Sometimes it's hard to be a woman

Especially when you were born a man. But punkish Jayne County isn't shy about her past. Or anything else either. By Jim White
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The Independent Culture
Jayne County, the loud punk transsexual, has been doing what she does best this past week: making an exhibition of herself. She has been all over the place - performing at the Rock Garden in London, appearing on Terry Christian's Talk Radio show ("he's such a naaace boy," she says in her Georgian drawl. "Why does everyone hate him?") and at the launch party for the new BBC series Rock Family Trees. Here she schmoozed with Paul Jones, once of Manfred Mann and one of her great heroes. The two of them were posing for press photographs, something that Jayne afterwards said she loathed, though she did a good job of concealing her loathing, pouting and preening and wrapping her sizeable left leg around Jones's.

"I've always been such a fan of yours," she trilled as she looked longingly into Jones's face. "My heart is going pitter-pat to meet you. I love your stuff. It was the British invasion that turned me on to music in the first place. You are responsible for my career."

Jones looked slightly perplexed at the close attentions of this 6ft transsexual with the Dusty Springfield beehive wig, and tried, as diplomatically as possible, to ease his leg out of the tangle.

"Oh really?" he said, stand-offishly. "I don't think I know your work."

"Yes, you do," said Jayne, leaning forward provocatively in an effort to spill out of her decolletage. "I did `If You Don't Wanna Fuck Me Baby, Fuck Off'."

"Ah," said Jones, the newly appointed presenter of Christian Radio. "I don't think I ever heard that." "So," said Jayne, noisily recounting her meeting five minutes later to anyone who cared to listen, "there it was. The man who sang `Doo-wah-diddy' meets the girl who sang `Fuck Off'. The full lyrical expanse of popular music in one brief encounter."

It can't be easy being an ageing transsexual. Once the youthful glamour fades, it is less a case of mutton dressed as lamb as dog dressed as puppy. But, fortunately for Jayne County, glamour has never been her territory, as the crocheted mini-dress she favours might suggest. Hers has always been a grittier, grubbier, punkier form of expression. Frankly, with Jayne, it has always been a case of "If You Don't Wanna Fuck Me, then I'm not really surprised."

"I have never been a prim and proper lady type," she says as she sits down to recover from her brush with Paul Jones. "I am an Amazon. I have been mistaken for a lesbian, I have been cruised by lesbians. But, darling, let me say this: I have never had a lesbian thought in my mind." The odd and tortuous sexual life of Jayne County - once Wayne Rogers until a bucket-load of hormone tablets muddied things downstairs - is now related in her autobiography Man Enough to Be a Woman. This tells the full, extraordinary, gossip-laden County yarn, from grubby lows to even grubbier highs. It tells how she escaped from a stultifying religious upbringing in the American south and ended up on the game in London. And how, as she went, she always made an exhibition of herself.

She first gained prominence as one of Andy Warhol's coterie of queens in the early Seventies. Not quite lovely enough to be name-checked by Lou Reed in "Walk on the Wild Side", Jayne made a name instead with the kind of art that would be unlikely to find its way into the Royal Academy summer show.

"I did a lot of performance art," she says. "I used to make love to this silver mannequin lying in a casket. It sounds tacky now, but it was artistic at the time. Also rock and roll. I had a song called `Shit' and I had a toilet on stage. At the end I would dip down into the toilet and bring out some dog food. People thought it was shit. It was not, it was dog food - even I'm not that warped."

Other folk observed her, borrowed her ideas, watered them down for a wider public consumption. She is not remotely bitter about this, but she would like it known that one of them was David Bowie.

"David got all that Ziggy look, the shaved eyebrows, the gender-bender stuff from us," she says. "He commercialised it for the mainstream. I guess I was too earthy, too real." Which was why, when she heard about punk rock in 1977, she came over to England immediately for a dose of earthiness. At that time she was playing down the transsexual side of her nature and performing as Wayne County and the Electric Chairs.

"I loved punk, the energy, the fun. One thing I could not abide, though," she says, "was the gob. I would not take spitting."

Her theme tune was "Fuck Off", a song that - surprise, surprise - never got the airplay it deserved, but which achieved great significance. In one pub in Cambridge at the time, it was the centrepiece of a brilliant act of punk subversion, when someone swapped the selection card on the juke box with Rod Stewart's "Sailing". That was about as far as it got. Typically, she was too much for mainstream fame. Besides, her gender confusion had reached the point where she decided to decamp to Berlin to live as a woman among the transsexuals there. She stayed for 10 years, performing in sleazy cabaret bars.

"I have never had the snip, though," she says. "I was never one to burn my bridges. I've come to terms with my little friend down there and I like the female shape my hormones have given me. It is the shape I always was in my mind." Now, an older, wiser, more relaxed queen, she has come to terms with her self. And she is back on the road, performing, if her show at the Rock Garden is at all characteristic, with her usual verve and wit. Typically, she is still singing her theme song.

"I'll be singing that till the day I die," she says. "They'll have to wheel me on, like Dietrich, 80 and stuck together with Scotch Tape. I have to. Darling, it's the only way I know how to make a living."

n `Man Enough to Be a Woman' is published by Serpent's Tail, pounds 11.99

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