I remember the first punk album that I got my hands on: Dookie by Green Day.
I sat in my basement in that high backed computer chair watching the music videos on repeat, unknowingly unlocking a part of my identity which would be ebbing and flowing from the surface to the depths of myself. I don’t think I quite understood what those moments would mean to me 10 odd years later.
I remember the first video I saw of Against Me!, an acoustic rendition of Because of the Shame. Frozen in front of the screen, I could feel that song vibrate through my skin, leaving goosebumps and the feeling that I was missing something more. I don’t think I could comprehend the weight of the lyrics that I was hearing, but for the first time in my life I could feel the weight of the voice singing it. I found something golden.
How could I have known that the lead singer would come out as transgender later next year?
And how could I have known that her coming out would end up being so critical to my growth as a lover of music, but as a trans person myself?
Laura Jane Grace was the first public figure that I remember coming out. Partially because of my incessant need to listen to any album that wreaked havoc on the establishment (or what I thought was the establishment at the time). I like to think that while I was living life as a very “goodie two shoes” girl, I also had some other turmoil raging inside of me that I wouldn’t discover for years. But I fed it with this music, and I fed it with Laura Jane Grace stepping into the light as a foundational trans musician (and in the punk scene nonetheless).
The journey to Laura’s public announcement in Rolling Stone (cite article here), was less than pain free. She details this journey from adolescence in her memoir entitled Tranny. The book starts out talking about her rebellious youth, studded by anarchy, punk, and (what was at the time) a confusing urge to want to sit in her basement wearing women’s clothing. Much of the book focuses on how she utilized the punk scene to cover up her desires to transition into a woman, or how uncomfortable she felt in her own body from a young age. Rather than face those head on, she used rage and anger and music. Against Me! Is not only a band born out of the DIY Punk scene in Gainsville, Florida, but it was a refuge for a conflicted trans woman, wrestling for decades before finally finding solace with her identity. The book is littered with journal entries from over the years that the front woman had wrote, after shows, after break-ups, after deaths of friends. All of them feel real enough, that I sometimes feel that I could hear Laura read them herself.
For those who are fans of Against Me! You’ll be excited to find not only some of the back story for many of the band’s songs, but some of the journal entries which inspired some of the best-known lyrics. Much like their discography, this book is filled with life, death, heartbreak, and the difficulty of becoming a “sell out” in the eyes of a fan base. And all of it feels incredibly crucial to the eventual climax of Laura Jane Grace deciding to come out in her late thirties.
We all come out on our own terms, and sometimes, we don’t even realize that we had needed to come out at all. Tranny perfectly depicts the continual struggle that an identity can bring, and some of the pitfalls and vices that we may use to push down our true selves over the course of our life. This book is honest, if nothing else. You can almost feel that the final edited copy was kicked around in a mosh pit a few times before they sent it off to print. But, importantly, it staples Laura Jane Grace as an important public figure in the trans, and punk community.
I saw the video of Against Me! When I was 15. I read this book at the age of 23. I could not have predicted how much I had related to this book, hell, I didn’t even know that I would identify as trans nonbinary 10 years after finding Against Me! For the first time. Laura Jane Grace is one of the people I have looked up to in my own journey as a trans person, and being able to hold such a detailed account of her life makes my own life feel more valid, and all the more reason for me to continue to glue myself tightly to the music that I listen to now, and the songs that I found moving back then.
When you get goosebumps from a song, you don’t always understand what caused such a visceral response. At least, I didn’t know that it was because that song, that band, would become a cornerstone of my identity just a few years later.