If future generations will idolize our generation the way we’ve idolized our predecessors, then there will come a day when young punks will talk about Laura Jane Grace the same way we talk about Joe Strummer or Henry Rollins. If you think it’s too early to make a call like that, I suggest you try to get front stage at an Against Me! concert.
I don’t think you need another straight, white, cisgender male to tell you how important Transgender Dysphoria Blues is to the punk rock community. I do think you should take the time to listen and formulate an opinion for yourself and I will tell you this: there are a lot of people who go to shows that need a band like Against Me!
Against Me! was once a rowdy band of young anarchists that sung about throwing bricks through a Starbucks’ window–albeit tongue in cheek–while crafting catchy, anthemic drinking songs for people who get kicked out of bars. As they matured, the florida quartet never lost their edge, even with hordes of fans racing to the internet to shout SELL OUT as the band began to experience commercial success. Guilty as charged.
In front of a backdrop of a man ripping his own head off, Against Me! took to the stage at Webster Hall. When Laura put her foot up on the monitor and introduced herself to New York, I remembered a quote from her interview with Rolling Stone announcing her transition into a woman:
“However fierce our band was in the past, imagine me, six-foot-two, in heels, fucking screaming into someone’s face.”
This was true. But I didn’t expect her to smile.
That beautiful smile was something I had never seen before. Laura and her band plowed through over a dozen songs, spanning six different albums, some songs old enough to have bar mitzvahs, with an intensity that was down-right intimidating. And when the song was over, there was that beautiful smile that welcomed you in.
Around me were people of all shapes and sizes and identities. There have always been giant men at punk rock shows, but it was humbling to watch bros twice my size scream the lyrics to “True Trans Soul Rebel” just as loudly as classics like “Walking is Still Honest.” I did not expect that.
Something happened when Tom Gabel became Laura Jane Grace. It was almost a crucible to melt away the shit heads from the people who really cared about other people. There was something so insanely punk about changing gender, both because she disrupted the status quo and she was true to herself.
The word punk gets thrown away around so much that it means almost nothing anymore. I used to think punk meant putting glue in your hair and having a chain wallet. I used to think punk was piss-poor role models. Now I see punk is music with a community. That sweaty shirtless guy who isn’t afraid to step on your head? He needs a community, too. That poor schmuck.
There is a second side of punk rock that always gets forgotten. For every kid who pretends to know who they are, there is another who doesn’t know how to pretend. And Laura smiled for both of them to welcome them in to her community.
“By being here you are now a trans ally. And if you see something wrong you’re going to do something about it.”
After strong finish with “The Ocean,” the band retired off stage. The audience began to shout “Against Me! Against Me!” Slowly, but organically, the chant became “Laura! Laura!”
She returned to the stage, guitar in hand, to say, “Two things. Number one: backstage, you chanting ‘Laura’ sounds like ‘Moron! Moron!’ Second, don’t embarrass me in front of my band like that, there are four of us. This is a band.”
Without missing a beat, the crowd started shouting “Against Me!,” again and the band played three more songs before leaving to play a second show in an intimate little venue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn named St. Vitus. You can watch that show in it’s entirety here: