Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Being punk is taking a stand against an oppressive system. How much more oppressive can the system get when it denies a person’s identity? Against Me!’s frontwoman Laura Jane Grace hid her identity for thirty years before very publicly coming out as transgender in an in-depth Rolling Stone article from May of 2012. Transgender Dysphoria Blues, out on the band’s own label (Total Treble Records) on January 21, is their first release since Grace’s transition began.
It is necessary to have some knowledge of the immense oppression faced by the transgender community in order to understand the new album. The levels of discrimination and violence directed at trans people are staggering: according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey of 2013, they experience unemployment and homelessness at double the national rate, and when they were able to obtain jobs, 90% of survey participants reported harassment or discrimination in the workplace. As if that wasn’t enough, 26% of transgender people have experienced physical assault because of their identity, and almost half have attempted suicide.
Grace’s songs on the new album reflect this brutal reality with lyrics that convey pain and suffering. On “True Trans Soul Rebel” she sings: Yet to be born or already dead / You sleep with a gun beside you in bed / You follow it through to the obvious end / Slit your veins wide open / You bleed it out. Death is a theme further explored in the hard rock-influenced “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” where Grace sings about how the best end one can hope for is martyrdom. Their second half of the album features two songs titled “Dead Friend” and “Two Coffins,” where the former is about losing a friend before their time, and the latter is a song about dying and being buried with the person you love.
The album is not all morbid musings on mortality, though. There’s also a resilience in Grace’s lyrics, especially in the last song on the half-hour-long album, “Black Me Out”: I don’t want to see the world that way anymore / I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure, which is an acknowledgement of how the time for hiding and feeling ashamed is over. The lyrics of all the songs are intensely personal and heartfelt, and Grace touches on subjects, like her experience as a transgender woman, that have been seriously underrepresented in punk music. Against Me! provides some hope for acceptance in a society where transgender people still face oppression every day.