Interview: Michael Fox on Jayne County
Between James Barron and Michael Fox
James Barron: When did you first meet Jayne?
Michael Fox: I first met Jayne in the mid-1990s at Squeezebox, a weekly Friday night party at Don Hills. It was open to all, but primarily catered to queer people who liked to listen to rock and roll music. Very talented rock acts of that time would perform there regularly, including the Toilet Boys, the Lunachicks, and Psychotica. It was one of those special and rare parties where you never left before the place closed; you wanted the night to last forever. Jayne was the patron saint of Squeezebox and she performed there often, but I can't remember if she was performing the night that we met or if she was just hanging out. She offered to buy me a drink and I accepted. Southern Comfort chilled, no ice. We had several and became pretty inseparable after that.
JB: Jayne is considered a pioneer in the Trans community. What is her personality like?
MF: Jayne was at the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which is where the Gay Rights movement began, and she is most definitely a pioneer in the Trans community. Her personality is like a kaleidoscope. She is full of contradictions, yet she is very reliable. She is a comedian and she likes to have a good time, but she has very strong convictions about her likes and dislikes and she can be hot-tempered about matters that are disagreeable to her. Over the years, many of her contemporaries and people who came around after her have eclipsed her, and she does believe that people have borrowed heavily from her ideas and profited from this. I think that she feels that she has not received the recognition that is due to her, and she does harbor some anger and bitterness about this. I have always thought of her as a very loyal and good friend who is very supportive, but it takes a long time for Jayne to trust a person. In recent years, she seems to be calmer, and she has come to a place of reconciliation with many of the people who she had conflicts with. She is a creative person, and like many creative people I know, she is volatile and goes through different phases and exhibits the complete spectrum of human emotions. Its always interesting to see what triggers her anger. Jayne is very curious and loves to learn new things, but at the same time, she is a creature of habit. She wears her heart on her sleeve, but she can also be very suspicious of others. She has been betrayed, so she tends to tread lightly with people in general, especially new people. And as a transperson living in rural Georgia, she is very cautious of others and lives with some degree of fear, but she knows how to defend herself. So in sum, she is a very courageous person, a freedom fighter, who has spent her lifetime being true to herself and has been extremely extroverted on stage, and although she is usually very clear about who she is and what she wants, she is guarded and has become reclusive as she has gotten older.
JB: When did you first see her perform? What was the atmosphere like? Did it change during the course of her career?
MF: The first time I saw Jayne perform was at Squeezebox, and I knew both by my own reaction and the reaction of the crowd that Jayne is very special, even among other rock stars. Many performers consider her to be an inspiration and a living legend. She usually performs with an incredible supporting band, and she has a great voice. She has a very natural gift for performing on stage, and for comedy. Her training from her years in theater have honed her skills and she has great timing, incredible moves, and hilarious facial expressions. Jayne feeds off the energy in the room and really knows how to work a crowd. The atmosphere at Squeezebox was absolutely perfect for Jayne, and she still talks about it as her all-time favorite club in NYC.
In 2005 I went to Berlin with Jayne where she was performing in a play. Although Jayne experiences a good amount of fanfare in NYC, the level of adoration that she received in Berlin was unbelievable. Teenage boys admired her so much that they followed her when she was walking down the street. They treated her like royalty. At the bar Wild Heart, they sent endless shots of tequila and she had 20 year old guys making out with her. It was really something else. They really seem to have a deep appreciation for artists in Berlin.
Her stage performances are extremely physical, which is why she has retreated from stage performances in recent years; her terrible back problems now prevent her from performing. She used to end her shows with her song "If You Don't Want to Fuck Me Baby, Baby Fuck Off" where she threw herself on the floor and kicked her legs in the air. These days she seems to channel her creative energy into her artwork.
JB: When did you first start looking at her artwork?
MF: The first piece of Jayne's artwork that I saw was a small piece from 2004 that she made on the front of a safety pin backing card. Next I saw "The Lady Bunny is Picture Perfect" at a group show at CBGB in 2005. That was the second piece of Jayne's art that I bought. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to have it. I really love the way that Jayne expresses her rage in her art, and the Bunny pieces are my favorites. I am friends with Bunny as well, but at the time when Jayne was making the Bunny pieces, she was furious with Bunny and the art really shows how passionately Jayne was enraged at that time. Jayne is friends with Bunny now and does not like seeing these pieces, but the vivid honesty about her intentions when she made them makes them completely hilarious.
