Tuesday, March 25
Nearly two years after coming out as transgender, Against Me! founder Laura Jane Grace has some shit to say. The singer addresses the topic bluntly and viscerally on her band’s new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. On the title track she drops lines like “You want them to see you like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot/They hold their breath not to catch the sick.” It’s not pleasant imagery, but she has no intention of holding back.
“I was just trying to write as unguarded and from-the-heart as I could,” Grace recently told Seattle Weekly in an e-mail. The new album does take a sharp turn in that direction, filled with stories from when Grace lived under the name Tom Gabel. On “Drinking With the Jocks,” the vocalist appears to be calling out the objectification of women in stereotypical frat-boy culture. She sings about “laughing at the faggots” and looking at “all the bitches” and wanting to “fuck them all”; the twist comes in as she screams “All of my life/Wishing I was one of them.” It’s one of the most horrific and moving recollections of what it must be like to experience gender dysphoria.
The songs are just as hard-hitting as anything from the band’s old records, like Reinventing Axl Rose, but with the pop-punk energy of its most recent hits, like 2011’s “I Was a Teenage Anarchist.” The driving bass line on “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” harkens back to Fugazi, while the melody in “Black Me Out” could be a stand-in on an All American Rejects album. What makes Transgender Dysphoria Blues particularly compelling, however, is the music’s accessibility next to the raw tenacity of its narrative.
“I’m not trying to represent anyone’s perspective but my own,” Grace says. “I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences.”
For his part, drummer Atom Willard says there was never any “I’m going to sing about this specific thing now” talk within the band. Grace’s announcement didn’t cause much fuss. The music was the important driving force through it all, and the melodies took primary focus within the group.
“We’re all pretty much on the same page with everything, especially when it comes to music,” Willard says. “Laura’s idea to do the record as a concept was the only thing that was really talked about, and it was like, ‘OK, cool.’ ”
Crowd response has been equally supportive, he says. The band’s dynamic hasn’t changed much, except for its set lists; and despite the anguish and brutality of Grace’s lyrics, her story is one of love and self-worth. These days it’s a welcome message—one aptly reiterated on the track “True Trans Rebel” with the endlessly quotable lyric “God bless your transsexual heart.”
“I think people should know that trans people are real and beautiful and strong and inspiring and deserving of respect,” Grace says. “I’m happy to advocate that perspective.” With Laura Stevenson, Cheap Girls. The Neptune, 1303 N.E. 45th St., 877-784-4849, stgpresents.com/neptune. 8 p.m. $18 adv./$20 DOS. All ages.