EXCERPT: About A Girl


BY JONATHAN VALANIA In 2012, Tom Gabel, the 33-year-old year old frontman of Florida-based million-dollar major label punk band Against Me!, announced to the world that he was transgender and had begun the process of transitioning into a woman. Tom Gabel was dead, long live Laura Jane Grace. Grace told MAGNET she knew, deep down, since the age of five that she been had miscast in the role of heterosexual boy in the play of life. After years of drug-and-alcohol-abetted denial cross-dressing behind a cruel veil of secrecy and shame, Grace realized she could no longer deny her true nature, consequences be damned, and summoning a courage far beyond most mortal men (and women), she went public with her decision. This raised a host of difficult questions that are still being answered. How would her wife, three-year-old daughter, mother and retired Army major father, not to mention her bandmates and Against Me!’s six figure-sized audience react to the news? Almost without exception (her father being the exception) everyone was understanding and supportive, but like her transition, it’s a work in progress. She documented her epic struggles with gender identity and the triumphs and travails of the transition process on Against Me!’s extraordinary new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

MAGNET: So let’s talk about gender dysphoria. How old were you when it started?

LAURA JANE GRACE: It’s not like you’re aware of like “Oh, I have gender dysphoria.” You’re just compelled to do things that you know that won’t line up with the image of a male kid around you. Whether that’s like “I want to play with barbie dolls”, or like one of my earliest memories is seeing Madonna on TV in some kind of performance and feeling self recognition. Like, that is me. That is what I want to do. I want to be on a stage, entertain people, and that is me. Maybe there was a certain bit of masculinity with her too that made that easier, because I remember my next memory was seeing ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ around the same time and when Mia Farrow has that pixie cut, feeling like it was exciting to me because it made it more real to me in a way, that that was a possibility. That that could be me. So, there’s all these things that kind of happened along the way that were building. A lot of it was like shame inducing and it eventually turned into something that you want to hide because it’s not normal. But back then, when I was like seven years old, six years old, eight years old, feeling compelled to dress in women’s clothing, I didn’t know the word “transexual.” I didn’t know the word “transvestite.” I didn’t know any word like that. It was just this thing that I felt like “This is what I want to do. I’m a girl. I need to express this part of me.” It was like this thing that would build to the point like you would get such anxiety until you had the chance to be alone behind a locked door and express that part of yourself. And that just kind of continued as I got older. Definitely getting into to middle school, kind of falling into drug-culture, especially with smoking pot, and doing acid, it was something that would make that dysphoria that much more real because you could forget about the reality and completely detach and tune out and become her, for the lack of a better term.

MAGNET: How old were you the first time that you actually cross dressed?

LAURA JANE GRACE: Four or five years old. I remember building a blanket fort in my room, and my mom had a draw of nylons in it. I just hid under the blanket fort, you know?

MAGNET: Explain to me the difference between transvestism and transexuality?

LAURA JANE GRACE: Well, I guess it’s just about understanding that there a whole array of gender variants out there, and people need to express gender in different ways. Like, I think the Harry Benjamin Standard Of Care, which is what governs like hormone replacement therapy and kind of sets the guidelines of how you can get sexual reassignment surgery or hormone replacement stuff. They have a spectrum of how trans you are, which is bullshit. It’s totally bullshit. But, that’s kind of where the title of the song “True Trans” [from the new album] is in reference to. Being like “If you win the scale, you’re truly trans.” But there are some people out there that to them expressing their gender variance is enough by occasionally expressing their femininity, and for some people it’s all the time. And the terms are, obviously, the majority of them are terms that give into gender variant people that want things to themselves gender variant. So, a lot of it is kind of gray area, like some people who are trans or gender variant will say that they’re fine with being fine with being addressed as a transexual. Some will say they’re fine with being identified as a transvestite, while other people may say the word “transvestite” is extremely offensive or the word “transexual” is extremely offensive, and may prefer “transgender.” A lot of it is just asking people what they prefer and how they identify.

MAGNET: You’ve been quoted as saying, and I’m paraphrasing, it’s not just that I feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body, it’s more complicated than that. Can you unpack that a bit?

LAURA JANE GRACE: I think it’s important to remember that there are transgender women, who are totally fine with their genitalia and are totally fine with being a woman with a penis and do not want to have any kind of sexual reassignment surgery. And that doesn’t make them any less a woman. It just means they’re a woman with a penis. And the same for the reverse of that with people that are male transgender people that don’t have penises and have vaginas, but that doesn’t make them any less male. So, a lot of it is just recognizing that it’s not necessarily about the genitalia, it’s a psychological thing in many ways. This is probably like a cliche, an example of it that’s been overused, but a soldier goes off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, steps on a landmine, and it blows his fucking dick off. Right? Does that mean he’s no longer male? Does the lack of genitalia suddenly negate his manhood? No, because it’s in his brain. You know? That’s just something that he was born with that’s there. Same with a woman who’s had a hysterectomy or something like that. It’s not based on external genitalia. That has nothing to do with your gender identity. It’s a psychological thing. You’re born one way or another.

