THE ELECTRIC CHAIRS, ARTIST
Jayne County is a trans-trendsetter, a wonder woman, punk rock superstar and had a significant impact on David Bowie.
An original New York City underground actress, the story goes, Jayne was performing in Andy Warhol’s Pork in London where David and Angie Bowie first saw her. David Bowie poached the cast of Pork for his Ziggy Stardust Management Company, MainMan. When Jayne was with MainMan, her ideas were stolen, whitewashed and repacked as Ziggy Stardust. Because of Jayne’s past connection to MainMan, her career was stalled.
In 1974, Jayne remerged as a punk rock sensation, and with her later band, the Electric Chairs, she toured the world and gained international recognition. Jayne County has always been ahead of the curve.
Now, Jayne has reinvented herself as a painter. Her works are sold at major auction houses including Sotheby's.
"I had full schooling and graduated everything. I had elementary and high school and a little bit of college. I did a little bit of an art thing but not much. Basically, I didn’t stay to graduate college. I got a D in algebra but the teacher felt bad for me so she passed me.
There were gay people but no one knew they were gay. I didn’t know I was gay. This is going back to the early 1950’s-60s. There weren’t words like gay or trans or bi or anything. We didn’t know about anything. We didn’t know what a drag queen was. We heard stories and secrets about these weird, freaky people that did this and that, but nobody really knew what a queer was.
We thought a queer was a horrible old man who wore a raincoat and tried to molest kids in the schoolyard. We didn’t know anything about culture and art. In my later teens, I discovered the whole subculture of bars, drag, of course, but not until I was 18.
I left for New York when I was 19 years old. I left Georgia and caught a Greyhound Bus. It was $25 to get from Atlanta to New York. It was nice staring out the window at the land and the state. I got off the bus and got back on the wrong bus. My bag and my coat were gone on the bus. I never retrieved them. I arrived in New York with literally nothing. I had nothing. I had to get me a coat. I stayed a couple of weeks and went back home for a couple of weeks and gathered some more things together and went back again. The second trip to New York I stayed and did not go home again for 20 years.
I grew up in the Deep South. It was pretty— people were arrogant about all that stuff. There was no gay community. Well, there was, but it was really underground. You could be arrested at the drop of a hat. You couldn’t even dance, you’d be arrested. If you had hair on the top of your ears, you could be arrested for transvestism. It was called 'female impersonation.' You weren’t considered male if the hair touched the top of your ears. It was the law everywhere. When the Beatles came out and had long hair, then they didn’t enforce that law. It would be impossible; they would be arresting their own kids. They’d go, oh, boo, the Beatles, oooh. The Beatles lifted the fabric up. They really did.
If the police wanted to be nasty, and they would, they would pick up drag queens, take them down to the station and shave their heads. After they shaved their heads, they would call their parents and say, 'We got your queer son here. Come pick him up.'
It was vicious back then. The same people who were the police in Atlanta were all the same kind of people. They were anti-gay and mean. We really had to look out for ourselves. We would have to hide a lot and hide behind trees sometimes. We would have to be able to run really fast because there would be bashers who would come out of cars and try to beat us up. We were more obvious queens. They called us 'screaming queens'—I became a screaming queen. I was obvious: walking around, fooling around, wearing crazy clothes, screaming at people. If you put yourself out on a limb, you could be murdered. If you knew how to run, you were okay.
Every time you left the house you didn’t know what was going to happen. It is just like—there were bashers everywhere. You had to look around you at all times. You had to be very, very careful or you would be in bad trouble.
My friend, Daisy, and I got picked up by these men in a car, and they took us back to their apartment and raped us. They didn’t fully rape me, the guy couldn’t get his thing up, but it was rape because they were forcing me to do stuff. These four guys didn’t lock all the windows in their apartment, and we got out by crawling out the bathroom window.
They were straight guys!
They were like, 'Yeah, we are straight. You be a woman. Come here, faggot. I’m going to fuck you.'
That kind of mentality—they could never have seen themselves as gay because you could rape a queen and still be straight.
I called Miss Cox, this other really outrageous queen, and told her that Miss Daisy and I had just been raped by these straight guys.
She said, 'Get in the car,' and we drove right up there and we all got out. We took bricks and we pelted the guys’ windshields out and then we jumped back in the car screaming and we drove off.
We were crazy! We could have gotten shot! Not long after that, I moved to New York. Things were too heavy, too crazy in Atlanta. I wanted to be in a bigger pond. So, I got on a Greyhound bus and went to New York. I went to the Stonewall and, later, was at all three nights of the riots. The rest is history, as they say."