JB: How do you see the relationship between her art and her music?
MF: There is a clear relationship with Jayne's artistic expression in all of its forms. With the Bunny piece mentioned above, "The Lady Bunny is Picture Perfect", for example, Jayne wrote a song called "Picture Perfect" at around the same time that she made the Bunny rage art. Gender fluidity is a common theme in both her art and music. Her stage performances and her works on canvas and paper all show her intensity, obsessions, humor and her mania.
JB: Can you tell us about Jayne's fascination with ancient Greek and Roman culture, and the role it plays in her own work?
MF: The imagery of Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures depicts societies that seemed very progressive and accepting in terms of human sexuality. I imagine a person like Jayne would have been ruling that environment. Also, the Cleopatra movies were both so epic. Jayne loves both the 1963 version with Elizabeth Taylor and the 1934 version directed by Cecil B. DeMille. The costumes and makeup were incredible. Jayne loves everything about Ancient Greek, Roman, and especially Egyptian cultures. Egyptians also shared Jayne’s obsession with cats. I think that the paganism of those cultures appeals to her. Maybe it is an idealistic fantasy, but it seems that people in ancient times were more accepting of people from different races, colors, ages and sexual preferences, and also very into nature. Jayne is really more of a hippie at heart than a punk rocker.
JB: Jayne sometimes described police in a less flattering light, particularly when discussing police conduct towards the Trans community. You are a longtime friend of Jayne's, and also a member of the police force. Can you talk about your experience with the relationship between the police and the Trans community?
MF: Jayne's negative impression of the police is valid. She was a participant in the Stonewall Riots, and the way the police treated people in the gay community was extremely oppressive and violent. Being gay was looked upon as criminal behavior, and it is still criminalized in many places in this country. Gays citizens were targeted by the police in New York City until very recently. And the treatment of Transpeople is worse than the way in which gay people are treated, which is still not good. As an openly gay police officer, I have been discriminated against.
I have always advocated for the rights of Transpeople and all marginalized people, but my efforts have not always been well received. Still, I feel that it has been worthwhile for me to serve and to represent my peer group with a place at the table, as everyone should have the opportunity to do. I believe in public service. I worked on projects when I was assigned to with the Training Bureau where we included members of Trans communities in for think-tank group sessions where we made meaningful changes to policies and procedures related to searches pursuant to arrests and the use of appropriate pronouns. These were small steps in the right direction.
In the 20 years that I have been a police officer, I can see that things are improving, but the changes are happening very slowly. Raymond Kelly was the Police Commissioner for a very long time and he was a total fascist. When Jayne left NYC for Georgia in 2006, Raymond Kelly was the Police Commissioner. It takes time for tides to shift, and it is changing, but so much damage was done while Kelly was in charge. He was a bad person. People of color suffered greatly under his regime, and Gay people are lower in the pecking order of civil rights, so it was a terrible time for Gay citizens under Kelly as well. And Transpeople are at the very bottom of the civil rights ladder, so things have a very long way to go before Transpeople will have equal standing. Raymond Kelly has been gone for years but things don't change overnight. It takes time for things to cycle out. It's not like you can just put all of these like-minded people in a wood chipper and start anew. The Police Department has made great strides to move away from Ray Kelly's illegal quota system where marginalized groups were overtly preyed upon.
It has been in the NYC Human Rights Law since 1993 that Transpeople are a protected class, yet there has never, still to this day, been a recruitment campaign to enlist Transpeople for municipal jobs in NYC. In the Police Department, we have a few Trans-members, but they began to transition after being hired. None were hired as self-identifying Transpeople. So they basically had to sneak their way onto the job. In a city like New York, all groups should feel welcome and represented within the Police Department and in every other form of municipal employment. Things have improved tremendously since Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly left, but we still have a long way to go before things will be as they should be. Both Police Commissioners William Bratton and The present Police Commissioner James O'Neill are good people with good intentions, so things are finally moving in the right direction. Until Transpeople are adequately represented among the police force and have the ability to rise in the ranks and feel represented and supported like all other groups, the Trans community will not have a healthy relationship with the Police Department.