A brief transgender punk heroes primer

The legendary Jayne County with Handsome Dick Manitoba

The web is all abuzz -- rightly -- about the bravery of Against Me! singer Tom Gabel "coming out" to Rolling Stone as transgender and beginning to live her life as Laura Jane Grace (while remaining legally married to her wife and raising their child. Take that, North Carolina!). 'Tis a wonderful thing indeed, and most of the commentary on the high school hearthrob band's website has been positive.

As much as it pains me to call any band that came after Fugazi "punk," Against Me! wasn't half bad to soundtrack your 2000s teenage mall rebellion, carrying on the legacy of punks through the ages. And Grace's transformation carries on another legacy as well -- that of famous transgender rockers.

I've lately been rereading one of my favorite books, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk -- if ever there was a book to make your life seem utterly boring shite, that's it. It's full of hyperenergetic boys donning frocks, from punk founders the Dead Boys and the New York Dolls to the glam heroes that punk was meant to take down, like David Bowie and Gary Glitter. And of course many fierce women of the early scene were shaving their heads and kitting out in "mens' clothes." (There was actually a time when Robert Mapplethorpe's cover shot for Patti Smith's Horses was a scandal, really.)

But all that was mere transgression, welcome as it may have been to the oppressed queers of the day -- and now for that matter. Being transgender is something different, having the courage to reconcile your physicality with the mental and emotional image you carry of yourself inside. And then to rock the fuck out? Cool. Here are some of my transgender punk heroes:


>>Jayne County

She became famous in the late '70s, kicking against the pricks in London as Wayne County (with band the Electric Chairs) -- but was an NYC underground mainstay before then, taking part in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, hanging with the Warhol crew, and starting one of the first punk-like bands Queen Elizabeth in 1972. ("God Save the Queen" indeed.). She soon rechristened herself Jayne County, performing unabashedly before punk audiences as a transgender woman. As an actress, she starred in seminal underground queer films like Derek Jarman's Jubilee and Rosa von Praunheim's City of Lost Souls. She's still raging.    


>>Genesis P-Orridge

The outrageous and outrageously talented founder of '70s experimental industrial-noise-punk-electronic outifts Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, Genesis approaches gender in an experimental vein as well. Already well into his own gender recalibration, he and his wife Lady Jayne Breyer P-Orridge began an odyssey of physical transformation in the 2000s to become a single pandrogynous entity to be called "Breyer P-Orridge." Sadly, Lady Jayne died in 2007 of stomach cancer, but Genesis continues to challenge gender expectations, as the recent release of lauded doc The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye attests to.


>>Lynn Breedlove

The indispensable local trans man was instrumental in the punk revival of the '90s with his insane dyke outfit Tribe 8, and now helps keep queers safe on the streets of SF with his Homobiles on-call transportion service. He's also an accomplished author and performer in his own right. Queers fight (and write) back!!


UPDATE: In the comments below, readers below have pointed out two very important transgender punks: Sarah Kirsch, formerly Mike Kirsch, guitarist and vocalist seminal East Bay outfit Pinhead Gunpowder, Fuel, and a ton more including Fuel and Sawhorse (and who is currently recovering from cancer). I couldn't find a good vid of Sarah in her current incarnation, but here's a recent one of Pinhead Gunpowder at 924 Gilman. 

PLUS the incredible Ginger Coyote of the White Trash Debutantes, who was pretty essential to the Mabuhay Gardens punk scene here.

And of course, there is a thriving, vibrant, now-decades-old underground of scrappy queer and transgender punk rock bands -- and wonderful local trans musicians like Christine Beatty and Justin Bond and even lounge singer Veronica Klaus who keep the proud and outspoken transgender musical flame alight. In the immortal words of Jayne County, "If you don't want a piece of the action, take a walk!"





as MUSH as it pains you?!

Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2012 @ 10:42 am

spelling corrected above. But yes, I'm pained mushly!

Posted by marke on May. 09, 2012 @ 10:57 am

Which is to say one’s identity isn’t always attached to what lies between one’s legs but so often what lies between one’s mind…

Punk all the way of course....


Posted by Guest on May. 09, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

I disagree philosophically with the proposition that being male is a state of mind.

Whatever floats your boat is cool for you. Nobody should ever be made to suffer for pursuing their autonomy to define themselves as they see fit.

However not everyone is going to agree with the reasoning that gets you to the place where you feel comfortable. Philosophical disagreements are not a personal attack.

Minorities of minorities don't have the right to define reality for the majority, be they gays defining orientation reality for str8s or trans defining gender reality for cis.

I also reject the notion that gender theory determines oppression of same sex love, the opposition to us is to illicit use of genitalia, not illegal use of gender.

Posted by marcos on May. 10, 2012 @ 9:02 am

differences between races, gender is quite definitely a biological classification.

You might not "feel" like the gender that your biology says that you are, and you can tinker with that biology to some extent. But claims that gender doesn't exist along the lines that some claim that race doesn't exist, seem wide of the mark.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 10, 2012 @ 10:02 am

There is a difference between gender and sex. Pretty basic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_and_gender_distinction

Posted by emily on May. 10, 2012 @ 11:44 am

However, both are biologically distinct - that's the crucial difference with other classification concepts like race.

Posted by Anonymous on May. 10, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

Sarah kirsch of pinhead gunpowder is another notable transwoman in the punk music scene - the same scene against me! Started in and was inspired by.


Posted by Andy on May. 10, 2012 @ 1:10 am

Yes -- thank you for the reminder! Will add above.

Posted by marke on May. 13, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

What does any of this have to do with punk, and why are Nancy Reagan straight edge bands like Fugazi, one of the most boring bands I ever saw, even considered punk?

Posted by Guest on May. 10, 2012 @ 8:48 am

Oh, yeah, Los Crudos and Bikini Kill, for example, are two queerish punk bands that came way after Fugazi. Saw them both at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago in '96.

Posted by marcos on May. 10, 2012 @ 9:04 am

It amazes me you would have this article and not mention Ginger Coyote and the White Trash Debutants. Ginger was a trans woman back in the 70s at the Mabuhay Gardens punk scene, edited Punk Globe Magazine and then founded her own band in the 1980s.

Posted by Gina on May. 11, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

of course! Will add above -- thanks!

Posted by marke on May. 13, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

She would ask me the name of my dog about once a week.

One of the members of her band, the White Trash Debs was drunk and tried to use his knife to play mumblety peg on my bedroom floor, it turned out to be a blood bath, which resulted in an emergency room visit.

Posted by Matlock on May. 13, 2012 @ 8:16 pm
Posted by Transgender Amber on Dec. 08, 2012 @ 10:15 am

Thanks to Gina for pointing out your oversight.. I am still rawking out with White Trash Debutantes.. We have been together for quite some time.. Toured the USA. Mexico and Japan... Written a passage in the Danielle Steel book "His Bright Light", has appeared in numerous films and in many documentaries on punk rock... I now reside in Hollywood where I am still editing Punk Globe Magazine on line at www.punkglobe.com.. Jayne County and I have recorded a few songs together... Rock n Roll RepubliKKKan and Transgeneration which should be up on iTunes soon... To coincide with the new CBGB's film that feature an actor portraying Ms. County... We both are also featured in a book by George Petros called "The New Transexuals".... Another person that deserves to be up on this site is Leigh Crow aka Elvis Herselves... Remember keep it RAW and always PUNK RAWK!!

Posted by Guest Ginger Coyote on Feb. 17, 2013 @ 12:56 am

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