New Romantic & Tender Hearts


In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden, Filmverlag der Autoren, 1978

by Isabel Waidner

In ’84 I manufactured jewellery incorporating Fray Bentos tins at the heart. This was New Romantic designer fashion, at its heart was not normally processed meat. Wearing top-to-toe House of Sui Juris or Bodymap outfits, my amateur models would carry their respective Fray Bentos jewels close to their hearts. Fray Bentos necklaces were energising cardiac regions en masse in ’84, and arguably the radical Zeitgeist that distinguished the period. I made a limited edition series of Fray Bentos brooches, too. This was the height of New Romanticism, at the heart of its industry was not normally processed meat. Margaret Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme was at the heart of its industry, and a generation’s resourcefulness and resilience.

It’s true that faggots were at the heart of New Romanticism. Girl faggots, boy faggots, fags of all genders. Faggots are a processed meat and traditionally made from pig’s heart, entrails, offal. Processing tenderises the heart, apparently. The heart is not deceitful but tough above all things. My Fray Bentos jewels contained in one body both denotations of the homonym faggot, at one remove. Via processed meat, Fray Bentos signified faggot signified homo. That’s what the 1980s and ’90s were like, brimming with subversive subtexts. All of us were all the time scanning the world for subversive content. Ours was a queer semiotics, dragged down to the level of DIY jewellery. But the heart is not tough but tender above all things. Offal is literally “off fall”, what falls off a butchered carcass. Owing to my personal tenderheart, I have yet fully to process Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden (1978), the West German drama film. One of the key scenes takes place in an abattoir. The scene features carcasses, entrails, offal, and the rest. I watched the VHS alone in a red-wine-soaked kitchen in Primrose Hill. In 2004, I was psychologically ill-equipped for In a year with 13 Moons. I was too young for its impact, just as I had been too young for New Romanticism in ’84.

Fassbinder’s film recounts Elvira, formerly Erwin, Weishaupt’s (played by Volker Spengler) final days leading up to her suicide. Elvira had “the op” (top and bottom) to placate an abusive boyfriend, Anton, who felt offended by Erwin’s effeminacy. Anton might really love Erwin if he, Erwin, were actually female/es ginge höchstens, wenn du eine Tussi wärst. Presented with post-op Elvira, Anton leaves her regardless. Homophobia, denial, transphobia and misogyny were rife in Frankfurt am Main in ’78, whereas I have the feeling that my left-leaning social media today are rifer, rifest, with diverse forms of misogyny. Over the course of 13 Moons, Elvira revisits scenes from the past that were instrumental in her disintegration. The abattoir is Elvira’s former workplace and first site of trauma (closeted Erwin once was a butcher’s apprentice, and fiancé of the butcher’s daughter). An abattoir is a meat processing plant, and as such, at the heart of faggottery. Fagottery is what landed me here in the first place, of course. Elvira! I call, stepping out from behind a carcass hung from a butcher’s hook. Rainer Werner did some of the work, I’m taking over where Rainer Werner left off. Elvira, hello! I’m wearing not one, not two, but three of my Fray Bentos necklaces for extra good luck. I’m wearing tracksuit bottoms from Tesco, a Comme des Garçons T-shirt, and Nike Air hi-tops in Frankfurt a. M., ’78. Hi Isabelo, Elvira whispers. Elvira is so depressed in her meat processing environment. She is wearing a floppy felt hat, a veil of black lace, red lipstick and black stilettos. Let’s go, Elvira, I say, let’s get out of here. This West German abattoir is so unwelcoming. Elvira agrees.

As part of her urge to retrace the events that were instrumental in her disintegration (and in close adherence to Fassbinder’s script), Elvira insists we visit the convent and orphanage she used to inhabit as a boy. Monks, nuns, and social workers were always abusing orphan Erwin within an inch of his life. Elvira intends to confront her ghosts, look them straight in the eye. I agree on the condition that we confront my own, similar, ghosts, too. Mine first, Elvira demands. She drives a powerful bargain. Elvira and I are bickering outside the convent when oh-hello! Who are you? What brings you here? At this juncture (debating outside the convent), Elvira and I are joined by Jillian Holtzmann, (one of) the lesbian protagonist(s) from the supernatural comedy film Ghostbusters (US, 2016). Holtzmann is in love with Elvira and my ghostbusting sensibilities and strong girlboyish looks. She implores us to let her fight our respective ghosts with us, we say yes ok. Holtzmann does not think that looking them straight in the eye is the best way to bust ghosts. You’re the expert, I say. Elvira and Isabelo, Holtzmann continues, let’s beat the shit out of our respective ghosts (since I, too, have visitations). You, Jillian? You, too? Jesus, it’s a queer epidemic! Above and beyond the psychological haunting, Holtzmann suggests we must prosecute our historical perpetrators In Real Life. Ok, let’s involve the law and the police, can we trust them. God no. Not yet. In the socialist-feminist future we might. Then what, Holtzmann? What now? Let’s DIO (Do It Ourselves). OK, pow! Take that, Elvira’s ghosts. Pow pow, and that, Isabelo’s ghosts. Watch out, Jillian’s ghosts! We are busting you In Real Life.

Watching the VHS alone in a council flat kitchen in Primrose Hill, I was psychologically ill-equipped for Fassbinder’s In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden. I was too young to process its impact in 2004, just as I had been too young for New Romanticism in ’84. I was 10 in ’84. I was not vending Fray Bentos jewellery at the Great Gear Market, Hyper Hyper, nor anywhere near the King’s Road or World’s End. I was in Frankfurt am Main in ’84. I did not speak English. My foray into fashion design did not occur until ’98, when I was forever sewing the Ghostbusters logo onto second-hand sweatshirts. i-D Magazine was peddling an aesthetic at the time that might be considered a commodification of the New Romantic DIY ethos. But I did not upscale my production into a meaningful industry in ’98. Not until now have I started manufacturing jewellery incorporating Fray Bentos tins at the heart. Picture still lifes of opals, crown caps, cotton wool, alu foil, imitation rabbit fur, and a border of pearls, all mounted onto Fray Bentos bases. Elvira, take one of my necklaces. Go on. Jillian, you take one, too. Manufacturing jewellery is a laborious task, but well worth the effort: Elvira Weishaupt, Jillian Holtzmann and I, Isabelo, are wearing our Fray Bentos necklaces as tokens of faggottery, fortifying our tenderhearts and ghostbusting stamina.

About the Author:

Isabel Waidner (b. 1974) writes fiction. She published two novels Frantisek Flounders (8fold, 2011), and Bubka (8fold, 2010). Recently, Waidner contributed to the Dictionary of Lost Languages (2015) alongside Sarah Wood, Ali Smith, and Olivia Laing. “Fantômas Takes Sutton” (2016) is published at 3:AM Magazine, and “Avant-Ice” (2016) at Minor Literature[s].

An EU citizen, Waidner has lived in London since 1996.