Laura Jane Grace – TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout

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  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from chorus.fm for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    Being drawn to Laura Jane Grace’s memoir, TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, is a natural side-effect of being hypnotized, mesmerized, and forever in awe of Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. I appreciated Transgender Dysphoria Blues for a myriad of reasons: It’s a hell of a rock-and-roll album, it’s intimate and personal in its storytelling, the way my favorite artists have always sung their stories, and it made me a better person. The latter point is not something that can be said for a ton of my favorite albums.

    Grace’s lyricism on Transgender Dysphoria Blues paints a stark photo of a confused and hurt person becoming stronger and more fully formed by acknowledging and actioning on internal strife — in this case, gender dysphoria and Grace’s path through it. The album is focused internally, on Grace’s experience growing up with the feeling of being born in the wrong body. The album does much more than “open your eyes” to gender identity and gender dysphoria: It drops you directly into the world of a woman who took major steps forward into changing her life by understanding, over the course of decades, who she was meant to be. I learned more about gender through listening to that album, and through reading more about gender identity inspired by listening to that album, than I’d learned in the ~24 years of life I’d lived before it was released.

    Transgender Dysphoria Blues instantly became my favorite Against Me! album — as a temporary resident of Gainesville, Fla., I’d listened all of the band’s records almost out of a sense of responsibility, but as a teenager who grew up with New Found Glory and Yellowcard, I’d never fully appreciated the band in their more punk/anarchist era. I just never knew them as that band, and listening to their earlier work as a college-aged idiot never lit any type of fire in me. Blues turned my mind on in a new way, and it’s an album I’ll forever be in debt to for the ways it made me think and learn.

    When you read TRANNY, though, it becomes clear that Blues is more of an appetizer course. That album seems to contain so much detail when you listen to it (“Your tells are so obvious / Shoulders too broad for a girl / It keeps you reminded / Helps you remember where you come from / You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you like they see every other girl” …. “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? / Silicone chest, and collagen lips / How would you even recognize me?” … The list of lyrics that could be called forward in this parenthetical is a long one, even longer than this parenthetical already is!), but it’s obvious through only one chapter of TRANNY that Grace is giving you more here. Consider Blues the 140-character version of the story Grace has to tell; TRANNY is probably not all of it, but it’s a lot closer to the whole thing. After finishing it, I get a feeling she perhaps won’t ever be able to tell it all.

    The standout point about this book, the point I should make early on for the sake of encouraging the largest number of readers to buy a copy of it, is that it will appeal to many different people. It will certainly appeal to long-time Against Me! fans — the fans who stuck through every aspect of the band’s career, which gets delved into in great detail here. It will appeal to folks who just like to read books about rock-and-roll bands, if there are such folks reading this blog. It will appeal to people who want to learn more about gender, people who need to learn more about gender, people who already know plenty about gender, and many in between.

    Grace accomplishes an incredible balancing act of detailing her personal life and struggles with gender dysphoria while penning the incredible story of one of the best punk bands of our time. Perhaps only here can you find a detailed and exhaustive reasoning of a wildly successful punk act signing to a major label with aims to become an enormous arena rock group amongst the same pages that dive into the story of a woman dressing up in her wife’s clothes, on their couch, getting high and wishing she had been born a different person.

    TRANNY succeeds because of its abrupt transparency and immediate intimacy. It isn’t very long before you’re dropped into the first journal entry of the book — one dated August 10, 2000, from Gainesville, Fla. — where Grace describes, in minute detail, an occurrence of her cross-dressing at the communal punk house she lived in for a while, her door as locked as it could be, one of the most intimate moments in the early portion of the book. Journal entries like this tell most of the story throughout, as Grace, a remarkably consistent journaler for most of her life, provides narration and commentary between entries to fill in holes and explain certain things further. You’re taken through an entire Warped Tour via journal entries; you meet Grace’s primary love interests via journal entries; you live out multiple instances of cross-dressing, and you read along as Grace makes the decision to finally transition and come out to her wife, band and the public. You’re taken through the raw and intense path of the writing and recording of Transgender Dysphoria Blues itself.

