By now, you've probably read the news via Rolling Stone that Against Me! singer Tom Gabel has come out as transgender and is undergoing male-to-female gender reassignment and taking the name Laura Jane Grace. (Astute fans have pointed out the prescient line in the Against Me! song "Oceans": "And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.") This is huge news, maybe the most interesting story that will come out of rock'n'roll all year, and a giant step towards mainstream pop cultural awareness of trans people. It is a brave and radical thing that Tom/Laura is doing--and doing publicly--and it's absolutely in keeping with Against Me!'s spirit, a seeking drive for liberation both personal and political.
Aganist Me!'s Tom Gabel
I'll admit it: I'm one of those cranky old fans who thought Against Me! couldn't inspire me anymore. I was wrong.The other day, thinking about Desaparecidos' anti-consumerist politics and May Day, I wrote: "Maybe it's hard to imagine now, but in 2001/2002, with both the lingering protest culture of the WTO/G8/etc. actions and the stolen Bush election in the air, and the heightened, amber-alert nationalism that followed 9/11 taking over, this stuff seemed radical as all hell." This is the same time and milieu that gave birth to Against Me!--only on a decidedly crustier side of the tracks. It's hard to overstate how inspirational the band's scrappy anarcho-punk anthems seemed at the time. How great it was to hear such sincere sentiments and pathos stirred in with a little self-checking sense of humor--always a good thing in a community that tends to take itself to seriously, what with the revolution and all. How it felt to be singing along with every punk kid you knew and didn't know at 2nd Ave Pizza or that garage in Oly when the PA got knocked over and cut out and the whole crowd finished singing the song a capella. (End crypto-brag.)
Back then I lived and hung out with anarchists and vegans and punks and students and hipsters, and with at least one or two trans people. Among my many failings, I was perhaps not always as understanding of that latter group of friends and housemates as I could have been--not like shitty Youtube commenter not-understanding, just maybe slightly apathetic or unconcerned. A lot of people are going to be talking about trans issues in the wake of this news, and because Against Me!'s fanbase swelled well beyond rarefied, self-policing crust-punk circles in their latter years--from Left Bank Books to Hot Topic--a lot of those people might be approaching the news with varying levels of understanding, sympathy, and experience (even those who should know better). I won't presume to speak for anyone here--I'll leave it to folks who know better and with more at stake--but I can only think this increased awareness and conversation will be a positive thing.
I stopped following Against Me! after The Eternal Cowboy. Not because of some dogmatic ideology about "selling out" so much as because I was on to other stuff by then. But today, I'm listening to Crime, As Forgiven by Against Me! and Reinventing Axl Rose, and I'm remembering how it felt to hear these songs back then. To be moved by their courage and their ideals. I'm remembering how it feels to be inspired. Thanks, Laura. Give 'em hell.