They showed me the beauty of outlaw life, the value of freakdom, at a time when I was just about ready to understand it
When I was a teenager I was the Saturday girl at a charity shop in North West London. I had a very unconventional boss, Linda, and she and her boyfriend John had been quite involved in the 1970s punk scene in London. It was through this scene that they had met people associated with The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers - bands that I love - including Jayne County, the celebrated punk transsexual; a gorgeous tall blonde who's now known as Sparkle Moore, and has been a scene face on both sides of the Atlantic; ace photographer Leee Black Childers, who used to manage Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the 70s, and lived with the Warhol drag superstars; and many others. I was lucky enough to be introduced to these people when I was young and pliable. They showed me that life didn't have to be the suburbs, or my parents, or school. They showed me the beauty of outlaw life, the value of freakdom, at a time when I was just about ready to understand it. I treasure that knowledge - they gave me a wonderful gift.
The best times were spent hanging out in the back room at the shop with Leee and Jayne. It was like Wembley's own version of the back room at Max's Kansas City. I would be grappling with a huge pile of coathangers and sorting through the donations whilst they told the wildest stories. They were clearly degenerates - and they didn't care - and they involved me in their world, sweetly, kindly, gently. Jayne was a rare presence because during the 80s she was spending a lot of time in Berlin with a community of lawless and creative transsexuals who lived there.
One time Jayne brought some of her Berliner friends back to London and I remember us all going out together. In the 1980s The Hippodrome, that ridiculous building on the edge of Leicester Square, was a viable place to go – unbelievable when you look at it now. Though this stretches the boundaries of astonishment even further, Peter Stringfellow was a credible club host and I'd feel excited about maybe catching a glimpse of him, though these days I can barely say his name without retching. So we might have gone to The Hippodrome, but I sort of remember being at the Lyceum. Today this place is a theatre, but back then it was a cavernous, shabby and great music and club venue.
So there was me, Linda and John, Jayne, Leee, maybe some other people, and Jayne's friend Tara, all hanging out together. We were all really, massively, ostentatiously dressed up. You didn't just say Tara, you had to say Tara O'Hara whenever you referred to her. The full name. Tara was probably the most glamorous transsexual I had ever met and in fact when I think of it she still is, all this time later. She could make the most stunning supermodel in the world look dowdy and plain. Tara O'Hara was like a showgirl. If anyone remembers her differently, I don't care because she is cemented in my mind as this dark-haired glamazon with a thrilling German accent. She was like a Bond Girl, a villainous one at that. She wore an outfit that was part foxtress, part corrupt East German Party Leader uniform. She was absolutely gorgeous. Just being in the same group as her made you feel gorgeous too. I was an unsophisticated, fat, suburban kid and yet here I was, worshipping this marvellous, magical, wonderful being. She was the star of the gang, which is no mean feat because there were some major drama queens in that bunch. It was inconceivable that she had ever answered to a boy's name, but there you go, there was a time when she did.
Tara O'Hara held court, she was our favourite and we loved to hear stories about her distilled though Leee or Jayne. Rosa von Praunheim made a film in 1982 called City of Lost Souls, and Tara O'Hara and Jayne County were both in it. I'd like to see that film again some time.
People come and people go, times move on, faces blur as you get older, and all of a sudden you have memories of your own.
I was going to talk about someone else today, something about Paris Is Burning, a film that I watched recently for the first time in years. I was going to talk about Venus Xtravaganza, who was murdered by one of her clients during the making of the film. I went to the Remembering Our Dead website to see if I could find out anything about Venus apart from the fact that she was an underclass street hustler. The website lists transgendered people who have been murdered. Tara O'Hara's name is there. This is what happened to her. All it says is that in 1983 she was murdered in Berlin, her head was bashed in. That's all it says. That's all it says. That's. All. It. Says.
To mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we present an adapted version of Charlotte Cooper's speech, given at London's remembrance event last year.http://www.gender.org/remember/day