EDITOR’S NOTE: I interviewed Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace for the cover story of issue 106 of MAGNET MAGAZINE. Because of space restrictions, more than 2000 words had to be cut from the Q&A. In advance of Against Me!’s performance at The Mann Center’s Skyline Stage tomorrow night, as well as the welcome news that Laura Jane Grace will be getting her own reality show, we are running the complete Q&A. All 7,200 words. Enjoy.
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 start at the very beginning, you’re born in 1980 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Your father was a West Point grad and for the next ten years you lived the life of an Army brat.
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah, after that I lived in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. My dad was a recruiter. Then my dad did a year in Korea and I lived with my grandmother for that time in Cincinnati. We then moved to Fort Hood, Texas, and then we moved over to Naples, Italy, where there was a Naval base. My dad worked at that for a while and then moved to Fort Leonard Wood. Around then, my parents divorced, and I moved with my mom to Naples, Florida.
MAGNET: When do you discover punk rock?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Probably when I was twelve years old. At the time, I was really into bands like The Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and a lot of the classic rock bands. But that only lasted about a year, because I really started getting beat up a lot around that time, too. And then I discovered the Sex Pistols and The Clash and bands like that, and to us, it seemed like the message going with those bands was less of the hippie message of “take the beating” and more of a message of “at least throw some punches back and defend yourself.” So that was really what was appealing about it at first.
MAGNET: So when did Against Me! start up?
LAURA JANE GRACE: I played in a bunch of Naples punk bands but it just really wasn’t going anywhere. So on a whim and challenged myself to write ten songs and record them with my acoustic guitar. I recorded on my acoustic guitar in my mom’s bedroom. I did that on Christmas day of 1996 and just dubbed copies and put them onto cassette tapes and stole photocopied inserts from Kinkos and gave copies to my friends and set the single goal of playing one show. I had really bad stage fright issues at the time and the idea of playing a show by myself was absolutely terrifying — like, there’s nothing more terrifying. So I set that one goal and accomplished that. My good friend at the time, Kevin, could kind of play drums, but he didn’t really have a drum set. So we built this homemade drum set out of a snare drum and one floor tom and then a bunch of pickle buckets. So we just started jamming like that and recorded another ten-song demo tape like that. And we booked the tour that summer — one of those tours where it was like maybe a month and a half long and we maybe ended up playing 12 shows. The majority of the tour we spent busking in rest stops for spare change.
MAGNET: How old were you at this time?
LAURA JANE GRACE: I was 18.
MAGNET: So why Gainesville?
LAURA JANE GRACE: We were both involved with the radical activist network that was happening in Florida. The hub of that in a lot of ways was Gainesville. I mean Gainesville in general is the most liberal and youth-friendly city in Florida. There are bands, there are record labels, and there are venues. But in particular, there was an info shop called the Civic Media Center and it’s a non-corporate press, volunteer-run library and info shop and activist meeting place. So that was a lot of the lure moving there first. That scene was happening there, and there was better opportunity for music. And it was cheap; you could really survive on just one hundred bucks a month. I slept under the staircase of this big punk squat that was basically the house in Fight Club. I paid my rent by selling plasma at a plasma center. It was enough to pay the utilities and rent and still have some drinking money and cigarette money leftover.
MAGNET: So where does the name Against Me! come from? How do you come up with this name? This was back in Naples, I guess, right?
LAURA JANE GRACE: I probably came up with the name when I was sixteen. Whatever, as cliché as it sounds, it was about feeling like the world was against me, you know?
MAGNET: Right, you against the world: that makes sense. Eventually Against Me! evolves into a proper band. You get James Bowman, who you were friends with since growing back up in Naples, correct?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah, then went on tour and that was like our first pretty successful tour. It was awesome: we had our own van with a loft and you could tell there was an excitement at the shows. People were really into it in certain places. The last show was in Bloomington, Indiana. When we were driving back, we were just north of Atlanta, and a semi-truck hit us from behind as we were driving down the highway. It spun us to the side and our two left side tires blew out so we rolled four or five times and ended up upside down on the side of the road in a ditch. It was like, nobody was hurt, except Jordan, who had always been our tour manager and had always kind of been with the band. He tore his ACL ligament. That was the extent of the injuries. But the band was fucked, all our gear was fucked, everything like that was just gone.