    Grace’s gender dysphoria simultaneously takes center stage and provides the backdrop for every single portion of her story. Even before she chronicles the beginnings of Against Me!, she notes her first memorable bout of gender-related confusion (age 5, watching Madonna dance on television). Before you experience her band’s rise off their first two full-length albums, you read through the difficulties inherent in living such a confusing life as an emotional and politically active young person; you learn about the beginnings of her addictions to drugs and alcohol and sex. You note all the Against Me! lyrics that originated from journal entries and piece together a person’s whole life. You become emotional at moments where Grace is filled with self-doubt and self-hate, suicidal, seemingly gone, considering herself incapable of love, considering herself incapable of being loved. The lows of Grace’s addictions and dependencies are absolutely brutal. Her moments spent “as her” (this is how Grace refers to her moments of cross-dressing) are concurrently joyous and grippingly sad.

    Never does Grace back down from a tough subject, either. She chronicles a failed marriage at a young age, reconciles her band’s growth and popularity with her own politics in the context of the punk DIY scene she grew up in, gets arrested and goes to jail more than once, suffers a draining lawsuit and the ups and downs of relationships on the road. She delves into these events without pause, annotating them in full, rarely seeming to hold much back. Even as her internal thoughts become heavier and heavier, you realize that you’re experiencing Grace’s growth in multiple ways: as an artist, a human, a writer, a friend, a person who feels they were born in the wrong body.

    I haven’t pulled any direct quotes from the book yet, for fear that I’d wind up quoting half of its 300ish pages (I’ve never received a “review copy” of a book before and I’m unsure what the 303 pages here will wind up translating to in its final form). I wanted to keep myself to one quote, for this reason, and it was very difficult to not pull the bit about a major label A&R man, courting Against Me! to join his roster, acknowledging a cover of The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” on a demo tape as the best AM! song ever recorded. Here’s what I’ll choose instead; it’s part of a journal entry from December 2, 2009, as Grace’s feelings of gender dysphoria are beginning to overwhelm her. It’s still over a year before she’ll finally decide she needs move forward with her transition; it’s over two years before she’ll come out as transgender to her wife:


    It’s unrealistic to think that I can go on living this way. I’m completely unhappy. The way I feel inside is never going to change. This is how I felt when I was six years old, when I was 14 years old, and this is how I feel now at 29 years old. Why wouldn’t I continue to feel this way for the rest of my life? A successful career doesn’t change it. Marriage doesn’t change it. Having a kid doesn’t change it.

    How do I reconcile the person I am now with the person I want to be? How would the people in my life handle such a drastic change and how would it change our relationships? My wife? My mother? My friends? The producer? The record label? Our audience? How would making a change like this affect my daughter’s life? So many unknowns and so many terrifying possibilities.

    I wanted to share this quote for a few reasons. I think it exposes the scope of the decision to transition that Grace struggled to make for years, and I think it identifies the many ways in which her brain worked at the time. The pressures she had to deal with, the expectations she put on herself. This quote, to me, encapsulates the crux of Grace’s story: To become the person I want to be, what about my current self do I have to give up?

    TRANNY is out on November 15 via Hachette Books. Reading it made me feel humbled and insignificant because of how much it taught me and how emotionally exhausting it ultimately proved to be. I do feel fully qualified to recommend it to anyone reading this article, though. It will change the way you listen to Transgender Dysphoria Blues and every other Against Me! album for the better, and I imagine for many people, it will change the way they view gender and individualism for the better as well.


