Against Me!'s latest album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, may be one of the most important records of the decade. We're deep in a cultural war for gay and women's rights, but we've barely scratched the surface regarding transgender issues. The coming out of someone in the public eye still qualifies as news, yet we rarely hear about folks in the process of a gender transition. So when Against Me! singer Tom Gabel became Laura Jane Grace in 2012, she did more than make a public announcement. She also wrote an incredible, moving album about the experience. And people took notice.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is possibly the first record of its kind, providing a raw, visceral look into Grace's mind. The title track is a heart-wrenching look into Grace's struggles through an anthemic chorus with a biting edge -- "You want them to see you like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot / They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick."
Grace's lyrics deal with her inner struggle using the recurring themes of desire to be loved and to fit in with society's image of manhood. Both "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "Unconditional Love" yearn for acceptance, while "Drinking with the Jocks" shows the singer masking her identity to blend in.
"The lyrics are really indicative of what she's been going through the past 30-some odd years of her life," said Against Me! drummer Atom Willard. "She is someone who's not afraid to fight for something she believes in. She's not going to back down from a fight."
Grace's announcing her transition was a surprise, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Her wife, daughter, and band remain supportive.
"We're all in this together. As she's going about her journey, it's definitely my journey as well," Willard says.
Against Me!'s fans have echoed the sentiment, accepting Grace's gender identity with open arms, Willard says.
"I see a lot of people who are empowered to go through something that maybe they've been considering or battling with, whether it's transitioning, or stating their sexuality to their parents or their loved ones," Willard says. "Or if it's just quitting a job, anybody can draw parallels to overcoming something in their life that is very difficult to face head on. Watching [fans] relate [the music] to their lives is a pretty great thing."
In spite of Grace's transition and a few lineup changes, Against Me! is more or less the same band. Though the singer does look different now ("She's very much in transition, and it's an ongoing, probably lifelong process," Willard says).
Willard is a new addition to the group, becoming an official member in 2013. Before joining, he says, he had the same burning question as most fans: What does the transition mean for the band and Grace's singing voice?
"When I had the chance to ask, she [said], 'No, I'm never going to do anything to change the sound of my singing voice. I love my singing voice,'" Willard says.
Against Me! is scheduled to play Nile Theater in Mesa on Wednesday, May 21.
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