MAGNET: The the first proper Against Me! album was called Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose. Were you just fucking with Axl Rose?
LAURA JANE GRACE: It was really a tribute to him in a lot of ways. Growing up for me when I was a kid, Guns N’ Roses was my favorite band — they were just it. There had been nothing more dangerous that I had ever heard than Appetite for Destruction.I remember hiding the tape from my parents. But then I joined the punk scene, and the radical activist scene, which was all about deconstructing the rock star, and like not seeing the stage as a pedestal, and kind of seeing that whole idea of music as full of shit. It was kind of taking those things that are still dear to you, and still mean a lot, and reclaiming them as your own and reinventing them. The funny thing is in 2009 we got offered some Guns N’ Roses shows, but we turned them down. The money wasn’t really all that great to make it work, and I didn’t want to have that be part of the memory: I just wanted my memory of Guns N’ Roses to exist separately from what it is now. We did end up playing with them in Reading and Leads a couple of years back, and I watched the set and wished I hadn’t.
MAGNET: How does the signing to Sire Records come about?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Well it was a really long drawn out process. After Reinventing Axl Rose, we did an album called As The Eternal Cowboy and we signed to Fat Wreck Chords. After that, we really started getting approached by a bunch of major labels. And we really started touring heavily once that came out and were just gone all the time. There was a lot of major label interest that began to come about. We were starting to take meetings and it got fucking ridiculous: being flown all over the place, the fancy dinners in fancy restaurants, getting to raid the CD cabinets at label headquarters and take whatever you want. It was just total debauchery. We were filming all of it and we made this video of us taking the piss out of them and put it out on DVD. And then we were like, ‘That’s the end of that, we’re never going to get another major label deal after making fun of them. But when all the offers came in, but I just didn’t feel right about it; I didn’t want to do it at the time. So we just turned it all down. We ended up doing another record with Fat, which was Searching for a Former Clarity and the A&R reps came back with a vengeance: it was much more aggressive and you’re again being flown halfway across the world, and they’re flying out to see you all across the world, and they’re taking you out to ridiculously fancy dinners, taking you to these parties at executive offices, hanging out with actors and actresses.
MAGNET: Like who?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Bill Paxton was probably one of the most notable. Bill Paxton can fucking hang. He’s a rad dude.
MAGNET: How many different labels were courting you?
LAURA JANE GRACE: At the time we were getting offers from Sire, Universal, Virgin, Sony, like every single label made an offer.
MAGNET: What kind of money were they throwing around?
LAURA JANE GRACE: It was fucking a lot of money. We signed to Sire for a million dollars.
MAGNET: Wow. Now, how did that work, you got a million dollars to make three records over a certain period of time, or what?
LAURA JANE GRACE: No, we got a million bucks to make one record. And then the next record — in a record deal it’s called ‘firm,’ — it was a ‘two firm’ deal, meaning they had to make two records. We signed it, so they had to do the one record for a million and the next record was a little over half a million.
MAGNET: So what was your time on Sire like?
LAURA JANE GRACE: The recording process of New Wave for me was just one of the most magical periods of my life. Getting paired up with Butch Vig was the best thing that came out of the decision to sign with a major record label. Just that experience alone was fucking incredible. The recording process was rad and then we did a co-headlining tour with Mastodon, which was the most debaucherous tour I’ve ever done in my life and probably took five years off of my life, but it was really fun. Then it just kept going: we just kept touring. We toured for two years straight from the record. We drove ourselves into the ground. We burnt the band out in a lot of ways.
MAGNET: How did the record do?
LAURA JANE GRACE: By our standards, it did awesome. But we could tell…That was the thing kind of going into it: we knew that it was like, “OK, if this record doesn’t at least go gold or whatever, then we’re screwed.” They wouldn’t put that much interest in the second record. But for us, it was our highest selling record: it sold more than any record we’ve ever put out before. We were stoked. I don’t know where it’s at now, but at the time, we sold like 100,030 records. We were like, “Woah! This is mind blowing!” but to them we could tell it was small change and didn’t really mean that much.
