In this case, it’s being trans.
I’m not trans. Being a cis bisexual white girl from North Georgia, I didn’t meet someone who identified as and was out as trans until I got to college. Since then, it’s been a lot of re-education about the subject. I know I will never understand the subject completely, but I’ve tried my best to have empathy and understand when I screw up.
This is a bit of a weird way to lead into a review of a punk album, but trust me, it’s very related.
I’ve talked about Against Me! before on my blog way back when I first started listening to the band after lead singer Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender. I fell in love with Grace’s emotional and honest lyrics that dealt with depression, growing older, falling in love, and drug use, among other things. One of those things being gender dsyphoria. Minus the very obvious hit-you-over-the-head-why-did-no-one-get-this-in-2007 reference in ‘The Ocean,’ it’s rather subtle and hidden away in the lyrics. White Crosses as an album is a lot about growing older and becoming a parent, but I think on my 100th listen, it started to click that White Crosses was very subtly about Laura considering coming out and transitioning.
On Transgender Dysphoria Blues, she’s not being subtle about it anymore.Initially billed as a concept album about a transgender prostitute, Grace has since admitted that the record is completely autobiographical and she talked about the album as such to deal with the anxiety she had about releasing a record like this. While the album definitely tells a story, I’m kind of glad it’s not actually a concept album. For some reason, the album hits more knowing that it isn’t a fictional turn at events.
“Your tells are so obvious/Shoulders too broad for a girl,” growls Grace on the opening line of the album. From that moment, you know that Transgender Dysphoria Blues isn’t your average story. It’s about everything that crossed Grace’s mind as she started her transition. How sad she and afraid she felt. How she hid in plain sight for years in the straight male-heavy punk scene. There’s a lot about death and change here, especially in the song ‘Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,’ where Grace evokes the violent images of the public hanging of Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci, expecting her fate and public perception to be the same.
This makes it all sound like an inaccessible record, but it’s really not. There are things on there not everyone can relate to, but there is plenty that evokes empathy on the record. I don’t understand personally what it’s like to have gender dysphoria, but I understand depression. I understand anxiety and nervously trying to hide parts of yourself. I understand fear, not feeling wanted, and wanting to rise above what’s made you feel the weakest. I know Grace wrote this record for no one but herself, but the way she contextualizes her experiences in the music to the outside just makes the thoughts that were running in her mind that much more raw.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews saying that Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the most honest albums they’ve heard and I really do agree with that. Grace has nothing to hide anymore and mixed with the more stripped down production on her part, she lays herself out there more than she ever has before. And considering her past work, that’s no small feat.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues can be a rough record if you’re not ready for it, but it’s also an extremely rewarding listen if you are. It’s not here to be a teachable moment, but an honest story of one woman’s experiences and personal struggles. It’s still all Grace’s at the end of the day, but with how much she opened her heart to the world, it’s hard not to connect with it on some level and begin to sing along.