Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade

Interview by
Adam Baran
Photography by
Wu Tsang


Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade are a happily married couple and two-thirds of the popular performance-art theater collective My Barbarian, which they co-founded with Jade Gordon in 2001. Since then, the trio have performed and exhibited videos at art institutions around the world. Their work usually features humorous commentary on both history and current events. Last year at the Participant Gallery in New York, they premiered 'The Night Episode', a set of videos and performances based on the old Rod Serling 1970s horror series Night Gallery, featuring characters in modern-day L.A. dealing with the difficulties of the economic crash in often hilarious fashion. My favorite video featured a tale about a guy who was debating spending his last eight dollars to sign up for Manhunt again, which ended up leading him to his doom. Malik and Alex live in L.A.'s Echo Park in a typically Californian house, where they enjoy smoking pot, watching BBC, and playing with their cat Joaquin. I stopped by their house one afternoon in March, a few days before they were about leave for Madrid to participate in a theater festival.

Adam: So your pre-Prop 8 marriage is still legal right?
Malik: We’re one of the few legally married, yes. Our parents were kinda into it so we did it. But a lot of the kids are against it in many ways.
Do you feel judged in any way by gays who are anti-gay marriage?
Alex: Not really, cause we’re not like the worst-case scenario of gay marriage, ya know. I mean if we had all these adopted kids and houses everywhere and SUVS and stuff I think people would be madder, but we’re barely making it… We’ve been together a long time, so after a while its like everyone we know has already been married and divorced and you know had kids that are dead, whatever, like for two months or something they let us do it, so we decided we might as well. But it is a little embarrassing though.
Malik: We don’t really admit it that much.
You’re closeted about your marriage?
Malik: I mean it hasn’t really had any impact on anything so…
Alex: I mean there’s never any ‘my husband’ talk.
Your work generally has a current events thing going on through a lot of it, right?
Malik: Yeah we’re always responding to something specific when we make something. I guess it’s an interest in politics to a certain degree, but it’s also an interest in a way people talk about things and how they get so crazy so quickly.
Alex: I think that one thing performance can do is you can react to exactly what’s happening that day and the audience knows what you’re talking about for that day and they may not know a week from now. It’s interesting to see, because with videos it changes more.
Can you tell me a little bit about your creative process? When you have to do a performance, how does it begin? The three of you get together or…
Malik: The three of us take the situation that’s generating the piece and collapse it into our interests of the moment, what’s available in our studio, and the current events landscape. We try to answer a set of questions together. Then we go to work.
And how does it work with the third member of your group, Jade. Do you cancel out her hetero impulses?
Malik: It’s hard to say what exactly happens. Well she gets called queer performance, queer art all the time. She’s fine with that though. On the other hand we don’t really have a sexual thing going on between us and her, so that dynamic never plays out that much. So if we have to do something sexual with her it’s always kind of comedy.
Alex: It’s horrifying sometimes because there’s this sort of sibling/neighbor/co-worker relationship with her. So, like, one thing we did I did have to touch her breast on stage and we both would like freak out whenever that would happen. But it’s great; we get to be in feminist shows.
Malik: It’s nice to decenter the identity a little bit.
Alex: We get to be doubly marginal.
How long have you two been together exactly?
Malik: A long time… we met in the first year of college, in the dorms, in the first month of college.
Alex: In like ’91. It’s been like more than half my life. It feels like it anyway. 19 years… I was 17 when I started college.
You were super smart?
Malik: My birthday was in the right time.
Alex: He is really smart. I’ve been held back a few years. Yeah I guess we’ve been together… yeah it’s been a really, really long time. We were totally kids when we got together. We didn’t get together officially when we first met. We were on and off for a few years.
Can I ask you the standard BUTT questions about your relationship?
Both: Sure!
Is one of you more top or bottom?
Alex: I like both.
Malik: Me too.
Are you guys totally monogamous or are you open?
Alex: We don’t fool around a lot, but we are not totally monogamous, but we are mostly monogamous.
Malik: Particularly in LA it makes it really complicated in you’re not monogamous in your hometown. But we do travel.
Alex: We try to have fun together. We don’t fool around without each other that often.
Malik: And there is a bit of a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to that. It hasn’t come up as much lately, let’s put it that way. It’s funny; definitely things change as the relationship goes on. I mean, I think its good to have that kind of a soap opera in a relationship at some point. And ours could have been so stable so quickly that we would have, I don’t know, gained a lot of weight. I think it was necessary to keep some drama going there but now we kinda busy, and working and thirties-acting so it’s a little different, ya know.
