As a proud hag in a black leather jacket, I felt it was necessary to add our filthy perspective to the series 40 Years of Punk events happening around New York this month from Richard Hell readings to conferences to Fales Library & Special Collections’ video exhibition GoNightclubbing Video Lounge. Commemorating the moment when a nasty Bowery biker bar transformed into a center of poetic and aural transgression, we, here at Filthy Dreams, thought it would only be appropriate to feature our own gushing ode to our favorite trans punk: Jayne County.
Although there is certainly something queer about punk, which is a topic for another essay, Jayne County is undoubtedly the queerest punk from her songs like “Man Enough To Be A Woman,” “Bad In Bed” and “Fuck Off” to her striking presence with platinum blond hair and hilariously terrifying onstage antics to her brave public transition from Wayne County to Jayne County in the mostly straight male-dominated world of punk.
As County observes, “I was the first completely full-blown, in-your-face queen to stand up on a rock n’ roll stage and say ‘I am what I am, I don’t give a damn.’”
While most know County as a punk singer, howling her way in heels on the stage of CBGB, County’s New York beginnings are as historically significant for followers of queer culture, including her participation in the Stonewall Riots. Born Wayne Rogers in Dallas, Georgia, County moved to New York at 21 where she immediately fell into the circle of Superstar drag queens surrounding Andy Warhol such as Holly Woodlawn and Jackie Curtis. Appearing for the first time onstage in Jackie Curtis’s play Femme Fatale with fellow future punk Patti Smith, County went on to perform in Warhol’s own play Pork.
After being signed in the band Queen Elizabeth to David Bowie’s management film with no records produced, County formed the band Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys in 1974. Regulars at Warhol favorite Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys are featured in no wave filmmakers Amos Poe and Ivan Krai’s film The Blank Generation with a screeching cover of the song “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl,” defining the burgeoning punk aesthetic.
Moving to punk-obsessed London in 1977, County started Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, recording some of her most notable, raucous and role model-worthy material. I always felt that punk should be dirty and depraved and boy, are Wayne County & The Electric Chairs dirty!
Perhaps my favorite Wayne County & The Electric Chairs song is “Toilet Love.” With lines like “I love it when you make it with a bathroom plunger,” you can almost get a whiff of that stagnant, desperate bathroom air. Who says romance is dead!
With enormous, colorful wigs and occasional onstage props like dildos and toilets, County celebrated the most shocking sides of queer culture, making her trans identity a central theme to her performances and songs. Songs like “Man Enough To Be A Woman” continue to sound, even to this day, like a necessary, validating subversive queer anthem.
As County explains in an interview with Seconds Magazine, “I was more or less taking a piss. Laughing at sex, because sex upsets people so much, and I found that so laughable. I used to try to upset people. I like to upset people. I used to really love to shock people. I’ll go out of my way to shock people. A lot of the time, I got into really bad trouble.”
An iconic punk figure, director and fellow filth elder Derek Jarman cast County in his cinematic punk opus Jubilee with County memorably performing “Paranoia Paradise” in a wonderfully wretched pink dress.
By 1980, County changed her name to Jayne County and began identifying as a woman. After the breakup of Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, County continued (and continues) to perform, record albums and appear in films such as Wigstock: The Movie. She also wrote her autobiography Man Enough To Be A Woman.
Hilarious and slightly frightening, an important combination here at Filthy Dreams, we are certainly not the only ones influenced by County’s punk attitude. From Boy George to John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig to Sharon Needles, who recorded a song with County entitled “Hail Satan” on her album PG-13, County has inspired countless gender-bending, genderqueer and trans performers.
So, run to your nearest dive bar–you know, the one with the bathroom that will never be clean–and celebrate punk, queer sleaze with Jayne County: