Jayne County has never been afraid to express an opinion. She was the first transgender performer to get up on a rock stage and declare: “I am what I am, and I don’t give a damn.” These days, the former Andy Warhol protégé is standing up for the right of Israel to defend itself, posting her support a dozen times a day on Facebook.
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No, she isn't Jewish. Nor does she receive funding from the United Jewish Appeal or from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. She loathes Ted Nugent and supports gun control and abortion rights. She’s staunchly anti-Republican, which she often spells “RepubliKKKan.” She runs Auntie Jayne’s CatHouse, a shelter for abandoned cats in need of medical care. And of course, she’s in favor of marriage equality and equal rights for transgender folk like her.
But her ardor for Israel’s right to defend itself during Operation Protective Edge is stronger than for any other cause. In fact, she changed her Facebook profile picture to an “I heart Jews” image and her cover photo to an illustration of a Biblical-era map, showing the kingdoms of Judah and Israel as well as the surrounding kingdoms of Moab, Edom and Ammon, and the Philistines States along the coast. For that, she’s been called “right-wing,” a term she finds laughable.
“I’ve always done what I thought was right. To me, it’s such a simple decision,” says the 5-foot-6-inch (167 centimeters) performer, speaking from Powder Springs, Georgia, where she currently resides to take care of her ailing mother. “And I have to tell you I’ve gotten a lot of flak for it. But I’m tired of seeing all this anti-Semitic bull-crap out there about how Jews have no right to this land that I had to open my mouth. These people don’t know history.”
Raised in the First Methodist Church, County, who was born Wayne Rogers in 1947 before going on to live as a woman and influence the likes of David Bowie with her glam-drag rock act at Max’s Kansas City and CBGBs, says he knows all about the tribes of Judea, the various conquests and expulsions of Jews through the centuries, how it was renamed Canaan and the origin of the word Palestinian, a point she’ll challenge any of her opponents about.
“I’m not a religious person, but I like to study world history and religion. Don’t tell me about the rights to the land by the Palestinians,” she says. “There never was a Palestinian nation. It was a name for a piece of land. You want to talk history? I know about the Edomites, the Hitites, the Philistines, etc… and I am horrified at the ignorance and hatred of most people. People are shocked to learn that I know the bible really well. At one time, I wanted to be a biblical archaeological.”
But rock’n’roll got in the way. Ironically, it also enabled County – the original Hedwig if you will – to get to the Holy Land.
“I was invited there twice to perform in clubs, and they love me there and I love it there,” she says. “There was a beach for gays and transgender people that was guarded by policemen. I’d never seen anything like that. So for gays to condemn Israel is crazy. Israel protects the rights of women and gays, who have no life, no rights under Hamas or any Muslim country. Don’t ask me to stick up for the rights of people who don’t believe in my rights.”
Her posts, which have included information about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s alliance with Adolf Hitler, and alleged links between him and Yassir Arafat and the PLO, have elicited so much hatred, she’s had to block and unfriend near-life-long friends from social media. “I stopped counting. To me, hearing someone I thought I knew say disgusting things like ‘Jews smell’ just infuriates me,” she says. “Or that horrible article about how Israel ‘pinkwashes,’" referring to Israel's supposed use of LGBT rights as a form of propaganda.
"I had a drag queen friend in France tell me she was in Israel for gay pride and how it had such a huge turnout. But some people just look for an excuse to come down on Israel. And those are the same people who are ignoring what’s going on in Syria. So don’t talk to me about human rights. Hamas doesn’t believe in any. Israel does. If you can only speak out for human rights when Israel’s involved, you’re anti-Jewish.”
Just as County feels pro-Palestinian groups use the pinkwashing term to slander Israel, others feel their group’s causes are exploited to frame a narrative that does not exist.
Ask Chloe Simione Valdary, a 21-year-old African-American native of New Orleans whose moniker is “Lioness of Zion.”
“My family belongs to the Intercontinental Church of God, and growing up, I always observed the Sabbath like Jews,” she says, speaking from Boston where she’s interning at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. In a recent Tablet post called “To the Students for Justice in Palestine, a Letter from an Angry Black Woman,” she took aim at all those who invoke civil rights activists when trying to defend the Palestinians and Hamas.
“You do not get to pretend as though you and Rosa Parks would have been great buddies in the 1960s. Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist,” wrote Valdary, whose article elicited 5,000 shares.
It also garnered its share of vitriol, which begs the question: Why are people like Valdary and County sticking their necks out more than many of their Jewish peers?
“I don’t know!” says County. “I see the people rioting in Paris and it’s the same people who rioted against gay rights there—radical Islamists. So to me it’s the same mentality – the people who say gays should be executed say that Jews should be executed.”
Still, the 67-year-old singer and author of “Man Enough To Be A Woman” wonders why her Jewish peers aren’t as vocal and outraged as she is.
“I know lots of Jewish people in the transgender community. They’ll send me private messages and call me brave. So I’ll ask them, ‘Why aren’t you saying anything?’ And they’ll answer: ‘Well, I’m afraid of offending anyone.’ Another friend said he was too freaked out by the anti-Semitic comments he hears when people look at the photos of the dead children in Gaza. Well, what would have happened if the Allies were told, ‘You can’t bomb the Nazi headquarters in Germany because there may be kids on the street and around the building, and the world was watching and calling us murderers for trying to eradicate an evil? We’d all be speaking German,” says County. “Let Israel finish its job. Would you want to live with a tunnel underneath your home? No!”
County adds that she thinks the problems in Gaza aren't so easily solved.
“Most American Jews are probably gritting their teeth and hoping the whole thing blows over soon,” says County. “But it’s not going to. Things will get worse before they get better. And I’ll bet it will radicalize more and more people and force many out of complacency.”
Meanwhile, County doesn't plan on slowing down her social media missives any time soon. Her latest posts were on the Spanish Inquisition – dedicated to Penelope Cruz for calling Israel genocidal, a call to speak out against the growing tide of European anti-Semitism accompanying a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a link to a Wall Street Journal editorial by columnist Bret Stephens.
“All we can do is inform ourselves,” says County. “What makes me furious is the ignorance—and the hypocrisy. That drives me mad and I can’t be quiet. I’ll always be a screamer.”