05 March 2011

“A Gang of Trannies”: Gender Discourse and Punk Culture– a review of the chapter by Viviane Namaste

image – Jayne County.

I have previously reviewed Viviane Namaste’s Invisible Lives.  In it I said nothing about her chapter on punk, it being a stand-alone chapter that does not change the overall argument of the book.

++ added later

What is punk?  Is it a genre, a community, an attitude, a brand?  All of these?  Who was active in it, especially trans persons?   Namaste has no interest in any of these questions.  On the first page she writes:
“This chapter examines how gender is organized at a micrological, textual level.  Focusing on historical and contemporary media representations of punk culture, I show how discourse about punk is thoroughly masculinist and describe the conditions in which this conception of punk culture emerged.  This gendered portrayal of punk thus authorizes a social world in which punk excludes transsexual and transgendered people. … I choose punk as an ‘object’ of analysis precisely because of the unlikely associations between MTF transsexual and punk identities.  Yet I remain uninterested in a type of historical inquiry that would establish the presence of MTF transsexuals in punk culture”. 
We notice at once that Namaste does not deign to notice trans men who were active in punk,  ++not even her friend Max Valerio.

Namaste starts with an article in Photo Police, a scandal newspaper, about Val d’Or, Quebec, that assumes that punks are violent, and then a local Montréal paper that is surprised that punks joined in to clean up a local park.  These articles are dated the early 1990s.  She takes this as typical of mainstream media attitudes to punk.

She cites Matias Viegener, writing in the 1990s, who seems to think that queer punk is something new at that time.  She quotes him:  “Although the original punk movement seemed to have little tolerance for gays and lesbians, its edginess proved ready-made for a new generations of queers”.   She then declares three perspectives in the academic studies of punk:  Punk as asexual; punk as gender fluid and punk as heterosexist, homophobic and misogynist.   She reminds us that Punk was preceded by Glam rock, and mentions David Bowie, Marc Bolan and the New York Dolls.  She rightly follows the Glam themes into Punk and quotes one song by the Buzzcocks.

She then goes into detail  about an incident in 1976 when Jayne County (when she was still Wayne) was heckled by ex-wrestler Dick Manitoba, singer in the band, The Dictators,  shouting homophobic taunts when County was performing at CBGBs in New York.  Manitoba then climbed on the stage holding a beer-mug, and  County hit him with the microphone stand.   County cut his hair short and wore a false beard, but was arrested some days later and spent one night in jail.   Other musicians and performers including the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, The New York Dolls, Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Divine put on a benefit to meet County’s legal costs.  Three times Manitoba failed to show in court and therefore the charges were dropped (County:108-110).

Namaste does not give the year, fails to mention that Jayne County was still Wayne at that point,  confuses CBGBs with Max’s Kansas City, does not give Manitoba’s name, does not mention that he failed to show.  She makes it a major point that the other musicians and performers put on the benefit for a transgender musician as if this were not normal, and from another perspective she fails to mention that Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Divine were also transgender.  The anecdote does not carry the weight that she puts on it.

Namaste repeats a report that she had from Margaret O’Hartigan about the band Skafish as another example of trans punk (++although from what I have read they were more a gender-fuck band).

Namaste is quite right that The Sex Pistols became the iconic Punk group, and that in their wake other punk groups became conformist and the image was much more masculine.  The pogo and the slam dance and the mosh pit were off-putting for many potential punters.  Namaste gives this as an erasure of transgender people, in line with the general theme of her book.


There are so many questions, not to mention facts, that Namaste does not even consider.

All genres change as one or two artists are given media attention.   Likewise conformity afflicts those who come later to the chagrin of the pioneers.   It is not just the queer punks who complained about the conformist slam dunkers.  Johnny Rotten/Lydon expressed the same complaint.

We might also note The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show which was a celebration of non-conformity when it opened in 1973.  Many of the early fans were quite put off after the film version came out, and performances turned into rigid conformity.

Where did the queer punks go?  Many did not go anywhere.  They continued playing punk, but were ignored by the mainstream press.  As a trans woman, Namaste should be aware that the true images of minority groups are frequently not reflected in the mainstream press.  Other forms of Punk kept going.

Other queer punks went into New Romanticism in the early 1980s and the Goth movement after that.   Goth also went through a phase of masculinization.   Goodlad makes the interesting observation that “Hardcore masculine youth styles are economically preferable to androgynous styles such as goth in part because audiences segregated by gender and age – particularly audiences composed of young men – are especially valuable to the advertisers of youth-related products (p109)”.

Another angle not explored is punk as dandyism or homeovestity.  This angle is commented on in the film, The Filth and the Fury.  Malcolm McLaren ran a clothing boutique in the Kings Road before he became the Sex Pistols manager.  Very few theorists compare transvestity and homeovestity.

So are trans performers erased in Punk?  Whether yes or no, it is very easy to come up with a considerable list of trans punkers, reflecting all flavours of trans, and all flavours of punk.