Alex: But we have three weeks in Madrid coming up.
Malik: Yeah I’m kinda excited about that.
Nice! So what’s the last fight you guys had?
Malik: I can’t remember.
Alex: It’s hard because sometimes we’re fighting in the studio about My Barbarian issues and sometimes we’re having a fight and often they get blended somehow. We don’t have huge fights that much anymore.
Malik: I feel like they’re the same fights over and over again to the point that you don’t even notice them anymore.
Alex: Behavior patterns…
Malik: Yeah, like, ‘You don’t notice this, you don’t notice that. You don’t let me do that thing.’
Alex: And then the other person either feels like escalating or not.
I’m just always interested in how couples deal with fights. I don’t think a lot of people know how to get through fights even in normal relationships. And how to process and say a fight is ok and it just moves you to another place and understanding.
Alex: I wonder about that a lot having been together so long and having seen people go through the whole course of a relationship. Sometimes I do think people give up really fast or take it as an excuse to stop dealing with the other person.
Malik: We have different psychologies from our families about fighting and different personalities about fighting but you have to have some kind of compatibility in a way. Alex is a little more outbursty and I’m a little more passive aggressive and you have to be able to absorb that a little bit.
Alex: Yeah it’s true there’s kind of a give and take on this one. It’s usually a fight that’s already been had so you kinda just go through the motions and sometimes we recognize it really quickly. Like right before you came over actually there was a moment where Malik was like, ‘Should I wear this sweater or this sweater?’ And I’m like well what about if I have a question about sweaters? There’s no one to help me because I have to help him.
So you were upset because your headspace was not free to pick your own outfit?
Alex: And that I don’t have somebody to help me pick out a sweater for example, because I’m thinking about his sweater, or whatever. But that goes really fast.
Yeah because that’s the gayest fight I’ve ever heard anyone describe.
Malik: That’s also how I ended up with my worst sweater on…
Alex: It was worse when we used to have threesome relationships.
How so?
Alex: There are some people that are serial three-way artists.
What do you mean?
Alex: For instance, a friend of mine is a serial, habitual third party. He is someone who has flirted with Malik and me a lot, but we’ve never gone there with him, for a variety of reasons. He’s cute. But knowing we’d be another conquest — one he would talk about and possibly even critique — makes me wary.
Do you find that there are different paradigms for three-ways?
Alex: Yeah. There are a variety of models for three ways. One would be: two bachelors with their orphan ward. That’s like when Green Lantern and Green Arrow had that kid, Speedy, living with them. That can be cute, but it can also feel like you have to appease his majesty the baby. And then the two bachelors become mom and dad and it gets old fast. The last thing I want is to feel like Mr. Mom, though I love Teri Garr. Then there’s the one where some kinky uncle invites his two nephews over to play in the den…
Clearly you have an example you’re dying to share.
Alex: There was a funny situation we got ourselves into once where we hung out with one guy, older than us, who had a nice house and a jacuzzi. I wasn’t clear about what he and Malik had talked about before we went over there one night, but we showed up and he gave us margaritas and candy — I mean like M&Ms, not drugs, maybe he thought we were real young — and we went in the hot tub. I brought my nice trunks, but when I looked over, this guy was naked and I realized what this was all about. We had not been talking about sex at all so it was funny to see him there naked — and after all that candy he gave us… His boyfriend, who had been out of town at that time, found out about it and then he started campaigning for his turn with us, and that happened recently, after we ran into him at an intellectual lesbian cocktail party. His partner was out of town, just as he had been when we got seduced with the Reese’s peanut butter cups and the Patron. The second guy was a bit passive and dewy-eyed about it all… One thing that was really remarkable was that those two guys don’t like to have threesomes together — because they both get jealous. And they both were fascinated by the fact that Malik and I really just like having sex with each other. Sometimes with an audience.
What was the best three-way relationship you guys were in so far?
Malik: I’d say our first, which was long-distance and developed into a close friendship that we all still share. Love you Danny! Only one other time did we get into such a close, ongoing three-person situation. That guy was very cute and fun and is still a friend (a music person probably known to many BUTT readers).  He was a bit of a troublemaker then, and Alex and I ended up getting into fights with each other during that time. That was about ten years into our relationship. Ten years ago. After us, that guy turned to sobriety. We had another good friend we used to fool around with occasionally over the years, he was a power bottom, but he turned straight.
Alex: The best three-way action, but least easy to maintain, is where friends just fall into bed together. Like, you’re playing Scrabble one minute and the next you each have a dick to play with.

Alex’s video ‘Gay Acting Class’ screens as part of the Migrating Forms this Saturday, May 22nd.

Published on 18 May 2010