MAGNET: So let’s jump ahead, you record a second album for Sire, White Crosses, and you are about to go on tour…
LAURA JANE GRACE: Well, it was a weird period of time. We did a U.S. tour with Ted Leo and we were supposed to go to France for like maybe a two week on tour. But we had just fallen apart. We were just kind of done, you know? I feel bad about this, I feel this is a big thing that explains so much about the band that I’m never really able to talk about, but we got sued by a former manager. I can’t say anything about that. The whole lawsuit is public knowledge, like you could look it up online and you can read the whole details of the case in the New York court system, but other than that, I can’t say anything about it.
MAGNET: That’s part of the settlement? You had to sign a non-disclosure agreement?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah, I can’t say anything detrimental or nothing like that. I’m not sure if I can even say that, so how about you discover that on your own, because it’s online and anyone can read about it. We had all of these external factors hanging over our heads and we were just falling apart as a band, so we kind of went back to Florida and regroup. We have to pull it together as a band and make a record. So White Crosses for us is really trying against all odds to make a record that was going to be commercially successful. Enough to save our band out of the situation we were in. Working with Butch was still an amazing experience and I learned so much and will forever be thankful to Butch. Out of anybody we met during that situation, he just stood by us and continually was there while at the time most people were kind of giving us the, “you got some stink on you. We’re going to step back from helping you out in any way, you’re on your own.” And then White Crosses leaked five or six months before it was supposed to come out. So Warner panicked and I don’t even remember what their stupid fucking plan was to release the record. So they threw together this makeshift release plan and rushed to get the record out and pulled out all this last minute crap where they made us include some bonus songs on a version of the CD and were just browbeating us about the artwork. It just got really bad. And then two weeks after the record came out they fired Tom Whalley who was the head at Warner Bros., Sire’s parent company and they brought in Lyor Cohen and he fired everyone we worked with. Like our whole team. Our A&R people were gone. Our marketing people were gone. Our publicist was gone. Radio department was gone. Just everyone. And we knew “OK, well we’re going to bring in the new team of people” but it’s could take months before that happens. Our record was just dead in the water. We’re out on tour and we have no support. No one is pushing the record. We’re just screwed. I remember at the end of the tour and I call everyone into my room at The Beverly Hills Hotel in LA. We were supposed to leave the next day to do an Australian tour and a UK tour after that. I was like, “We’re done. We’re so screwed. We’re fucked. So let’s just break up the band.” So, we broke up the band and everyone flew home.
MAGNET: So, were you formally dropped by Sire? Or did breaking up the band nullify the deal? How’d that end?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Breaking up the band, gave us our power back in a way. We’re done. Warner was cool enough to let us out of our contract and they gave us White Crosses. They gave us ownership of the masters. No strings attached. Nothing. Whatever. So we ended up re-releasing it ourselves, continuing the tour.
MAGNET: Wow. And they didn’t demand the money back?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Nope. Nothing. They basically gave us a $500,000 dollar record for free.
MAGNET: Fast forward a bit, you regroup and start working on what would become Transgender Dysphoria Blues. When you started writing the album, you told the band that you were making a concept album about a transexual prostitute. Is that what the record turned out to be or is the record really more autobiographical?
LAURA JANE GRACE: The record’s really in first person. That was just me just trying to have a front because I was uncomfortable with it obviously being an autobiographical record. And the transexual part of that is obvious. The prostitute part is coming off the major label experience and kind of feeling like you whore yourself out.
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: Now 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.
MAGNET: Now, why is that? You think people just don’t pay that much attention to the lyrics? Or they thought you weren’t talking about yourself, that you were just in character?
LAURA JANE GRACE: I think people just thought I was, I don’t know, 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”.
MAGNET: I know it’s a very polarizing and divisive question as to which pronoun — he or she? — to use when referring to transgendered people back before they transitioned, but you don’t mind when people use ‘he’ to refer to you when you were Tom Gabel, that it’s perfectly fine to use male pronouns in those instances.
