In May 2012, Against Me! vocalist Tom Gabel – having battled privately with gender dysphoria for decades – announced that he was changing his name to Laura Jane Grace and beginning electrolysis treatments and female hormone injections. Around the same time, she decided to chronicle her struggles in an autobiography. Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout is a poignant, brave, and at times funny story about struggling to fit into a community but feeling biologically out of place. Ultimately, it’s a tale of rejuvenation and redemption following a broken trail of rock ‘n’ roll excess, personal trauma, and band dysfunction.
Although Tranny came out just two months after the release of Against Me!’s seventh full-length studio album, Shape Shift With Me, Grace never wanted the album to generate publicity for her book.
“I’ve been working on this book for four years now, and writing songs for the album was something I did mostly during breaks I had from writing the book,” she says. “There was no master plan about putting it out at an ideal time and no deadline at all for the record. It was just fun and it turned out to be the easiest album to make, because there was absolutely no pressure.”
Grace can’t say the same about Tranny. The book is based on journals she had written since she was 8 years old, right up to the point when she came out of the closet and revealed she was transgender. The arc of personal discovery revealed throughout is both fascinating and entertaining. It’s also sometimes heartbreaking.
Outlining her struggles with gender dysphoria and becoming a spokesperson for trans culture was more complicated for Grace than ditching her birth name and beginning medical procedures. At the time she came out, Grace was married to artist Heather Hannoura, with whom she has a 7-year-old daughter, and she wasn’t sure how her friends and the band’s fans would react to her revelation. Even so, coming out was hugely liberating for Grace.
“For the first time, you’re engaging in your life and you don’t have this fear of being discovered,” she says. “For so long I had this thing about me that I was terrified to share, so I internalized it and never said anything about for my entire life. And I felt that it was this thing that if you found out, it might change the way you feel about me or would be crushingly embarrassing. Having that suddenly gone was completely new to me.”
In a revealing interview with Yahoo Music, Grace talks about why she decided to write Tranny, the challenges she faced along the way, what it was like to begin dating again after coming out, and how she has embracing her role as a spokesperson for the trans community.
YAHOO MUSIC: You’ve said that the new Against Me! album came from breaks you took from writing the book. Did ideas from one project ever feed into the content of the other?
LAURA JANE GRACE: In a way. It was great to be able to bounce from one to the other. A lot of times I was like, “I should be working on the book and writing a chapter right now, but instead I’m gonna pick up my guitar and knock out a song.” And because the book was so focused on reflecting on the past and reading through old journals, the album was more about, “How do I feel right now? What is going on with me at this very moment?” So between the two, I was able to cover both the past and the present.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I just felt like it was time for me to tell my story. I was getting to the point when there was that much weight I was carrying around, both physical and metaphysical. There were the actual journals themselves in boxes that I’ve dragged all over the place any time I’ve moved. And I was just at a point where it was time to go through a major reconcile and look back. It’s an amazing, unique tool to have a journal that allows you to go back. It’s undebatable how you felt about something happening in your life because you’re reading it, as opposed to trying to remember.
Was it difficult to revisit past episodes, like the shame you felt as a child when you dressed in your mother’s clothing, or the period of cocaine abuse that you went through while trying to hide your gender dysphoria?
It was exhausting, completely emotionally exhausting, revisiting all this stuff. But at the same time, it’s really rewarding to be able to feel like you have given enough time to thinking about the past and everything that’s been said and done – going through it all and reconciling and trying to learn from that and move on. It was a learning process, and it was definitely cathartic.
How much material in the book came directly from your journals?
The journals were the inspiration. They were the starting point. I spent the first year just sitting in front of a computer and typing away. By the time I finished going through my journals and typing them out, I had over 1.5 million words. Editing that down into an 85,000-word story took a lot of time. I spent four years just shaping it and turning it into a story.
During that time you were going through emotional and physical changes, which inspired Shape Shift With Me, an album of love songs written from a trans perspective.
I was learning how to live and love again, so I wrote about that. These were questions I was wondering as I was learning to even wonder them. I was like, “What’s it like to date when you’re trans? What’s it like to experience love or search for love in that way?” And I was also disenchanted with the representation that trans people have in the media.
In what way?
When I was closeted, I used to enjoy killing an afternoon by going to see a dumb f—ing romantic comedy. Or I’d turn on the radio and every other pop song was some guy bemoaning the loss of a girl or some girl bemoaning the loss of a guy or about falling in love. I was like, “I want s— that I can identify with.” And I want that to be there for other people, too. Trans females are historically fetishized and seen as some kind of deviants. So I wanted to express sexuality as a trans person that doesn’t need to be in that way. Trans people should have just as much right to express sexuality or the want to be loved or to f— just as much as anyone else.
Was dating a different process than it used to be?
It’s strange. A lot of trans people will attest to the fact that you’re almost experiencing a second puberty. You have that newness. And especially for myself, being in whatever situation I was in. I’m dating people and this is fun to have crushes and to fall in and out of love and have adventures in that way where you’re not sure you’re looking for anything committed. After being married twice now, at 36 years old, I’m trying to be real about what it is that I need or what I can offer, or what does it mean to love? What does it mean to be in a relationship after you’ve failed at it so many times?
Mainstream and pop culture have been flooded with transgender figures, including Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, and Laverne Cox. Is that something to applaud?
Laverne Cox is great! I think Laverne is amazing. In ways, just putting yourself out there as trans puts a spotlight on you because it’s a topic right now that everyone’s aware of finally, and rightly so. This is something that needs to be addressed. I don’t think any of those people are searching for fame and manufacturing something. They’re talking about something that needs to be talked about. And if talking about it makes you a spokesperson I guess that’s the case. But mainly it’s just people trying to live.
Do you feel like a spokesperson for the transgender community?
I just recognize I have whatever platform I have, and if people want to talk about something other than geeking out about guitars, amps, effect pedals, and details of touring on the road, this is something real to talk about. So I’m happy to talk about it.