JAYNE COUNTY

Interview by Rupert Smith

Jayne County is conservative America’s worst nightmare: if the religious right were casting for a 21st-century Whore of Babylon, she would get ticks in just about every box. Born as Wayne Rogers in Georgia in 1947, she took part in the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 and then went on to London as the star of Andy Warhol’s Pork. Her punk band, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, was part of the nascent New York punk scene alongside Blondie, New York Dolls, Ramones, and Talking Heads. Wayne moved to Berlin in 1978 and started taking serious steps towards gender reassignment. She changed her name from Wayne to Jayne. She kept performing and moved to London to write her autobiography, Man Enough to Be a Woman, in between stints of working at a whorehouse. Jayne moved back to New York in the late ’90s, but for the past two years she’s been living in rural Georgia, in the heart of the Baptist South, one of the whitest, straightest, and most conservative places in the US. So, what’s a nice girl like Jayne doing in a redneck place like this?

Rupert: What made you leave New York City?
Jayne: My parents were getting old and sick, and I needed to be here for them. My sister committed suicide a few years ago, and my brother was murdered, my father had cancer; how could I not go? It was my duty. I always said that when it was time to go, I’d be there.
Was it hard to leave New York?
Yes and no. The city was getting pretty horrible, and a lot of my friends had left. Mayor Giuliani really cleaned the place up — I mean, it was safe to walk around, you didn’t get mugged any more, which was nice — but it also got really dull. He didn’t know where to draw the line.
Were you still there during 9/11?
Yes, I was living on the Lower East Side, and for days afterwards there was thishorrible smell — a mixture of burning metal and decaying flesh. And you know, for all that I’m identified with the New York scene, it was driving me crazy. I was drinking too much and taking too many drugs. It was definitely time for me to leave.
Where are you living now?
With my parents, out in the sticks, about 26 miles from Altanta. They built the house on a huge old cow pasture — it’s about ten acres, with two ponds and hundreds of trees. The driveway is so long it takes me ten minutes to walk from the house to get the papers. I’m planting cabbages, tomatoes and spring onions. I feed the birds and the cats, and there’s a little possum who comes to visit. She sits right up by the house. She’s a beautiful silver gray with big old panda eyes.
How do you get on with your parents?
Pretty good. I have my own separate apartment attached to the house, so when I’m about to have a nervous breakdown I can go in there and open a bottle of wine. I
a few ‘mother’s little helpers’ — either I get a little high, or I run into McDonald’s with a machine gun. I think it’s better this way.
How much do they know about you?
They know a little. I’ve talked about my gender and my sexuality with my mother a bit; I’ve never raised it with my father. They don’t want to confront it, and I have no intention of rubbing their noses in it. I’m not going to start jumping up and down going, ‘Look at me! I’m transgender! I wear short skirts! I have tits!’ I can do that on stage, but I’d never do it in front of my family. I think it’s called having respect for your parents. Much as I despise the Christian right, I was raised in the church and I was taught to respect my elders. I still believe in that.
Do you fight with your parents?
Yeah, sometimes, of course.
About what?
My mother complains a lot, but that’s because she’s sick, and she can’t do anything for herself any more. I have to dress her, and feed her, wash her clothes, the whole thing. My father is 87, he’s had cancer, he only has one kidney, he’s blind and he’s on a breathing machine. His friends took him out gambling and drinking the other day — he was out there feeling his way from one machine to the next! Well, he’s an old country boy, he was a sergeant inthe army, he’s not going to change now, is he? We never have fights about my way of life; it’s just little, niggling things like a missed phone call. He’ll try and wind me up. In the end I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got two kids dead, and if you treat me bad you’ll lose another one, and I swear you will never see me again.’ He shut up after that. He likes you to stand up to him. It’s in our blood. His sister, my Aunt Evelyn, killed her husband with a shotgun when she caught him fooling around with another woman. That’s how we sort things out down here. Sometimes I just have to remind my father that I’m part of the same
family too, I have that blood flowing in my veins, and I don’t take any shit!
What about the neighbours?
As far as the family and friends of the family are concerned, I’m Wayne, the son. They choose not to see my gender. My doctor says, ‘You’re the elephant in the room. Unless you bring it up, nobody else will!’ I’m not going to start waving my trunk.
And what about the people in town?
As for the people in the area, they go back and forth between calling me ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’. I dress very plain. My hair is really long now, almost to my waist, and I usually wear it in a ponytail. I wear a hat, a T-shirt, army trousers and women’s sneakers. My bra flattens me out a bit, but my tits are still huge. Most of the time, it’s ‘Miss’ or ‘Ma’am’. To be honest, I could go around with two weeks’ beard growth and they’d still say ‘Look at that pretty woman!’
How strange…
You know, they see what they’re shown. I look feminine, so they see a woman. Mind you, the gender differences are pretty blurred in the country. The women have cropped hair; they wear men’s shirts and
pants. They all look like butch dykes, but they’re not!
But what if they found out the truth about you?
There would be crosses burning on my lawn. And I really don’t want that. As far as the Southern Baptist Convention is concerned, people like me are completely beyond redemption. If they knew about mycareer, who I am and what I’ve done, I’d be run out of town, for sure. But you know, people are always willing to see the best in you, and it’s only if you beat them around the head with something that they get nasty. So I keep things pretty quiet, and I get along fine. On an individual level, the people are really nice. It’s only when they
get into their church groups that they start acting like fascists.
Is the religious right really strong in Georgia?
Honey, you have no idea what it’s like unless you live with it. These people are brainwashed. They have crazy ideas. Global warming doesn’t exist — it’s a punishment from God for Disneyland having  a gay day. God told President Bush that he had to invade Iraq. They want to introduce legislation that will punish adultery — just