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah. And I think that may be a unpopular view with some of the people who I know in the trans community or whatever, but the problem is acknowledging my past or the person that I was, or that for a very long time, I was known as Tom Gabel, or that for a very long time most of my closest friends perceived me as male. As I said, I sell records every single night at shows, they’ll say “Tom Gabel-Vocals-Guitar.” There’s a million pictures of me when I was Tom Gabel. At the same time if up to a point my name becomes something that is continually fixated upon, it starts to become transphobic. And that’s a little weird. And there’s also many many artists out there, not trans artists, but artists who have decided to perform under different names, be that Prince or Madonna, Lady Gaga, Axl Rose, whose first names or whatever are not the points of focus in interviews. And I get that right now, this is all really new, this is the first record we’ve done where this is part of it. So, I understand. But hopefully, that will be something that will pass.
MAGNET: How did you summon up the courage to tell your wife? That must’ve been the hardest decision to make out of all of this. At the risk of getting too personal, why did it happen when it happened?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Well, as I had said, I reached that point where I’m going to take a year and I’m just not going to think about things, unless I feel the same way in a year, and I’m going to make a decision. And so, it had been a year. And I just — you know, it’s one of those things, that looking back on it, it’s really really hard to get back to the exact headspace that I was in at the time. But, there’s no real better phrase that I can sum it up other than being at this point and being like “Fuck it”. You know? Fuck it. This is what’s going to happen, and you just feel like that’s your fate, that is what you were born to be or this is what was meant to happen. I mean, this is you. You’re being true to yourself. There’s really no other way to put it. Because it’s so fucking terrifying, I just kind of flipped into survival mode in a lot of ways, and kinda of came out of the other end of all that seven, eight months later like “Whoa. I can not believe that all just happened.”
MAGNET: And the outcome, which is well known at this point, is that your wife was incredibly understanding and that you guys are still together. And you told your band they stood by you. And your mother was very supportive — well that’s not surprise. Your mother always loves you. If your mother is worth anything, even if you kill someone, she still loves you. It didn’t go so well with your father, and the last I’d heard was that basically there’s been no real communication between you guys after you initially disclosed to him. Is that correct?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah. I haven’t spoken to him since.It’s interesting, you know? It was like the initial moment when everyone found out there was a moment of shock, but their first reaction is to be supportive. But then when the initial shock wears off and people have time to really process it is when you find out who your friends are.
MAGNET: How about your daughter? How do you explain this to a three-year-old? Do you have therapist who are kind of guiding you through to deal with the transition and how that affects the various relationships in your life?Or are you just making it up as you go along?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Yeah. A lot of it is making it up as you go along, and a lot of it is absolutely terrifying, especially in regards to my daughter. I’m in a weird point in my transition where I think most people see me and they’re not necessarily sure of my gender. Like I can tell they are processing it for a second and then their like “Oh. Male” or something like that. So, it’s like I go to pick her up at school or I go in for open class or stuff like that, and I’m still at this point where depending on what I wear — and I also have the advantage of looking like I play in a band, so there’s is that certain amount of ambiguity that is afforded for being in a band, where people don’t necessarily know what’s going on yet. And I know that’s going to reach a point where that’s not the case, and it’s going to flip. And, I get scared. I’m fucking terrified, you know? I don’t want to be an embarrassment to my daughter. I love being my daughter’s dad, and I don’t want that to be taken away from me just because I was born with something in my head that I have to fucking work out. I don’t feel like that is something that I have to sacrifice. And I know there will be points where she is like — I don’t know — I don’t want her friend to make fun of her. I don’t want her to be ashamed of me. A lot of it, for me, gives me this extra sense of drive when it comes to playing music. It’s like I have to do that. I have to have that. I can’t not have that. Especially to show her that maybe there will be some instances where your friends are going to make fun of me and call me names and stuff like that, but sometimes I get up on stage and people clap. I hold onto that a lot, in a lot of ways. But, it’s fucking terrifying to me.
MAGNET: Are you planning to have sexual reassignment surgery?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Eventually, yes. That would be fucking great, but there are many obstacles, such as financial obstacles, and the amount of time for recovery. Trying to schedule that into being in a band and being a parent, I can’t live day-to-day thinking that way. I realized since doing a couple of interviews that I have to live in a place of like: tomorrow I am playing a show, and the next day I’m going to do such and such. And when I get home, maybe I’ll hope to have some time before the next tour to schedule another electrolysis appointment. I’m just going to drive myself fucking insane if I don’t take baby steps.
MAGNET: And you mentioned financial. I wanted to ask you that. Does most medical insurance pay for sexual reassignment surgery or the transitioning process?