MAGNET: Let me just take a moment here to express my admiration for the courage it must take to go through all this and that my heart goes out to transgender people everywhere. I can’t think of a greater existential hell than feeling like you’re miscast the play, as it were. Is it just the act of expressing yourself as a female—or cross dressing—that makes you feel more at home in your own skin? Feeling like you are who you really are, that you’re being true to your nature?

LAURA JANE GRACE: Well for me, I was in this place where I’ve had these feelings my whole life. There’s been times when I’ve been able to turn those feelings off, whether that’s from extreme cocaine abuse or alcoholism or I was on tour for 300 fucking days and I didn’t have time to think about anything else. So, there’d be times that I could just forget about it and fall into this extremely male role, but I would always come back to this same feeling. And you get to the point when you’re 29 years old, 30 years old, fucking 31, 32, 33, and these feelings aren’t going away. And more and more now obviously, with the Internet, you have access to hearing other people’s story, learning, and identifying with what those people are saying. For me it was such a stress relief. I had the luxury of living my kind of double life and because I traveled all the time and I’d be in hotels by myself. But going through the pressures of a major label system, fucking lawsuit hanging over your head, like all these things, I have the satisfaction of walking in the door of my hotel room and going “Ah, I can now be me” and I can turn this [male] role off. It was what I needed in a weird way. It was just the only thing keeping me from fucking killing myself. And I think that there’s a difference between the person that I was –and maybe most trans people would agree with this, maybe they wouldn’t– but there’s a difference between the person I was pre-accepting it, vocalizing it, coming out, and the person I am now, and just realizing that how much the person you were was tied up in male privilege and male identity, and how much of that is shattered by coming out as trans, and how much now you’re in the position like “What does that mean?” Like rebuilding your identity and your ego and rediscovering who you are in many ways. I spent that last 12-15 years on tours playing with bands, socialized in a very male environment and so there’s moments where now in my life, the euphoria is even greater than it was before. Like standing on stage and singing a song that I wrote when I was 18 years old about being a young punk kid, and I’ll have these moments of lucidity where I can feel complete detachment from my body. And, I don’t know. A lot of it I’m still trying to navigate. I try to reiterate this too in interviews that I’m not an expert on it, I’m very much figuring it out day by day, what it all means, and trying to navigate my life going forward. And I’m a fucking wreck in a lot of ways. But at the same time, I’ve overcome something that was holding me back in so many ways, and I know that’s a very good thing.

MAGNET: Can you walk me through the actual process of transitioning from a man to a woman? The first step is to get a endocrinologist to sign off on it …

LAURA JANE GRACE: Well, it’s different from state to state. In Florida, where I started to transition, I had to go to six months of psychotherapy in order for a psychotherapist to sign a letter that’ll allow an endocrinologist to start me on hormone replacement therapy. I had one option for a psychotherapist and one option for a endocrinologist. I moved to Chicago in August. Chicago is just informed consent. You can walk into any doctor that does that type of thing, and it doesn’t even have to be a endocrinologist. Let’s say, in my case, I’m already on HRT [Hormone Replacement Therapy], I just tell them I want to continue HRT, give me access to what I want and they’ll do it. So, it’s different from state to state, city to city.

MAGNET: Reason number 7,631 to get the fuck out of Florida. Is it true that when you were living in Florida there was a group of evangelicals that prayed over your wife at Chick-fil-a because they thought that she was a satanist?

LAURA JANE GRACE:  Yeah. There was a group of people in St. Augustine that did do that.

MAGNET: I read somewhere that when you signed to Sire Records that you threw out all of your women’s clothing and you were going to be done with it because you were afraid that if you were found out that this would somehow scuttle your career or hurt the band. Is that true?

LAURA JANE GRACE: Of course, yeah. That’s just the fear all along growing up, that if you get caught, it’s going to be bad. That’s why it becomes a shameful thing that you hide, and there’s many moments along the way in life of the things that you’ve been purging because you suppress the feelings for so long that it gets to this breaking point where you indulge in the feeling. And after that happens, you have such strange feelings of guilt and shame that you swear off the behavior, pile everything away into a plastic bag and throw them away in an undisclosed dumpster, and make ridiculous promises to yourself like “I’m never going to do this again. I’m a man. This is ridiculous behavior. I’m putting this behind me. I’m moving on.”

MAGNET: But you did drop little hints here and there in your lyrics. And then you pretty much came right out and said it in ‘The Ocean’ with the line that goes “If I could’ve chosen I would’ve been born a woman. My mother once said she would’ve name me Laura. I would grown to be strong and beautiful like her, and one day, I would find an honest man to make my husband.” I don’t think you can get any more explicit than that, and yet no one picked up on this.

LAURA JANE GRACE:  Right. And on the last song on “Searching For A Former Clarity” has the lyric “Confessing childhood secrets, of dressing up in women’s clothes, compulsions you never knew the reasons to.” But no one. Nothing. Never. I think people just thought I was being experimental and lyric writing and trying new things. And fair enough, I would pass it off as that. I remember for “The Ocean” in particular, being in the studio with Butch [Vig] and the whole band, singing that line about how if I could have chosen I would have been born a women, etc., and being like “Is that weird? Does anybody think that’s weird? Should I change that line?” And everyone is just like “No, no. It’s cool. Go with it.” MORE