To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
Jayne County – Musician & Performer
by Rupert Smith
Wayne County was one of the key figures of the ’70s glam and punk rock scenes in New York City and London. Dragged up to the nines, brandishing dildos and toilet brushes, she sang songs that were both comic (‘If You Don’t Want to Fuck Me, Fuck Off’) and in-your-face honest (‘Man Enough to be a Woman’). At a time when rock musicians were either painfully, homophobically straight or ambiguously bisexual, Wayne County was openly, even aggressively, queer. As part of the Warhol/Max’s Kansas City circle, she took part in the Stonewall Riots. She formed a band in 1972 and became the freakiest of them all, too much even for David Bowie, who signed her to his management company MainMan then kept her career on ice. She broke out and became a fixture on the NYC rock scene, playing at Max’s and CBGB alongside the New York Dolls, Blondie, Television and Patti Smith. When punk erupted, she was ready. She crossed the Atlantic to play at London’s Roxy Club, got a record deal and released a string of singles and albums that perfectly captured her brand of foul-mouthed comedy and queer anger.
And all through this time, touring around Europe and America, Wayne was metamorphosing into Jayne, speaking to the press about being transsexual (yes, that was the word that was used at the time) and changing her appearance from an outrageous drag queen to a svelte, sexy woman. It was too much for the punks, who, once you scratched the surface, were a pretty straight bunch. Jayne’s career dipped, and she disappeared to Berlin to perform in plays and explore the ‘trannie underworld’. Since then she’s carried on recording and performing, and now lives quietly in her native Georgia, whither she returned to look after her ageing parents. She still breaks out once in a while – there’s a new single just out, and her autobiography Man Enough to be a Woman (which I helped her write) is about to appear as an e-book.
I’ve always felt that Jayne County hasn’t been given the credit that’s due to her. She’s regularly airbrushed out of histories of glam and punk. She’s even ignored as a transgender pioneer: last year, when Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! came out as trans, Jayne was barely mentioned in the ensuing coverage. She gets the respect of her peers – she’s just recorded a track with Sharon Needles, for instance – but the rock world and even the LGBT world seems all too willing to forget. But this is the woman who, in the bitterly homophobic ’70s, stood in front of straight audiences looking like Dolly Parton’s trashier daughter, singing songs about sex and difference, making people laugh and think and sometimes fight. She got into a lot of trouble. But woe betide the heckler who took it too far: Jayne was very handy with her fists/mic stand/beer crate.
I got to know Jayne in the ’80s, when she was living and working in London, and after many nights in clubs, listening to her wonderful stories of the Deep South, the Warhol ’60s and the glam/punk ’70s, I persuaded her to get it all down on paper. She’s one of the most honest people I ever interviewed, and certainly one of the cleverest and funniest. And boy, can she rock.