I had one table of friends who were all banging the table, screaming, “IT’S LANA DEL GAY!” They loved it. But lots of other people were really freaked out.

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Neve portraying Lana Del Gay

You create so many different things in so many different formats. Through it all, do you think there’s an idea or theme that runs through it? Something that you’re working to convey?

Mmm…Yes. It does not express itself the same way every time. I feel like what I am doing is fostering my inner world and trying to make my inner world rich and dynamic, but also as cohesive in its politics, ethics, and beliefs as possible, and then fostering the way that I bring that into the outer world. It’s two different motivations. My biggest motivation is to be right with myself and the people that I love.

My politics keep developing and deepening, but overall I believe in liberation. I believe in equity in justice. I believe in mutual aid. I believe in listening. I believe in cooperation and love. I also believe in actively examining systemic violence and injustice and power balances, and not ignoring them with peace and love and color-blindness or whatever. I’m an anarchist. I believe really firmly in disability justice and transformative justice, as in not handling issues in a punitive way. I believe that communities will always be stronger working together rather than relying on a representative government to manage them. I believe in treating your body with the love and respect that it deserves throughout your whole life.

And I think that there are many, many things that work against us and make it harder for us to do all of those things. I don’t blame anyone for not finding a way to do all of those things throughout their life. But my goal is to increase the opportunities that I have to do all of those things and find a way, both emotionally and logistically, to help other people feel like they have access to living their lives well, to treating their bodies well, to working cooperatively with other people, to living dynamic, engaged, and yet peaceful lives.

How do you nurture and replenish your creative and physical self to achieve all of this?

I keep a to-do list. I try to not force myself to do too many things on my to-do list every day. I try my best to be realistic about that. I have been working on saying no, not just to projects but to being a shoulder for someone or hanging out when I don’t actually have the energy. I want to be able to be fully present for people that I love.

I found a thousand different avenues for getting my holistic health needs met, if not as often as I would like to, as often as I can. I take hot showers. I have sex on the phone with my boyfriend when we’re far away, and we have sex in person when we’re together. I have the privilege and the wonderful, wonderful opportunity to work with a lot of people who really care about access and healthcare for queer people and disabled people. I’m getting a lot of the things that I need right now, which has been a big, big struggle and a lot of bureaucracy, but it’s good.

You are in a beautiful and loving relationship now, and we have talked on many occasions about how much you’re learning from each other. Can you share some relationship lessons you’ve learned from being with Tony?

I have always had this really beautiful idea about being met. It’s the thing that I love the most in films and books: when someone is being their weird self, and a lot of people can’t get with it, and then someone just meets them. And doesn’t act like it’s an amazing thing to do or an incredible chore. They just get with it, and then they are also able to be met.

There’s this amazing quote that Tony shared when were maybe 6 months into our relationship:

Someone can be madly in love with you and still not be ready. They can love you in a way you have never been loved and still not join you on the bridge. And whatever their reasons, you must leave. Because you never, ever have to inspire anyone to meet you on the bridge. You never ever have to convince someone to do the work to be ready. There is more extraordinary love, more love that you have never seen, out here in this wide and wild universe. And there is love that will be ready. — Nayyirah Waheed

There are some of us who believe that we are very difficult to love, and believe that because of our experiences or because of the kind of body that we have or things we’ve been told that it’s really hard to love us, and that anyone who does is like a saint. I’ve had a lot of wishy-washy, half-assed relationships because I believed that it was a fucking godsend that someone either wanted to make out with me or wanted to have sex with me or wanted to hold my hand in public, or whatever it was.

The other night, my friend and I were talking about how the idea of love is like fire—this explosive, ridiculous thing. And you can’t deny it, and you can’t get away from it, and you can’t help it. No matter what other things are wrong. If the person does not see you for who you are. If they don’t meet you. If they’re marrying someone else in two days. If they’re moving to another country. If they’re abusive. If they’re a werewolf. No matter what the circumstances are, you have to be with them because that’s what love is.

Neve and Tony

Photos of Neve and Tony at Butch Queen (left) and Night Crush (right) by Adrien Leavitt

I met Tony when I was on tour with Mangos with Chili randomly on an OK Cupid date after I had just broken up with someone who I thought I was profoundly in love with, but who could never meet me. I was throwing myself back into the world of hopefully-not-traumatizing casual hook-ups. But it ended up being this beautiful, marvelous little night. And still, I was not asking anything from it. I think that was what was so cool: that over a period of a couple of months, we chose each other. It wasn’t about, “Oh, I can’t help being with you.” It was very much this active choice and this act of building trust.

I had gotten so used to this idea that love was a game or that love was torture or that love was…I don’t know, all the fucking thousands of songs about what love is—it’s cursed! It seemed pretty wild to me that love could be yes, fiery, and yes, icy, and yes, turbulent, and yes, making me feel all this new shit. But also really nice. And also something that you want to choose every day.

We have chosen to meet each other, and we don’t really think of meeting each other as something that happens once and then you just kind of kick back and wait for the rest of your life to happen. You do it every day.

Neve by CatButt

Photo by CatButt Photography at Seduction Feroce

Do you consider yourself successful, and what does success mean to you?

I think it kind of depends on if you’re a capitalist or not, which I am not. I believe in an end to capitalism. But it’s hard to not define success in a way that is relative to monetary gain and comfort. On the one hand, I would not consider myself successful if I was getting paid more. However, I am not getting all of my needs met. I do struggle to feed myself every month. I am still doing the starving artist stint, although I am grateful to be living with my really supportive and invaluable queer fam and collaborators, Bed Death and my partner in crime Véro Vergüenza. They always make sure there’s food in the house!

While I would like to be more financially comfortable than I am now, I do think that it is the work of people who do not believe in capitalism to ensure that we are building support systems for one another that function even when you don’t have money, and that function for other people outside of our circles. There are a ton of people without money or access who are not necessarily activists, or do not have the education to write the kind of rambling, pseudo-academic bullshit that I write, who are incredible people that I want to be in solidarity with, too.

I would consider myself successful if I had a really full-proof system or network of people who have each others’ backs no matter what happens. Like, know what to do for each other if someone gets sick and can’t move around their house. Know what to do when someone’s house gets flooded or there’s a shooting on someone’s block. Or know what to do in situations that are not as extreme as any of those circumstances, but are really there for each other. I feel like I am on my way to building a loving, dynamic care network that does those things.

So I cannot define myself as successful because I don’t think it is an endpoint or end goal, but I do define myself as doing really well because I’m being true to myself, and I’m trying to be true to other people. I am increasing the ways that I am conscientious every day, and I’m keeping up with the standards that I set for myself.

You can follow Neve Be on their blogTwitter, and Instagram to keep up-to-date with their latest writing, art, shows, and more. Readers in the Bay area can look forward to Neve opening for Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, author of Dirty River, at her Oakland book launch this November. You can find out more about that event here. 

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