Transgender dysphoria for all!: Against Me!’s transexual rock ‘n’ roll.

Laura Jane Grace

One of my cooler friends got me into Against Me! with the White Crosses/Black Crosses cd a few years back and thank god for that because WC/BC is fantastic. Post-Replacements punk rock with all the right ingredients: Crunchy, feedback-y guitars, earthquake drums, instantly ear-hooking melodies and a defiant-but-thoughtful vision.

Songwriter/guitarist/bandleader Tommy Gabel, handsome, sensitive and strong, made for a perfect alt-rock icon. He looked great, sounded great and had a great eye for social criticism and quirky observation. Beyond alt-culture anthemics ala “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” (. . .narrow visions of autonomy/you wanted me to surrender my identity…the revolution was a lie! he added in the verse) lay the obscure “Bob Dylan Dream,” in which the singer plumbs untold twists of consciousness as he describes his nighttime vision of sharing a house with Dylan, who bunks with the singer and his wife: We’d go thrift store shopping for vintage electronics/Race remote cars in toy departments/We’d never talk about playing music…

That line about sleeping with Dylan (who took the middle of the bed, between the singer and his missus) caught my ear, which didn’t know what to do with it until early 2012 when Gabel announced that he had long suffered from gender dysphoria — despite outward appearances he knew he was actually a woman — and had started the process of switching genders.

Farewell Tommy Gabel, hello Laura Jane Grace.

And also a disturbing parade of my (and perhaps your) fears, prejudices and fundamental confusions. For while it’s one thing to believe in equality for any and all persons with alternative sexual/gender/philosophical/religious existences, it’s another to confront them within your own consciousness. So much of the power in a great song — or any artistic expression of humanity — revolves around the listener hearing something of him/herself in the voice of the artist. But while I could identify with Tommy Gabel’s voice and experience I wasn’t sure I’d know how to absorb the experiences of the freshly transgendered Laura Jane Grace.

What would happen to Gabel’s gut-shaking voice? Would Grace exist entirely in a subculture I couldn’t fathom in such a personal way?

More unsettling: If I found the post-Gabel Against Me!’s new material as too unfathomable to approach, what would that say about the real nature of my possibly not-so-evolved-after-all consciousness?

The jury’s still out on that one, frankly. But here comes the first tune off of Against Me!’s new album Gender Dysphoria Blues, and so far so great. The tune is called “F-CKMYLIFE666” and you can hear it for yourself right here and now:

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