In Her New Memoir ‘Tranny,’ Laura Jane Grace Documents The Hardships Of Being A Pioneer

Cultural Critic
12.02.16

In some ways, January 2014 doesn’t seem so long ago. But in terms of visibility for transgender Americans, it might as well be a different era. At the time, Caitlyn Jenner was still known as Bruce. The debate over so-called “bathroom bills” restricting access to transgender citizens was not yet an overriding concern on par with gay marriage. (A bill similar to legislation introduced earlier this year in North Carolina was brought forward in Arizona in 2013 with nary a blip on the national radar.)

The media in general was unaware of its incorrect pronoun usage, and essentially ignorant of matters concerning gender identity. It’s safe to say, for instance, that Colin Jost could’ve made a crack about Tinder recognizing gender nonconformity on Saturday Night Live with minimal blowback. Back then, it wasn’t just that transgender men and women were scorned — they were virtually invisible in mainstream culture.

This was the context for Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the sixth studio album by the fiercely political (and somewhat star-crossed) Florida punk band Against Me!, which was released that month. The band’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, had become a minor celebrity in the wake of a 2012 Rolling Stone profile in which she came out as transgender. The story created a media groundswell for Transgender Dysphoria Blues that far exceeded the attention normally given to stridently leftist punk groups, or transgender musicians.

Fortunately, the album justified the hype — to this day, playing Transgender Dysphoria Blues for the first time remains one of my favorite listening experiences of the decade. A thrilling marriage of cathartic rage and shiny pop-punk hooks, Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a gut-wrenching first-person account of a woman overcoming years of internalized hatred and societal prejudice in order to scream her truth to the world. It was brutally honest, but equally important, it also rocked like a bastard.

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