Punk pioneer, transexual trailblazer and Stonewall Riots veteran, Jayne County is a national treasure. However, the most recent coverage of County has not been on her legacy to punk rock or transgender history, but rather a petty bit of Internet activism. It appears the groundbreaking transexual foremother was banned from Facebook for 24 hours, presumably for her affectionate use of the word “tranny”—the exact phrase being, “I am having a party tonight and all my breeder, fag, dyke, tranny and shemale friends are invited!”
To call Jayne County an “icon” insinuates that she’s a paragon of her field, and that doesn’t quite do her justice—she just has too many fields. She came from Georgia to NYC in 1968, a draggy outsider hoping to find a more vibrant (and safer) community in the New York arts scene. New York was no picnic though, and Jayne quickly found herself fighting for gay rights in the Stonewall Riots. Before she was Jayne, she picked “Wayne County” as her nom d’arts alter-ego—a reference to her love for Detroit music. As Wayne she acted for Jackie Curtis, then onstage for Andy Warhol. By 1972 she had started an early protopunk band, Queen Elizabeth.
County’s hand in punk wasn’t just relegated to her androgynous persona and raunchy stage antics—the 1974 stage show, “Wayne at the Trucks” was an early rock theatre experiment, very reminiscent of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour. In 1974, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys were regulars at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, and County appeared in the 1976 punk film, The Blank Generation. By ‘77, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs had developed a following in Europe, and Wayne began her transition to Jayne, making her the first trans rock star. She’s never stopped moving, and even now sells her art as she cares for her ailing mother in Georgia. I highly suggest you check out both her music and her autobiography—Man Enough To Be A Woman. She’s a lovely, fascinating person with an unbelievable story, and we at Dangerous Minds couldn’t be more pleased to get an exclusive interview with her.
Dangerous MInds: First of all, how did you make your way from Dallas, Georgia all the way to New York City?
Jayne County: From Atlanta to NYC was a trip indeed! I first heard about Sheraton Square and The Stonewall from a group of gay hippies that I was hangin’ out with on 14th Street in Atlanta. 14th Street at that time in 1967 was the hub of everything that was cool and different in the repressive state of Georgia! It was wild and all types were welcome! Straight, gay, men, women and anything “in between”!
There was a big crackdown on anyone and anything the least bit different and unfortunately for me and my friend, drag queen Davina Daisy, that included being shot at by a truck full of chicken-carrying rednecks from Alabama! Rednecks would bring in the chickens they had raised on the back of their trucks to be sold at the local farmers market. Davina and I were prancing down 14th Street dressed in all our 60’s finery, and that included something that in those days was called “semi drag”! We would go, “Ooooooooo Miss Woman !!! Lookatchew! In SEMEYE DRAG, lookin guuuud!!!” Semi drag was a term that just meant that you were not in full drag, which was usually reserved for Halloween or very special occasions! Full drag was good for Halloween because Miss Alice Bluegown, (the police) couldn’t legally arrest you for female impersonation.
In Atlanta there was a law that if a male’s hair touched the tip of his ears, he could be arrested and thrown in jail for impersonating a woman! The Southern Baptist Church, which controlled just about everything in those days, wanted to make sure that their young, straight Christian men didn’t mistake one of these demon possessed sodomites for a woman and commit a horrible, unforgivable sin!
By law you were required to wear a couple of articles of men’s clothing so people wouldn’t mistake you for a “real woman”! That’s the way it was! Your clothing was policed, and you could be put in jail for wearing the wrong attire! Back in those days, no one used the term “trans.” I didn’t even know what a transexual or transvestite was!
If the police caught you, sometimes they would drag you down to the police station and hold you down and shave your head. More than likely you would be severely beat up or raped or both! The cops would sit back and do nothing or laugh of even take part in the “festivities”! Such was life for trans people!