Namaste is a Foucaultian.  She actually argues that she needs a Foucaultian approach to sort out out different views of punk by time and place.  Personally I would have expected any competent journalist to do exactly that.    Foucaultians are not interested in facts and statistics, and to repeat from the quote above: “Yet I remain uninterested in a type of historical inquiry that would establish the presence of MTF transsexuals in punk culture”.

Not being interested and not giving evidence of presence is surely a participation in erasure.

I do not share this lack of interest.  I think that it is a point worthy of note that so many trans women and also trans men have found punk to be a genre or attitude through which they can express themselves.

A final point.  Namaste, in her text, does not mention even one surgically completed trans punk, although as you will see below, there are several candidates.


The one-time impersonator club, 82 Club, evolved into a glam and punk bar in the early  1970s.

The New York Dolls played with androgyny, but did not go very far.
Jayne County was a punk before Punk Rock in the early 1970s.
Lou Reed had a trans lover, Rachel Humphreys and wrote a few songs about trans persons.


Stella Nova auditioned for the Sex Pistols in 1975, and then was in the Rich Kids with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock.
Al Pillay started out as a gender-bender punk in Spit Like Paint, although after his faux sex change, he became a disco singer in the 1990s.
Gender-fuck Skafish were the first punk band from Chicago.
Sometimes cross-dresser Kevin Rowland played punk before forming Dexy's Midnight Runners in 1979.
Chelsea Godwin played punk rock at CBGBs.
Fanny McNamara and Pedro Almodovar performed as a drag-punk act in the late 1970s.
Anderson Toone played keyboard in the postpunk group, The Bloods.
Marie-France Garcia’s debut single was almost punk.
Ginger Coyote, editor of Punk Globe, singer with White Trash Debutantes.
Donna Lee Parsons wrote a punk fanzine and later was recording manager on Real Men Don’t Floss by The Young and the Useless, and Polly Wog Stew, by the Beastie Boys in the early 1980s.
Claudia Wonder was in the punk band, Jardins das Delícias.
Genesis P Orridge played punk and other genres while in Psychic TV in the early 1980s.
Dean Johnson was a drag-punk musician.
Benjamin Dickerson was a blues punk drag queen.
Chloe Dzubilo was in the punk band Transisters in the early 1980s.
Bambi Lake was a punkette.
Lazlo Pearlman fronted punk bands bands Skinny Wiresand Jezebel's Kiss.
Max Valerio has worked with punk bands.
Animal Prufrock actually played at the Michigan Women’s music festival.
++ bonze blayk  was in the Angry Samoans
Raphael Carter is a postcyberpunk novelist.
Lucretia Dearfour is a steampunk novelist.
The 1996 film, Different for Girls, features an affair between a trans woman and a punk.
The 1998 film Velvet Goldmine about glam rock with significant queer content,
Vaginal Davis is second generation punk.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 2002 – a punk musical about a trans person.
Lynn Breedlove, singer in punk band Tribe8, novelist, comedian.
Cross-dresser Brian Viglione drums in punk bands when not performing in the Dresden Dolls.

  • Dick Hebdige.  Subculture: The Meaning of Style.  Methuen & Co, 1979: 108,121,123 .
  • Greil Marcus.  Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.  Harvard University press, 1989:36, 75,80 .
  • Matias Viegener. “ ‘The Only Haircut that Makes Sense Anymore’: Queer Subculture and Gay Resistance”. In Martha Gever,  Pratibha Parmar, and John Greyson (eds). Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Jayne County with Rupert Smith. Man Enough to be a Woman. London: Serpent's Tail, 1995:108-10.
  • Viviane K.Namaste. Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000: chp 4.
  • Julien Temple (dir).  The Filth and the Fury. With the Sex Pistols.  UK/US 108 mins 2000.
  • Charlotte Cooper.  “Remembering.  The Skinny, 07 Nov 2007.  www.theskinny.co.uk/article/40744-remembering.
  • Lauren M.E. Goodlad.  “Looking for Something Forever Gone: Gothic Masculinity, Androgyny, and Ethics at the Turn of the Millenium”.  Cultural Critique, Spring 2007: 104-126.
  • Lucretia Dearfour.  “Using the Transgender Umbrella to Describe the Steampunk Parasol”.  SteamPunk, Oct 26, 2010. www.steampunkmagazine.com/guest-post-using-the-transgender-umbrella-to-describe-the-steampunk-parasol/.

Dick Manitoba threatened to sue a Canadian musician for calling a project ‘Manitoba’.  So far he has not sued the Province of Manitoba.

Trans persons were not the only sex-gender minority in Glam-Punk.   The world’s best known convicted pedophile, Gary Glitter (Paul Gadd) was a Glam rocker.


Anonymous said...

And well, yeah, I might be considered to have been in a punk-rock band ca. 1978-79...


- bonzie anne

Pieces of Lisa said...

@bonzeblayk - And what a great band the Angry Samoans were. I just listened to 'Back From Samoa' the other day and always crack up at the Hitler's Cock song (which, incidentally, inspired a few local Phoenix punks to name their band The Very Idea Of Fucking Hitler). Thanks for the great tunes.