My earliest memories are of gender dysphoria. I felt lost, and like I couldn’t survive. It took until I was 31 to publicly come out as a transgender woman. Nothing has been the same since.”
“While on the road I’ve met gender variant people from all walks of life, all at various points in their journeys. Hearing their stories, and then being able to relate myself to it, is what I need right now”
By punk rock standards, Against Me has taken it as far as any band can. After starting out as a solo act in 1997, Laura went on to record a couple of EPs with a drummer, and these recordings of Against Me as a 2 piece act featuring Grace and drummer Kevin Mahon include the must listen Crime As Forgiven By Against Me! released in 2001.
After fleshing out the band, and becoming a powerful 4 piece unit with a second guitarist and bassist, the band released Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose on the died-in-the-wool DIY record label No Idea Reords in 2002. This was quickly followed up the next year by Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy, and Total Clarity on punk rock heavyweight Fat Wreck Chords.
These albums were chalked full of catchy, hard hitting punk rock with a signature sound propelled by the jangly punch of Grace’s Rickenbacker. In fact, many describe the music of Against Me! as being “folk punk”, and the band does have a sound that is probably closer to first wave punk and 80s alternative rock along the lines of early Social Distortion, The Blasters, Husker Du, and The Replacements than it does to bands like NOFX, whose bass player/vocalist owns Fat Wreck Chords. The songs on these releases are underground classics, with lyrics that are both anthemic and literate at the same time.
These releases, and relentless touring, made Against Me! one of the biggest draws in underground music. The band headlined large theaters, and opened up in arenas for bands like The Foo Fighters. The band then made the jump to the major label world and signed with Sire Records. A wise choice, seeing as how since Sire was the home of The Ramones, The Dead Boys, and The Talking Heads, they could sign with a major label that was still viewed as credible by fault-finding and fussy punk rock music fans. On the Sire imprint, Against Me would release two full length albums: New Wave (2007) and White Crosses (2010). The latter would be the last album Laura Jane Grace would record with her birth name (Thomas James Gabel).
However, the success was not enough to provide distraction from the issues surrounding gender dysphoria that had been troubling the singer since childhood (“my earliest memories are of gender dysphoria”). Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman in May of 2012 in a Rolling Stone interview, and began taking hormone treatments. She also remained married to the woman with whom she had a daughter. However, in an interview with NPR from January 2014, she stated that she was living alone.
In the same interview, Grace also details how looking back, it’s easy to see how many of her lyrics can now be seen as revealing of a lifelong struggle with gender identity. Many of these lyrics are buried in metaphor. But some are not, and this is especially the case with the song The Ocean , where the lyrics of the second verse begin “And if I could have chosen/I would have been born a woman/My mother once told me/She would have named me Laura”.
The web series on “AOL on” is an insightful and intelligent look at gender dysphoria, with revealing interviews and testimonials. It also shows a lot of valor for someone who fronts an extremely successful band to come out as transgender, even in the sphere of punk rock where the vast majority of musicians and fans would be supportive. Still, Laura herself would be one of the first to acknowledge that there have been other transgender individuals who have made incredible contributions to music.
Here are 5 other prominent transgender musicians:
During this interview Laura Jane Grace was quick to give a shout out to Minneapolis art-punk band All The Pretty Horses and the band’s leader and visual artist Venus DeMars.
Without a doubt, the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange owes a lot of its atmosphere to the soundtrack created by synthesizer pioneer Wendy Carlos. Carlos also provided the music for the 1982 version of Tron.
Punk rock may be a supportive community for people coming out as transgender, but can the same be said about country music?
Before she transitioned, drummer Michele Josef was already one of the most sought after Canadian session musicians, and this didn’t change after she started identifying as female. Josef has played with many of the biggest blues, roots and country music artists in Canada, such as Long John Baldry and Prairie Oyster.
Hip hop is perhaps another genre of music where it takes a lot of balls to be transgender, and trans-man rapper Rocco Katastrophe is touring coast to coast and producing videos that are amassing tens of thousands of hits on youtube.
County was there at the beginning of punk rock as a DJ at Max’s Kansas City, one of the venues in New York that helped nurture the movement. She also made her own contributions as a member of many bands, and with songs such as man enough to be a woman.
The new album from Against Me! is Transgender Dysphoria Blues and it’s available for download and in record stores now.