like in Iran. Give these people power, and they will be just as bad as Hitler — and they’ll think they’re doing good. It’s like living in the days of the Weimar Republic, watching the rise of the Nazis.
How do you stand it?
Being down here has made me politically aware again. I’m involved in a lot of activist groups. I do stuff for Move On, which is the leading Democratic lobbying group. We had to do something, because if we’d gone
further to right, we’d be fucked. Not just America, but the whole world.
What’s happening with your music career?
It’s on hold for the foreseeable future. There’s no way that I can tour with a band. I can’t leave my parents for more than a couple of days at a time. They need full-time care. Ironically, I’ve had more offers of work than ever before in my life — people want me to tour in Europe, in America, in Australia — and I’ve had to turn it all down. To be honest with you, it’s killing me. But what else can I do? I can’t desert my parents. They already lost two children.
How’s your love life?
That’s on hold too.
Oh no!
You know what — it’s a relief. I spent so much of my time running around chasing boyfriends, it drove me crazy and turned me into a wild, jealous, vindictive monster. In many ways, I’m happier without all that. Sometimes I meet a nice boy and have a little flirt with him — I mean, some of these country boys are gorgeous — and of course if I’m out in New York or LA then I have my fun, darling. But I don’t want to go back to being Crazy Jayne, chasing after the boys like a bitch in heat. I had a very busy sex life when I was younger, I had boyfriends that I really loved, I’ve done it all, from romance to being on the game. So it’s quite a relief to have retired.
How do you channel your creativity?
The best thing about being here is that I’ve gone back to what I started out doing — painting. I used to do it a lot when I was younger, and now that I’ve started again I’m so much better. Pictures just pour out of me; I pick up a pen or a brush and the images appear from nowhere. The pictures are very surrealist, very primeval-looking, kind of expressionist Aubrey Beardsley. I’ve been doing a lot of penis paintings. I just did a huge one of Candy Darling crucified on a penis cross, with Campbell’s soup can labels across her groin. That’s being exhibited in an Andy Warhol tribute show. My paintings are starting to sell too; they’re getting good prices. It’s a whole new career for me, and it’s much better now that I’m older. I don’t have to throw
myself around on stage like a demented idiot.
What do you think when you look back on your career?
For a long time I was very bitter. I felt that I’d not been given credit for what I’d done. I was a pioneer in so many ways — I was the first completely full-blown, in-yourface queen to stand up on a rock ‘n’ roll stage and say, ‘I am what I am, I don’t give a damn.’ I influenced so many people, from Bowie onwards. But for years I was just dismissed as a crazy trannie freak.How could someone like that possibly be important? Rock ‘n’ roll is such a fucking macho world, they don’t want people like me around. But now, things have changed. People look back at what I did in the ’70s — and you can see it all there on YouTube, which is fabulous — and they think, ‘My god, Wayne County was a transgender rock ‘n’ roll artist when I was in my cradle!’ I’m proud of what I’ve done. I made some great records and I entertained a lot of people with my shows. It’s nice that I’m finally getting some credit for it.
What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?
Oh, where do I begin? The early ’70s, playing at Max’s at the time of the New York Dolls, that was great, a legendary time, like ’20s Berlin. The punk era — doing the Roxy in London in 1977, hanging out with the Sex Pistols, then touring round every club in Europe. And then the Squeezebox years in ’90s New York, when the trannies really crashed into the rock ‘n’ roll world, and I finally felt the world had caught up with me. They’ve made a documentary about the Squeezebox, which was the best rock club of all time, and I’m in it a lot. I’m
very proud of that.
How did being transgendered fit around all that?
It was hard! I was in the public eye all the time, right from the early days in New York when I first started giving it some serious thought. At first I was considered to be a crazy drag queen, like a lot of the Warhol girls — but for me, it went deeper than that. I felt like a woman inside. I started taking steps to make it real —
I took hormones, my body shape changed, my tits grew. A lot of people in the rock world found that very hard to take — people that you’d expect to be a lot more liberal, like Patti Smith, who was freaked out. Others, like Debbie Harry and Dee Dee Ramone, were really supportive. Then I had my nose fixed, I changed my name from Wayne to Jayne, and I started coming on looking super-femme, really hot and sexy. That was really hard for people to handle. It was okay for me to be weird and funny, but once I started looking like a woman — oh boy. They didn’t know what to do with me. I’m well aware that that damaged my career — but I never thought about life in those terms.
You never had a sex change, though.
No. I stopped short of surgery. That’s a step too far for me; I don’t like to burn my bridges. I decided that I was happy being transgendered. A lot of girls have the operation and regret it. It doesn’t solve any problems. So I’m kind of in-between, which suits me fine.
Have you given up rock ‘n’ roll forever?
Of course not. I still record here and there — I did some tracks in Los Angeles with Holly Woodlawn and Ginger Coyote, and I’ve just done some sessions in New York with the Lipstick Killers. Protest songs, mostly, very basic, garage stuff.
Do you ever go to Atlanta?
Every once in a while. I’ll jump in the car, get all dressed up and do a show in there. It’s a real trans city, there’s a lot of punks and rock ‘n’ rollers, and they have a lot of respect for me. When I appear at the clubs
in Atlanta, they have conniptions! It’s like fucking Madonna turning up!
What are you doing right now?
I’m cooking a duck. A whole duck. Peking
style. It’s something I always wanted to do, and so I’m trying it.
Are your parents there, too?
Yes, my mother is in the next room watching Jeopardy, then she’ll watch the news. She is a total news freak. She always complains that she’s depressed — but what do you expect if you watch the news all the time!
And how are you dressed?
I’m wearing a Rolling Stones baseball cap, a T-shirt with a cat on it, and Simpsons baggy shorts. You should see me!

End