When punk icon Laura Jane Grace (born Tom Gabel) came out as transgender in 2012, the news, although surprising for many, was hardly unprecedented. Throughout her band Against Me!’s nearly twenty-year history, hints of gender dysphoria routinely surfaced in her lyrics (for instance, in 2007’s “The Ocean”: “And if I could’ve chosen, I would’ve been born a woman/My mother once told me should’ve named me Laura”). When those frustrations were bluntly and ferociously vented on 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the catharsis was palpable. A new wave for Against Me! had arrived. Since coming out, trans visibility and acceptance have made strides, but the hardships remain.
In her new memoir Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, which hits bookshelves on November 15th, Grace and co-author Dan Ozzi retrace the lifelong turmoil of living with a secret life while constantly on the road and raising a family. Grace even includes journal entries from years past, many of which contain heartbreaking revelations of self-loathing and yearning. Still working through the ripple effects of her coming out, Grace remains more prolific than ever; Against Me!’s latest album, Shape Shift With Me (which she co-produced) was released in October, and that record’s supporting tour leads into her book tour. She’ll be at Brooklyn Night Bazaar on release day with Dan Ozzi, where she’ll also play an acoustic set. We caught up with Grace over the phone to discuss her performance at Lincoln Center, the election, and burning her birth certificate on stage.
Where are you currently? I’m in Seattle, Washington.
And this is for the most recent tour? How’s that been going so far? No complaints! Shows have been good, it’s been a lot of fun.
You’ve said that when the book comes out, you would burn the journals. Have you started journaling again? Oh, I’m journaling constantly. I always have a notebook with me. Always writing.
Now that those old journals are gone, do you feel any more comfortable with what you’re writing now? I mean, I never felt uncomfortable with what I was writing before. I’ve always really been appreciative of journaling as an outlet. It’s kind of a silent friend to share your thoughts with.
With this new book, and new album, and all the touring, are you busier than you’d like to be? No, I like keeping busy. I mean, this is par for the course. I may be a little busier than usual, but as a band we’ve always done this much touring. I’ve always kind of lived for the road, if you wanna put it like that.
Earlier this year, you played at Lincoln Center. When you started out, did you ever envision playing a place like that? I can’t say I did, no, but it’s always amazing to go where life takes you. That being said, I always tell people when they’re asking for advice when they’re starting out playing music to never judge an audience, and to be willing to play for anyone, anytime, anywhere, whether it’s a street corner, or a basement, or a shitty rock club, or a stadium, or at Lincoln Center. It was an incredible show.
Were you reading passages from the memoir at those shows? Yeah, the book wasn’t finished at that point. I was trying to work stuff out in a live setting, seeing what people reacted to, or what people weren’t reacting to. It was really helpful.
Were there portions of the memoir that you were reluctant to include? No. Nothing was really off limits. There was more just an issue of knowing that there was a lot of stuff that couldn’t be included just because of the limitations of, you know, page count and word count. When I went through and fully transcribed my journals I had, like, over a million and a half words. I think the book came in around seventy thousand or eighty thousand words.
Since you’re continuing to transition, do you ever feel out of place when people open up to you about their own journeys? It can be intense, for sure. That’s always intense to hear, somebody telling you they’re going through something that’s hard to go through.
Do you ever feel at all responsible for the emergence of more people in the punk scene who are trans or non-binary conforming? No, I don’t feel responsible for that. There’s trans and non-binary people all over the world. I think people are becoming more educated on it, which is a good thing. People are definitely becoming more comfortable with being visible, which is an awesome thing. I feel grateful to be a part of it.
I noticed recently you wore a Trump mask at a concert. For me, it rhymed with an image I saw back in 2004 when Billie Joe Armstrong wore a Bush mask on stage. Do you have any thoughts on the election? I mean, there’s so much...it kinda just seems like a shit show. It’s kind of uninspiring all around, but that’s politics, I guess, right?
If you can’t side with Trump, is there anybody you can side with in this election? Do you have any take on Hillary or another candidate? I would kinda like to leave that out, if that’s okay. I feel like this election is like... everyone has a fucking opinion. Everyone’s really quick to, like, “This is my opinion, this is my opinion! Listen to me, listen to me!” And it’s like, if you see two really dumb fucking people having a fucking stupid argument and think the solution is to jump right in and solve it for them, sometimes you just need to take a step back.
Honestly, I really appreciate that. I often feel as though there’s just way too much coverage of it. I’m fucking burnt out on it honestly. I don’t have any energy for it anymore. It sucks to say, but Christ I can’t wait for it to be over. (laughs)
When you did the performance in which you burnt your birth certificate, were you surprised at all by the enormous reaction? I was really happy that it brought a lot of attention to HB2 and North Carolina and what’s going on there.
Were you nervous at all? No. The second I lit it up, it burned a lot quicker than I thought it would. I was like, “Oh shit! Maybe I should’ve planned ahead and had a fire extinguisher near the stage!” But it all worked out.
I was delighted by it. I think it got a lot of people introduced to you that may not have known you through your music. Are you finding that more and more people who aren’t in the punk scene who are coming up to you for reasons separate from the music itself? Yeah, sure. To a certain extent, for sure. But at the same time, we’ve always been the type of band where our audience isn’t exclusively just the punk scene or anything like that. We’ve always had a widely diverse audience.
You don’t need to reveal too much if it’s under wraps, but are you excited about your creative pursuits in the next year? We’re touring through November 4th, then I have the book tour. December we go to Europe. I recorded and produced a record for a good friend of mine, David Dondero, that comes out November 4th on my label Total Treble. Next year, we’re going out with Green Day for a month, which I’m really excited about. And we have plans beyond that. It’s just kinda a lot of touring right now.
Is there a place you haven’t traveled yet you’d like to get to? Would love to go to Russia. Would love to go to mainland China. Africa, South America, would love to tour there. There are many places left to conquer.