From hate crimes to transphobia to poor representation in the media, the transgender community is perhaps one of the most abused minorities in the world today. The oft-forgotten “T” of LGBT, members of the transgender community live in a society that doesn’t recognize their daily struggle. Many transgender individuals experience gender dysphoria - the feeling that one’s emotional or psychological gender is different than their biological sex. This can lead to an extremely uncomfortable relationship with one’s body that is ultimately a crisis of identity.
No punk band has experienced as many identity crises as Against Me! from Gainesville, Florida. Starting out in the black-clad, anarcho-punk, DIY scene, Against Me! has been lambasted throughout the years for seemingly sacrificing the traditional punk ideals of their earlier albums and selling out by signing to a major record label. The band would go on to sing songs that were essentially a middle finger to critical members of their audience, claiming “The revolution was a lie!” polarizing their listeners and garnering either respect or contempt. But when frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, formerly known as Tom Gabel, publicly came out as transgender in 2012, many fans wondered where the band was going to go next. Return to their traditional punk roots? Or continue their trend of arena rock songs that appeal to a more general audience? How will the music be affected by this revelation? In short, the band’s new album, entitled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, has exceeded all expectations and is a roaring, fuck-the-world-and-me-too, power-packed ride that explores topics as specific as transgender issues, but also the more universal themes of identity and change.
While the run time is only half an hour, each song feels like an anthem, a middle finger raised against, this time, everything. LJG curses both society and herself in the same breath, calls out jock culture, and refuses to apologize for anything. Each song is a kick in the teeth and cries out to be understood, and there are several shifts in perspective that provide a multifaceted view of the complex topic. There is a great feeling of compression and expansion occurring simultaneously throughout - despite the fast pace and repetition of lyrics, each song uses Laura Jane Grace’s own experiences as a jumping off point and then rushing onward in the riptide of emotions that everyone can relate to - fear, anger, loss, discomfort, pain, and hope.
The album also features some more haunting tracks. The song “FuckMyLife666” is perhaps the most poignant song in the whole album. The title sounds about as traditionally punk as possible - swearing, nihilism, and referencing Satan all in one fell swoop. But the song itself is a high-energy anthem of change, self-doubt, and discovery. Compared to some of the more aggressive songs, such as “Drinking with the Jocks,” “FuckMyLife666” is catchy, but contemplative and introspective. Laura Jane Grace assumes the role of the judgmental critic with evocative imagery, crying out, “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress/ Is your mother proud of your eyelashes?” Meanwhile, the songs “Dead Friend” and the acoustic “Two Coffins” confront the deaths of those too young. The lyrics are drenched with pain and frustration, but heightened by a yearning for change.
Against Me! has been known to use too many polysyllabic words and verbose language that renders their lyrics clunky and weighed down. As if electrified with a reinvigorated purpose, Transgender Dysphoria Blues soars. Some songs, like the penultimate “Paralytic States,” complexly weave a story throughout the stanzas that remains true to the unmistakable style of Against Me!, but there is a new clarity in the poeticism that wasn’t there before that perfectly marries with the music. At the climax in the aforementioned song, LJG cries, “In her dysphoria’s reflection, she still saw her mother’s son!” The line rings out clear above the wild guitar and crashing drums. It fuses the personal with the interpersonal, the truth with the illusion.
Despite strides forward, even Transgender Dysphoria Blues makes it clear that this is an uphill battle. For example, this year the movie Dallas Buyers Club featured a prominent trans woman character and was recognized at the Oscars, but the actor who portrayed the character, Jared Leto, is a cisgender man. This stirred up controversy and raised many questions regarding transgender issues and how the transgender community is treated.
But that’s Hollywood. Punk is a community which, unfortunately, is still dominated by men, yet ideologically, is one of the most open subcultures to be a part of. In theory, punk accepts the rebels, the outcasts, the judged. So it was interesting to see how such a stereotypically masculine community would respond to the leader of an infamous and contentious band come out as transgender. And so far, I’m pleased to report, the response seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Many fans and critics alike not only praise Laura Jane Grace for her bravery, but also the album itself for the messages threaded into the bluntly beautiful lyrics. As LJG sings in “FuckMyLife666,” “There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me!” There might be a brave new world raging outside too. More importantly, a hopeful and accepting world.
Bravo, Laura, bravo.
Madeline Poage is a WLP major from New Jersey. When she was little, she wanted to be a professional ghost hunter. She's a Virgo, enjoys long walks on the beach, and enjoys poking dead things with a stick. You can find Madeline onTwitter.
Images: altpress.com, spin.com, radiolaurier.com