Jayne County with Rubert Smith: Man Enough To Be A Woman (Serpent's Tale)
If you are an iconoclast and live long enough, society eventually catches on by catching up. Quentin Crisp, that original outcast of the 1930s became a virtual Manhattan mystic in old age, a powdered, lilac haired queer seer. Given the present plethora of "Drag" in the media, what once were vices are now mainstream follies of light entertainment, with something lost in that process, since much of the shock and awe is diluted and neutered. Jayne County was a pioneer. "Drag before drag" and "trans" before the word entered common parlance. She took risks, was in the face of anyone who dared look in her direction, and shocked more than the simply shockable. A rebel with a cause she has survived and prospered. An American fable and a movie that's begs to be made, her life is unlikely, her tales tall, made more so by their being true.
It all began in rural Georgia. Wayne Rogers was born into a working class, Baptist family in 1947. His mother was a restless window shopper of faiths, next came Methodism, and later the Worldwide Church Of God. Tolerance was in short supply. His father drank and had an affair. His was a childhood imbued with echoes of Truman Capote's Other Voices Other Rooms and J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye. There was also the problem of Wayne's emerging otherness. With a head full of early rock and roll records, obsessed by horror movies, and a penchant for make-up and lipstick, Wayne was rapidly being true to himself whilst being like nobody else. Soon his friends were the reprobates of Atlanta. Miss Cocks who was always blowing, Chatty Cathy who never stopped taking, Miss Hair who was ever preening, and Miss Car who was constantly obliging in the back seat or the front. It eventually became a matter of survival over sanity that Wayne left town and headed to New York City, dropping Rogers and adding County as his surname along the way.
In the Big Apple it was inevitable that he/she would fall into the orbit of Andy Warhol and his cavalcade of hanger on freaks, his trinity of trash, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn became his friends. Having already appeared in various outre plays, one with Patti Smith, County ended up in London in Warhol's, Pork with Cherry Vanilla and Tony Zanetta. This was the direct link that forged David Bowie's connection to Warhol and subsequently Lou Reed. Though signed to Mainman, Bowie's management, nothing of County's work as Queen Elizabeth surfaced from the deal despite recordings being made and $200,000 being spent on a lavish stage production Live At The Trucks. County has long maintained this was simple sabotage but it is just as likely to have been casual carelessness, though Bowie wouldn't have been averse to stalling anything he perceived as competition. The name wasn't a swipe at British Royalty, but an affectionate reference to a famous Atlanta queen who worked in a department store in drag for years before being exposed. Perhaps even the Glam scene with all its "peek-a-boo" androgyny and flirtation with alternative sexuality wasn't quite ready for County in a dress festooned with condoms singing "You Gotta Get Laid To Stay Healthy (And I'm the Healthiest Girl In Town)" Wayne County was in the epicentre of the legendary Stonewall riots when drag queens finally turned on the police after decades of abuse and intimidation.With the burgeoning of punk County took his own version to outrage to London forming the Electric Chairs and releasing "(If You Don't Want To Fuck Me Baby) Fuck Off" in 1977 and appearing in Derek Jarman's iconoclastic film Jubilee.
This is memoir of a lost time of spit and glitter that ought to have been extended. It was first published in the Nineties and bar an added intro and outro, remains a delightfully brazen sequence of polaroids, but is frustratingly brief. That is my sole complaint about a fascinating jaunt through times that are sadly becoming distant and wistful, almost halcyon. People perhaps rarely write their absolute life themselves, that job usually falls into other, later hands, but via this chaotic cavalcade Mss County emerges as the pioneer she was and thankfully, most certainly, remains. The resolution of a revolution.
It can only be hoped that she is penning a sequel of her 21st century years in a life few can, or would dare to try and equal.