LAURA JANE GRACE: No. A lot of people end up going to places like Thailand and stuff like that, where there’s still just as talented doctors, but the surgery costs are considerably less. It’s definitely an expensive thing that most transgender people don’t have access to. Which is why I would rather not make it a focus of interviews. Gender is not about genitals and to perpetuate that is a fucked up thing to do to all the people who will never have the financial means to have SRS or anything like that, to make [SRS] some kind of pie in the sky that they’re always searching for, is just a fucked up thing to do to people. We need to have a world, have a society, that just accepts gender variances and accepts the fact that it doesn’t have to necessarily have to do with your genitals.
One of the biggest points of issue, and it’s such a stupid fucking point of issue often times, is that the bathroom situation. Of stuck being in the spot of, if you’re trans, and unless you’ve had full SRS surgery, what bathroom are you supposed to use? Unless it’s accepted that you’re a woman, even though you have a penis. Like, you’re in this weird no mans land. Or what if you’re in prison? Like some of the transgender women who are women, who are full on women, other than the fact that they have a penis, and you’re going to throw them in a male prison? That’s fucking murder. I have a daughter that says “she” and “her,” but then calls me daddy. So when you’re in a women’s restroom and your daughter is calling you daddy, people’s heads turn.
It’s obviously way more acceptable for females to express masculinity way they dress, like shorts and a t-shirt, and stuff like that, than it is for males to express femininity. It’s just this weird thing where for some reason, the idea that –I don’t know– again, I’ve talked about it with people. A friend of mine named Paris Lees has a theory for which she told me when we were talking about it, that people need to feel like they can read you when they see you. Like it’s a subconscious thing, they inherently look for identifying marks quickly while walking down the street. Like “That’s a male, that’s a female, that’s a male, that’s a female,” without even thinking about it. And to challenge that fucks with people. It makes them angry. But fuck them.
MAGNET: Cognitive dissonance makes people uncomfortable. I think almost everybody walks down the street and says “I’d fuck her. I wouldn’t fuck him.” I think people instantaneously categorize even if it’s only subliminal.
LAURA JANE GRACE: Totally. I think that’s a lot of why there’s a lot of violence directed at female trans. Its because most males are so fucking sexist, and that’s their agenda that they objectify women. The first thing they do when they see a woman is they look at her breasts, they look at her ass, and they have that mental process going on that of “Is she fuckable or not?” And if there’s something that reads that “Wait a second, that’s not a woman” or something like that, then their action is anger.
MAGNET: Well, their action is anger because they feel like they’ve been drawn into being homosexual, and their mind they are so clearly heterosexual identified.
LAURA JANE GRACE: Well, I think the thing that people need to understand though is that just because you have sex with a transgender woman doesn’t mean you’re homosexual, it means you’re very much heterosexual. You’re still attracted to women.
MAGNET: Do you still identify as heterosexual?
LAURA JANE GRACE: I don’t know. I guess not. I’m very much attracted to women still. So, I guess homosexual. I’m still very much attracted to women.
MAGNET: We went through how most everyone reacted to this. The one constituency we haven’t talked about is your fan base and the audience of Against Me!. Tell me, what the reaction has been your experience so far?
LAURA JANE GRACE: Overwhelmingly positive. Not that I expected it not to be, people being supportive, but I’ve definitely been humbled by how supportive people have been, and just how cool people have been. You know, I got a letter not too long ago from a transgender male who had been a fan of the band since 2003 or something like that, before they had transitioned, and they were just like “I’ve always been a fan of the band, and I’ve always loved Against Me!, but to have this be something that we shared the whole time, and to come out around basically the same time, and for my favorite punk band to be trans-fronted, means so much to me”. And just hearing something like that, where there’s people that were there all along who were identifying with those things. It’s like my friend January, who is someone who has been coming out to Against Me! shows for years and years. And for whatever reason or another, she was just someone who I recognized, and knew she had a distinct look or whatever. There was a point, probably in 2009-2010, where I saw her and realized “Whoa. She’s transitioning. She’s trans. That’s not the punk kid I used to see at shows.” And feeling like this person looked up to me or whatever, liked my band, and come out, I don’t have the strength or the bravery to do what she’s doing?