That day Davina and I were shot at, you could actually hear the bullets zinging past our ears! It was a truck full of rednecks! You could hear the chickens in the back of the truck just a cluckin away! I turned to Davina and told her that I was getting the hell out of there! I bought a one-way ticket to NYC and that was that!
DM: How did you get into theatre? You got involved with Warhol through Jackie Curtis, correct?
JC: Yes, I got in to theatre because of the fab Andy Warhol drag queen, Jackie Curtis. I say drag queen to avoid confusion because Jackie didn’t call herself a drag queen! She just called herself Jackie! She stated in an article that she wasn’t a man and she wasn’t a woman. She said, “I’m just ME! Jackie!” At the time this seemed quite revolutionary! She wrote a play, called Femme Fatale, while stirring speed into her coffee every day upon waking up! It was performed at La MaMa [Experimental Theatre] as a sort of a tribute to the song by The Velvet Underground. I played a lesbian prison inmate named Georgia Harrison. In the play I swatted flies with a fly swatter then ate them! Like that nutty guy in Dracula! Don’t ask me why—it was art! Patti Smith was also in the play sporting a three-foot long cock ! A phallus like they used in ancient Greek theatre! She played with her over-sized Oscar Meyer, rubbing it and thumping it against the furniture shouting out lines like, “Hey, imma gonna fuckka you witha my hot pepper,” and “benda over Rover! And letta my big pizza taka over!” At one point she started waving it in my face and I started beating it with my fly swatter! It was ridiculous! The entire play was ultra offensive!!!
Above, from Rosa Von Praunheim’s City of Lost Souls
DM: You were a part of the Stonewall Riots as well—can you tell me a little bit about that?
JC: The Stonewall Riots were a turning point for gay people’s rights. People, especially the obvious femme queens and drag queens, were totally fed up with the treatment we were receiving! The queens stood out like sore thumbs, so naturally it was the queens that got all the shit on the streets! You had to know how to run fast! And some carried weapons like those fab metal tipped teasing combs! The ends could be sharpened and become very adequate weapons! Of course hair spray in the eyes was another good one. Some of the girls hid knives in their highly teased up wigs! It got really bad when the cops started doing “sex searches”! Taking the drag queens into the women’s rooms and forcing them to show their genitals to the officers. Some of the pigs were laughing at the queens who were in tears and begging to be left alone.
Well people simply snapped! We started throwing bricks, setting fire to trashcans or anything else that would burn . Turning back buses, chanting “Gay power! Gay power!” Marching up and down Christopher St. with our fists in the air! Causing mayhem anyway we could think of. It lasted three days and things were never the same again! We had had enough!!! It was time to fight back!
DM: At what point did Wayne become Jayne, and what was that transformation like for you, personally and also artistically?
JC: I remember being so thrilled when my breasts began growing ! My roommate at the time was the legendary underground rock-n-roll photographer, Leee Black Childers, who just recently passed away, bless his heart! Leee was a close friend for many many years and knew me better than anyone else on planet Earth, including members of my own family who don’t really know the real me at all ! Leee was and will always be a big piece of my life ! It was funny to watch Leee’s reaction to my breasts becoming large! He couldn’t even look at them! He would quickly cover his eyes when I would trick him in to seeing them! I had been Leee’s friend Wayne for years. We would go bar hopping together and go see all the bands at the Fillmore East! Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Iron Butterfly, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Led Zeppelin, oh I could go on and on!!! We were both big rock fans! And Leee was used to being pals with Wayne . And he had to watch Wayne disappear right before his eyes and Jayne take his place! As I think back it must have really been hard for him! I’m sorry Leee, my dear dear ole friend, but I had to do it!
