How Against Me! Singer Laura Jane Grace Uses Her Platform To Advocate For The Trans Community

By Chelsy Ranard

Against Me!, a punk band from Gainesville, Florida, was formed in 1997 by singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace. However, prior to 2012, the Against Me! frontwoman still identified as a man named Tom Gabel. In a Rolling Stone interview, Grace announced that she was identifying as a female and had battled through gender dysmorphia since she could remember.

Her music is political and personal, her coming out was courageous, she’s battled a hyper-masculine culture, gone through struggles with substance abuse, lived with mental health issues, and balanced many life changes while still being a parent. Laura Jane Grace has made an impact on so many people through her story as a musician and a transgender woman.

Creating Her Music

The music created by Grace and the rest of Against Me! has always made an impact on the punk music scene. The punk genre is dripping in defiance and Against Me! is no different. Their music is about defying the system, protest, and an anarchy that many punk music artists and fans can relate to. When they signed to a bigger record label, Sire Records (owned by Warner), they were met with a lot of backlash from fans accusing them of being sellouts. Despite that, their records on the Sire label were successful and garnered them even more fans across the globe. However, afterwards they moved to their own label and created two more albums, the most recent of which coming out in 2016.

It wasn’t until the record ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ came out in 2014 that the impact of Against Me!’s music hit another note. 2016’s ‘Shape Shift With Me’ held similar impact and theme. The music was always impactful anthems of punk protest and personal experiences, but it wasn’t until Grace came out as transgender that the music became impactful in a different way.

According to Grace, there were songs about gender dysmorphia on every single Against Me! record, some just more obvious than the others. The album is filled with aggressive honesty, but is also a deeply meaningful look into the changes made by many transgender people. It’s not all that common to hear such honest content about transgender issues within a punk rock package.

Her Place in the LGBTQ Community

Grace has now solidified herself in the LGBTQ community coming out to her bandmates, family, wife, fans, and the rest of the world. Her new name was chosen because her mother would have named her Laura had she been born female. And 32 years later, she was born again as the woman she was intended to be.

Her now eight year old daughter, Evelyn, still calls her “Dad,” but her marriage to Evelyn’s mom didn’t make it through the transition. Still, Grace became an outspoken member of the trans community and continues to be a voice and an example for other transgender people. Sticking to her punk rock roots, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind about trans issues happening including bathroom laws targeting transgender individuals.

In 2014, Grace took part in a documentary called “True Trans” where she shared her story and gave a voice to the stories of others. In 2015, she worked with Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus in a video for the Happy Hippie Foundation — Cyrus’ nonprofit that helps homeless youth, LGBTQ youth, and other vulnerable populations. She’s a proponent for anti-bullying measures, psychological care, and safe spaces for LGBTQ youth — all important measures for educators and counselors to take in order to make schools more inclusive. In a world where young transgender individuals need positive voices from all walks of life, Grace offers that.

The Effects of Hyper-Masculine Culture

One major theme in Grace’s coming out story has been her battles with a hyper-masculine culture. In her memoir titled ‘Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout’ she borrows a word she hates: “tranny,” and uses it to describe what her struggles have been in becoming the woman she’s always been.

One issue has been coming out to her dad which effectively ended their already tumultuous relationship. Not only is her father a major in the military, an environment known for it’s very masculine culture, but her coming out wasn’t very personal either. And so, her relationship with her father was even more strained, something that many transgender people can relate to.

Similarly, she has also been outspoken about the troublesome hyper-masculine culture of the punk genre in general. Though many male musicians in many genres flirt with gender fluidity like Prince, Bowie, and a slew of glam rockers, Grace notes many instances in which the way she dressed while still identifying as male prompted people to call him things like “faggot.” She’s also battled her own transphobic thoughts about herself as a result of the hyper-masculine culture she’s always been surrounded with.

Her book talks a lot about crushing the male ego while transitioning and understanding what it means to be raised socially as a male. While she’s uncomfortable with being a role model for the transgender community, there’s no denying that her story is one that is important for everyone, transgender or not, in order to increase understanding for the problems that a hyper-masculine culture creates.

Battling Substance Abuse and Mental Health Struggles

Like many people in the transgender community, Grace has battled through substance abuse issues and mental health problems. Statistically, men are more likely to binge drink than women, but what does that mean for Grace, who was biologically male but aching to identify as female? Well, according to a new study from Chapman University, transgender teenagers are twice as likely as their cisgender peers to have substance abuse problems.

This was no different for Grace, who started experimenting with hard drugs by 13. She admitted to using drinking and drugs as coping mechanisms after feeling depressed as a result of her gender dysmorphia and all the troubles resulting from it. For many in the LGBTQ community, they can relate to these feelings and substance abuse to mask their pain.

Like many people who are transgender, Grace has admitted to feeling suicidal and has spent time in therapy as a response to suicidal thoughts. She’s been open to her fans about the importance in talking to people about these thoughts and urges those who will listen, “Stay alive. Just stay alive.” She urges understanding, openness, and education on the transgender topic so that people begin to feel safe being who they are. Her struggles and ability to overcome is a heroic thing for many transgender young adults to see and feel connected to.

Laura Jane Grace, the frontwoman of Against Me!, an iconic punk band, is a woman with an amazing story. Her impact can be defined in terms of her music, her LGBTQ activism, her openness with her story, and her advice to young trans people in terms of substance abuse and mental health. In some cases, all of those things blend together into one musical message intended to share her story and inspire others that may feel as lost as she’s felt.

Though her plan has never been to step out as the voice, face, or role model for those that are transgender, her story has sort of done that for her. She’s spoken before about using her punk persona as a sort of armor against what she truly was, or others bullying her, but now her armor seems to be her true self.


 

 

 

Chelsy is a writer from Montana who is now living in Boise, Idaho. She graduated with her journalism degree from the University of Montana in 2012. She is passionate about feminism, is a shark enthusiast, and can be found playing Frisbee with her dog, Titan. Follow her on Twitter.

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