By Andrea Beattie
For the first time in her life, Laura Jane Grace is starting to feel like herself.
And for the first time in her 17-year career as the lead singer of US punk rock band Against Me!, she’s able to write songs about how she really feels about life, love and the world we
Born Tom Gabel, Grace is almost two years into her transition, and has spent the past year working on what is arguably the band’s finest album,Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
And while it might sound heavy, Grace, 33, feels as though the load has finally lightened.
‘‘Having the freedom to really feel like there was no topic that I couldn’t write about, that was liberating in a lot of ways,’’ she says.
‘‘With the previous records I felt that I was confined to the hole that the band had been put into on the punk scene; ‘you’re this kind of punk band so you have to write about these kinds of things, and the songs have to be political in this way, and you have to play this role’. So to smash all of those boxes was really a great feeling.’’
It wasn’t without its challenges though — long-time bass player Andrew Seward left the band to pursue his own projects and was replaced by Inge Johansson; drummer Atom Willard took over from Jay Weinberg; and the studio Grace built in Florida was severely storm damaged during the production process.
But she battled on, using the band’s sixth album as a kind of therapy — a way to exorcise all the demons she had been holding inside, afraid to let them out and let people see who she really is.
Drinking With the Jocks is perhaps the most powerful track on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and one that is as heartbreaking as it is brutal.
‘‘You’re surrounded by a bunch of bros who are making fun of faggots, or have those homophobic attitudes that are so disgusting.”
‘‘I got into punk rock because I was the type of kid in high school who got beat up by jocks. I got beat up by the kids on the football team. I got called a faggot. I got called a freak,’’ she says.
‘‘I looked at punk rock as a place I expected to find open-minded people — people who wouldn’t be prejudiced, who wouldn’t be homophobic, who wouldn’t be racist. (But) more often than not I would find myself in situations where (I’d) be with a bunch of bands on tour, hanging out, and you almost feel like you’re back in high school.
‘‘You’re surrounded by a bunch of bros who are making fun of faggots, or have those homophobic attitudes that are so disgusting. You find yourself just as intimidated as you were in high school to voice any kind of defiance that you just sit there and find yourself laughing along because it’s assumed that you agree. You have the same fears you did in high school — that they’re going to kick your ass.
‘‘And then afterwards you have to deal with those feelings of guilt for not standing up and not saying something.’’
Grace, 33, says despite the album being specifically about her experiences, she hopes its themes have broader appeal.
‘‘As with any musician, you are writing about something that is personal to you and you want to be able to adapt whatever that subject is into something that is more universal,’’ she says.
‘‘And the themes behind these songs, while they may overtly address the issues of being transgender, or transitioning, the themes behind it are feeling alienated, feeling like you don’t belong and that there’s something wrong — I think those are universal themes that everyone has felt or can relate to. It isn’t just something that’s exclusive to being transgender.’’
‘‘The pressures that go along with daily life sometimes can be severely overwhelming. It’s so important to keep your focus on living day to day and it’s important for me to feel like I’m making a small step every day in my transition.”
Grace says she wrote the track Two Coffins for her four-year-old daughter, Evelyn, with her wife of seven years, Heather.
‘‘That song is about examining your own mortality and realising we’re all going to die,’’ she says.
‘‘And when you’re a parent, time gets eaten up really quick. I’ll be on tour for two weeks and come back and my daughter has grown an inch and is saying things I’ve never heard her say before. It makes you realise how quick it all goes. I blinked and suddenly she was four years old, and I know I’ll blink again and she’ll be 12, and then all of a sudden she’ll be 25.’’
Grace says that while her transition is liberating, day-to-day life still throws up challenges.
‘‘The part of my life that is being in a band, that’s a really small part of my life. The majority of my life is the day to day,’’ she says.
‘‘I’m a parent who has to go and pick up their daughter from Montessori school and deal with other parents. I go to the supermarket. I do all the things normal people do. And when I’m doing those things it doesn’t f…ing matter that I’m in some band and that I put out records and get on stage — no one knows that.
‘‘The pressures that go along with daily life sometimes can be severely overwhelming. It’s so important to keep your focus on living day to day and it’s important for me to feel like I’m making a small step every day in my transition.
‘‘The bigger questions, like surgery — you’ll drive yourself crazy if you focus on those things, because that’s not something I can choose to do for today. One day at a time.’’
Original article appeared in mX newspaper