In Atlanta I saw The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, The Shangri Las, The Ronettes, The Shirelles, Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, The Turtles, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Sonny and Cher, The Supremes, Tom Jones, Otis Redding, Peter and Gordon, etc., etc., etc. I saw all the greats! And when glam came in, I was right there! I started experimenting with both sexuality and gender during the so-called “glam movement” which Leee and I played a big part in. We both worked for David Bowie’s Mainman Records and I was one of their signed artists alongside of Bowie, Iggy And The Stooges and Lou Reed. I had been dressing as a woman on and off my entire life—since age three or four. I can actually remember doing it at age five and six! But during the glam period I began taking it more seriously. And in 1974, I began taking female hormones A few years later I read a book that Leee brought home called Canary Conn. It was the story of a M to F trans woman—true story and it had a huge influence on me. But I didn’t change my name officially from Wayne to Jayne until 1979. It was a gig at CBGB! There were these big pink posters up all over NYC with a really good and very femme photo style drawing of me saying WAYNE COUNTY ! But the “W” was Xed out and a “J” was put in over it! It looked fantastic and it was my first gig as Jayne County!
”(If You Don’t Wanna Fuck Me, Baby) Fuck Off!!”
DM:You were a pioneer on the punk scene since before punk was punk—how did you transition artistically to music?
JC: Oh I have always been heavily in to music so there wasn’t really much of a transition from theatre to music! In fact I mixed my music and theatre together ! My big stage show and musical, “Wayne at the Trucks,” was a forerunner of Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour and was produced by Bowie’s MainMan Records! When punk happened, it was a reaction to the over excesses of both glam and progressive rock, but at least Bowie’s music contained a lot of great rock and roll and some really amazing androgynous images. Punk rock had to happen in order to sweep the slate clean and make two and three chord music featuring guitars, bass and drums once again the focus point of some of the best rock and roll music ever created!
DM: Your success in Europe was much more distinct than in the US, where you’re considered more of an “artist’s artist.” What do you think the difference is between US and European audiences?
JC: European audiences seem more ready to accept what the artist is trying to do on stage and will usually cheer the bands on, even when the bands sometimes appear to be struggling just to keep themselves from falling apart right there in front of your eyes, as in the cases of The Cramps and Johnny Thunders. American audiences are too quick to judge and shout, “Get off!” at you! In America the audience want you to go overboard to prove to them that you are valid! In Europe it’s just, “Shit, we are so glad that you’re here!”
DM: Recently, some sanctimonious (self-appointed) social media police reported you on Facebook for hate speech—what the hell happened?
JC:I’m laughing my big egotistical head off right now. Oh no, I said “head!” Someone may be offended by that mean ole powerful word and report us to the trans authorities! Anyone could you know? That’s how easy it is now for some uptight “new” version of an old, fuddy duddy, party poopin’ Baptist church lady, to report you!
And I must say that since the crap hit the fan about the transfascists trying to burn books by banning one word at a time, my following has skyrocketed! I seem to have hit a nerve! And that nerve is that thousands of people disagree with them! They are actually trying to silence people that disagree with them as well by trying to pressure papers and magazines like The Huffington Post not to print articles by people that have a different opinion from them! Now that is pure evil! Self appointed, condescending little academic snobs that think they have some divine right to lord over the rest of us by telling us what words we can and cannot use. In other words, they want to let the homo and transphobic bigots take our words from us and use them against them! You can ‘t do that! It won’t work ! You can ‘t erase words like “tranny,” “shemale” and “gender bender,” just because a bunch of psychos try to use the words against us!
Some African Americans now use the “N word” within their own community. They have taken the word away from the racists and made the word their own and by doing so that word cannot harm them! It’s the intent behind the word, not the word itself that is harmful. Trans activists have it completely wrong! And some people are standing up to their bully tactics of forcing their narrow-minded views on the rest of us! No means no, and I will not be intimidated or silenced by any self-appointed guardians of a delusional morality! It’s in your head honey, not mine!
The word tranny belongs to me! You will not take it away from me, because some transphobic bigots are trying to use the word to hurt me! The word does not harm me because I do not allow it to do so! The intent behind the user of the word is what should concern us, not the word itself!
DM: Queer politics have changed so much in the past 40 years—I remember John Waters saying something about missing the days when being gay meant you didn’t have to have petty bourgeois values. Do you think there’s some kind of emerging conservative queer culture?