    Post-script:
    I wrote this whole thing before Donald Trump was voted to become the next president of the United States. I didn’t feel confident in my ability to try to weave a mention of this into the post as I had written it above, but I do feel compelled to mention it here. Donald Trump is an evidently cruel man who harbors no favor for the LGBTQ community, and his running mate, Mike Pence, is arguably worse. Pence, as an example, is a man who has expressed interest in using federal dollars to fund conversion therapy “treatments.” Aside from the desire of the next administration to abolish gay marriage, there will undoubtedly be a larger platform for hateful people to speak out against and attempt to shame members of the LGBTQ community.

    This is perhaps a more important time than ever to become a little more mindful and educated about issues surrounding this community, gender fluidity, and more. The day after Trump got elected, I became a monthly donor to RAINN and Planned Parenthood; while this isn’t necessarily a plea for you to donate, and it’s certainly not meant to be any type of self-pat-on-the-back, there are many organizations that are going to be in a position where they could use donations now more than ever once Trump takes office. It’s going to be important to make every attempt at making the world feel a little bit safer and more welcoming for the LGBTQ community, for all women, for all people of color, for anyone marginalized, once he’s inaugurated. Reading and learning about things like this — reading a book like this — will make you a kinder and more compassionate person, which really does make a difference in daily life. Donating to organizations that attempt to make the world a little safer is a good way to help as well.

     
    Osceola13 and JRGComedy like this.
  2. SoundInTheSignals

    @Bake_Wear / soundinthesignals.com

    Great review!
     
  3. stuckinvhs

    Social Justice Wizard Prestigious

    Can't wait.
     
  4. Osceola13

    Bringin the ruckus

    Finished the first two chapters last night and now I'm probably halfway through, hoping to finish before the book/podcast event tonight in Brooklyn. It's incredible so far.
     
  5. parkerxcore

    Somebody's gonna miss us Supporter

    Just ordered!
     
  6. AP_Punk

    achin' to be Prestigious

    It's a great read. Had no idea how much turmoil the band and Laura had to endure from the beginning. I thought it was amusing (but not surprising) that Fat Mike hated Searching For a Former Clarity.

    As someone who's been a fan of the band since As The Eternal Cowboy, I was one of those fans who drifted away from 'em during the New Wave era. Laura's alienating actions at the time didn't help (such as that brawl in the coffee shop), but when she came out as transgender in that RS feature, revealing those internal struggles colliding with the pressures of major label and scene politics, it all came together. Transgender Dysphoria Blues really hit me like the first time I discovered the band, and I would argue it's one of this decade's (or maybe even this century's) most important rock albums. This memoir gave me an even deeper respect for Laura and the group.

    I'm glad she's still going strong. We're gonna need her in the upcoming years.
     
  7. Kristen

    Regular Supporter

    There is an audio book right? Is it her that reads it?
     
    Michael Buffone likes this.
  8. Michael Buffone

    Newbie

    That would be neat.
     
    Dan O'Neill likes this.
  9. skogsraet

    Trusted Supporter

    This will be the first time I buy a book in a long time. Going to donate it to my local library once I've read it myself.
     
  10. Ryan

    Might be Spider-Man...

    Saw a couple people reading this at Starbucks today, it was nice to see that many people (not their together) had picked it up.
     
  11. chhholly123

    are you some kind of magic mirror

    Great review, I'll go pick this up now. Also thank you @Thomas Nassiff for the post-script. I think it is so important for us to hear each other's stories. That will be the only way we break down these biases we have against one another. I'll be donating to local orgs as well as calling my representatives.
     
    Dan O'Neill likes this.
  12. Dan O'Neill

    Regular

    Great review! I gotta read this. :)
     
  13. MegT585

    Regular Supporter

    Got this for Christmas and read it all in one day. So good and so inspiring.
     
  14. parkerxcore

    Somebody's gonna miss us Supporter

    It was a great read. Highly recommend to anyone who is curious about life on the road, or her struggle with her identity.
     
  15. Kristen

    Regular Supporter

    I just finished the audio book and loved it! Though it felt a bit short but that's just compared to the NOFX book I haven't finished yet. 6 hours of audio vs over 20 hours :teethsmile:
     
    Dan O'Neill likes this.