It would be an understatement to say that the long-awaited Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!‘s first album to be released since frontman Tom Gabel became frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, is one of the most talked-about albums of 2014 so far.
It would be an understatement to say that the long-awaited Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Against Me!‘s first album to be released since frontman Tom Gabel became frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, is one of the most talked-about albums of 2014 so far. Grace’s bravery and courage to perform and release this album as a transgender woman, along with the raw, emotional lyrics that convey feelings of isolation and confusion not only as a transgender preson but also as a human being, are strong enough to outshine the small portion of the music that may lack in quality.
While Grace’s refreshingly bold voice remains similar to her previous work, Transgender Dysphoria Blues takes on a topic barely touched on by any mainstream community. There have been previous transgender punk singers, but they were generally only known to the underground scene. For example, Wayne County of 70s punk band Wayne County of the Electric Chairs, came out as a transgender woman in 1980, changing her name to Jayne County and launching a 30 year career as a solo artist, later publishing a memoir entitled Man Enough To Be A Woman. Lynn Breedlove, singer for 90s queer punk band Tribe 8, initially presented as a lesbian but came out as a trans man during the band’s career.
Grace openly discusses the conflict between her mind and her body, and her longing for acceptance as a woman, in the opening title track: “shoulders too broad for a girl… you’ve got no cunt in your strut… you want them to see you like any other girl, they just see a faggot.” In addition, she is able to relate some of her feelings of being transgender to a wider audience with songs such as “Drinking with the Jocks,” which deals with being in situations where we can’t fit in–a feeling anyone could experience.
While Grace has apparently remained happily married to her wife throughout her transition, she expresses some ambivalent feelings about love on the album, perhaps motivated by fears she experienced before revealing herself as transgender. In “FUCKMYLIFE666,” which features Fat Mike from NOFX, Grace says, “This, too, will soon slip out of reach, this too, will soon come to an end,” and in “Unconditional Love,” she sings, “Even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save my unconditional love.” On “Two Coffins,” Grace sings, “All things will fade, maybe it’s better off that way. I wish you’d stay with me.” This song is my personal favorite on the album, mainly because I am a sucker for the staple acoustic track on punk albums.
Overall, the album is very punk. It’s definitely no Reinventing Axl Rose, but it combines the right amount of frustration about just about anything a punk kid (or adult) can be frustrated about (isolation, confusion, love…) with good guitar riffs to make a solid album. The thing that makes this album special, though, is Grace’s statements on her life as a transgender woman. Any punk artist could take the lyrics and emotion from this album and make a broad statement about his or her problems, but Grace goes beyond that. As one of the first artists to actually get mainstream attention from speaking out on the issue of gender identity disorder (and its “blues”), she sets the stage for the punk scene, and the rest of the world, to obtain a better understanding of transgender issues and experiences.