JC: “Emerging Conservative Queer Culture”! Yes! You hit the nail right on the head! And it’s becoming as ridiculous and oppressive as its straight relative! GLAAD really piss me off as well! And The Advocate! When I got banned on Facebook, I was also banned from making comments on The Advocate’s website! They must be related and set up to correspond with each other’s comments sections. But it still pissed me off, so I removed my Advocate app from my phone! Their views usually come from a very middle class standard anyway. GLAAD are the same. They are the ‘”mainstream” of gay culture and I very often find myself on the opposite side of something that they have said or done! They are way too straight for me! Like gay RepubliKKKans! Oh Isis, I can’t take those people! To me they are all Uncle Toms! Sitting there on the floor to the side of Massa straight culture’s table, waiting for the crumbs to trickle off so they can lap up the leftovers! Seeking to be “normal” and to blend in to a cruel, selfish culture that really wishes deep inside that they would just go away! NOPE ! I reject this insane, inane, compulsion of straight and narrow-minded gay people to “fit in!” To fit in to what? To a culture that is, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is already dead? Fit in to a dying political system that is making its last gasp for power? Oh please! I don’t want to fit in to that crap! And there are a lot more people that feel the same way as me!
DM: You’ve also had some wonderful people come out in your defense—I hope you know your fans stand by you!
JC: Oh I have been so touched with how many people have come to my defense! Not from just this latest touch of madness either but from some other occurrences in my life as well! Like when some of my kitty babies died from a horrible disease that one of my cats brought back from the woods! It was a nightmare and I was in so much pain! It still just cuts through me like a knife going through my heart I guess I have been a pretty tough cookie most of my life, but I got a real soft spot running through me underneath this hard shell! I love animals and I have saved and taken care of a number of homeless kitties. I am a total cat freak! I deeply love and respect these creatures, and any harm that comes to them affects me in some really bad ways!
I am living down south in Georgia now. I came back to help my not so well parents. My dad finally passed on, now I’m helping take care of my sick mom. She is in pretty bad shape. She can’t even use the bathroom anymore! It is heartbreaking. My poor parents went through so much when one of my brothers was murdered and my sister committed suicide . They were shell-shocked. But I had to come “home” and help out as much as I could! I am not a spring chicken myself anymore, and I have a lot of lower back problems. I have days when it’s difficult to even get out of bed, but somehow I keep going on! I don’t know how. My mom and my kitty babies keep me going I guess, and the support I receive, just on Facebook alone, is overwhelming! I got some amazing friends on Facebook! I am not a religious person but I do feel blessed !
DM: You’re a totally self-made artist—any words of wisdom for folks out there trying work against the grain?
JC: Well, my advice to all would-be artists, especially the ones who will be going against the grain, would be to run! run to the nearest exit, kick open the door, and keep on running till you can’t run anymore and you collapse on the ground, spinning and turning flips and landing on rocks and pieces of glass and thrown away cans of Dr. Pepper! Then lay there for a few minutes slowly getting your breath back! Take deep breaths and gaze up at the beautiful, blue sky! Study the clouds as they roll by! Maybe even go in to a few bars of the song, “Look for the Silver Lining”!
If it’s raining, enjoy the rain! Lay there and get drenched! Then when you get your strength back, get the hell back up! Go home and change those wet clothes! Pretty yourself up and get ready for the next round! That ‘s about what to expect, really! I mean, that is what you will feel like when all those haters out there knock you down! Out of breath, wet, tired, but you gotta get back up! You gotta keep going! Like that Elvis Presley song ! You gotta follow that dream wherever that dream takes you! Just keep trying to be as strong as you possibly can! People are going to try to knock you down left and right! Go with the punches! Bounce back up ! Get up and fight back!
And try to always have some close friends around you for support. That ‘s very important! See you in the ring honey!
Below, teaser from Nick Abrahams’ Man Enough to be a Woman: