Whether it’s to snap a great glamour shot for their show poster, or or to zip them up backstage at a high-stakes pageant, or just to catch them when they fall, Jax Koyote has always been there for his drag queen friends. And now that Jax, a trans freelance photographer and recognizable nightlife presence, is the one in need, the drag community is there for him. Some two dozen queens, in fact, will be performing in a marathon benefit concert at Pieces bar on April 14th to raise funds for his top surgery aftercare. With his surgery date suddenly moved up a week, Thotyssey is grateful that he found the time to catch up.
Thotyssey: So, let’s talk about you, Jax! It seems like you’ve had quite a journey from your early years in rural Ohio to your current life in New York City, on the eve of your fundraiser at Pieces in the West Village. Do you miss any aspect of small town life?
Jax Koyote: Yes I do, I miss having a house, a backyard, a porch, and a car. Not to mention having bonfires and BBQs.
Sounds like heaven! You’ve had a complicated life, though. For starters, you grew up with two deaf parents. In what ways was this a struggle?
It was always a struggle, on top of feeling different, because a lot of kids in school didn’t understand the difference between mentally ill and deaf. So, I was picked on a lot when I was a kid. I tended to isolate [myself], and I was alone most of the time, with very few friends that I’ve trusted.
Did it help you at all to appreciate noise, or silence, more?
I don’t know the difference because I can hear. And coming from a deaf parent, they don’t realize how loud they can be when they’re using their voice. So, in public places when my mom tried to talk to me, she would be really loud, and I would be really embarrassed. Although there were some upsides. I could sneak in and out of the house with no problem. We could have our music and the TV as loud as we wanted it to be, and sometimes I got away with talking back!
You’ve been candid about struggling with, and overcoming, addiction before arriving in NYC. Did this stem from this unhappiness with kids’ cruelty, and with your early questioning of your gender identity?
I knew I was different as a kid. I had no idea about why, exactly. I just knew I wasn’t a girl, but I wanted to be more like the boys. My addiction was everything combined. I was just an unhappy kid most of the time. Those things that happened didn’t help. I did struggle with suicidal thoughts, and an eating disorder too. My father is a drunk, so there’s that. I do believe that it’s a little genetic, too.
Genetics definitely plays a big part. On that subject: probably not an easy question to answer in a sentence or a paragraph, but how did your awareness of being transgender develop from a vague idea into a fully formed “Aha, that’s me” moment?
There really wasn’t one per se. I’ve battled with the idea, feelings, and who I am for years, to the point where a doctor asked me, ‘How long are you gonna allow yourself to suffer?” That’s when I made the decision, just about three years ago.
How long have you been in New York now?
Oh wow! So you’ve seen many different waves of gay nightlife. What were the earliest places you started hanging out in?
My first was a bar called Honey in Long Island, where I lived for about seven years when I first moved up here. It was mixed gays, but mostly women. it’s no longer there, I believe. I was 22, I’m now 37.
Were you befriending drag performers in your twenties, or was that a later development?
Long story, but I’ll just say this in short: I’ve always been attracted to drag queens. My first memory is watching RuPaul on VH1 when I move to the city. Occasionally, me and my friends would go to either Lucky Cheng’s or Lips back in the day to do karaoke. The queens would always talk to me, and I loved it. But I wasn’t ready to fully immerse myself in the bar gay scene, so it was definitely a later development for me to be more comfortable with who I am, in order to be comfortable with that kind of nightlife, without using drugs.
Do you remember where you met Honey Davenport?
I believe the first time I met Honey was two-and-a-half years ago, at the old Boots & Saddle. I was introduced to her by Delilah Brooks. I started transitioning a few short months after I met her. So, she and Delilah and a few other queens: CoCo, FiFi, Sherry Vine, etc., have watched my whole transition. Honey is one of my best friends, we’ve gotten really, really close for the last few years.
You still have a dog-walking business, right?
Yes I still walk dogs during the day, and do nightlife at night.
And I want to ask about your photography. Did you start taking pictures in nightlife–you’re currently the house shutterbug for KWIR at Monster–or were you dabbling in that before?
I used to do yearbook in junior high. And then because of my drug and alcohol use, everything else in my life, including that, started falling by the wayside and losing their importance. Solo, I’m an artist. I paint, I draw, etc. But one day, I was taking photos with my phone and my friends said, “Wow these are really good, could you imagine if you had a camera?” And I forgot how much I loved taking photos, so I bought a camera, and have been teaching myself photography for the last three years. Let’s just say I was inspired again because of the creativity of those in nightlife.
Do you have a favorite photo you’ve taken?
I have so many favorites! But my favorite shoot so far was two summers ago. I did a shoot with Lolita, some of the photos I haven’t even finished editing yet.
And the one I did recently with a friend of mine, where I actually body-painted her for the first time, and we did a small photo shoot there.
Love these! You’re often on the sidelines of many drag shows in the city, helping out the gals when they’re in need. Have you ever had to literally catch a bitch? Or, in the case of hecklers or handsy creeps, hit a bitch on their behalf?
I mean, not really. They’re really good about handling themselves, and the bars that they work in also are pretty good at keeping certain people at bay. But there have been a few times where I almost lost my shit, but never to the extent of hitting someone. But I guess there’s always time! And sometimes I’ve had drag queens defend me.
I find that you definitely want a queen on your side in a bar brawl.
Right! Never piss off a drag queen!
And by the way, how many drag pageants have you been to by now?
Wow, I’ve been to a lot of pageants. Let’s just say, three years worth of pageants.
So, I know the system more and more each time. In September, I’ll be going to Continental, which will be pretty amazing. And in the mist of doing everything I can before my [top] surgery, and my fundraiser, I’m also helping two drag queens with their Industry pageant work.
Damn. What is the date of the actual surgery?
It used to be May 16th, but they just called me yesterday and bumped it up to May 9th. So, it’s a lot of preparation I need to do before.
What a stressful time. What exactly can insurance cover?
Actually, Medicaid does cover the surgery, just not the aftercare. I have to be out of work for a whole month. Sadly. I don’t make enough to afford a savings account. Welcome to NYC!
Thankfully, there’s this benefit on April 14th at Pieces. Honey is hosting, and queens performing include Monet X Change, Tammy Spenks, Madame Vivien V, Ari Kiki, Lola Michele-Kiki, Catrina Lovelace, Logan Hardcore, Pattaya Hart, Svetlana Stoli, Fifi DuBois, Lady Havokk, Judy Darling, Skyla Versai, Terra Hyman, Sapphira Cristal, Ivy Ferriya, Viki Villianess, Maria Kent, Yuhua Hamasaki, Bootsie LeFaris and Scarlet Envy.
It’s got to be kind of emotional for you, to see that your kindness to them over the years is now being repaid in a way. Queens won’t do free drag for just anyone!!
I’m beyond grateful. I love them so much. They are family to me. I’d do anything short of murder for them. I’m like a dog, you show me love, and I’m loyal by default.
And there’s gonna be cool prizes raffled off too, right?
Yes, for sure, from show tickets, food, t-shirts, down to two $100 certificates from two amazing tattoo artists, to say a few! Art too… I mean many prizes, all from amazing people in my life to make it happen.
Looks like a night of great entertainment, all for a person that the nightlife community embraces as one of their own.
Last question: Some people point out a sharp division between drag queens and transgender people, not just for the obvious reasons. Some trans people believe that drag queens are being too insensitive and prejudiced with their gender humor, (i.e. the ”she-mail“ controversy from RPDR a few seasons ago), and some drag queens believe in turn that these individuals are being oversensitive and humorless. From your perspective, what’s the real situation?
To each their own, as I say. But I’m not gonna be sensitive about it unless your doing it maliciously. There’s a lot of gender fuckery out there. We all have our own ideas; we just need to voice who we are and respect each other.
But, we can also take things lightly and see the humor behind it, because we are all outside some sort of gender binary. Some people are sensitive about it because they’ve had a hard life with it, and to now finally be who I am, I can understand where those people come from. This is for me take it what you will. It doesn’t bother me, because I now know who I am. I transitioned because I feel more masculine and I want my body to match how I feel on the inside.
I am just me, I identify as male, but I’m not straight nor gay as far as who I am. I’m queer.
Thanks for your time, Jax. Good luck with the fundraiser, and the surgery!
Jax Koyote is the house photographer for KWIR at Monster on Friday nights. The benefit for his top surgery aftercare will be held on April 14th at 6pm-9pm at Pieces Bar in the West Village. You can donate to the cause now, and you can follow Jax on Facebook and Instagram. You can also follow his freelance photography and dogwalking businesses.