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Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a Brutal and Relatable Look at a Hard Subject

Art by Steak Mtn. [wikipedia.org]

Art by Steak Mtn. [wikipedia.org]

There are just some things in life not everyone is going to understand completely. You can study the subject all day, but there are things about that subject that you won’t understand unless you’re going through it yourself. The best you can do in those situations though is have empathy for those who experience it.

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.

The band's current lineup. [npr.org]

The band’s current lineup. [npr.org]

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.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Music

 

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My newest favorite things: Gravity Falls and Against Me!

I know I said that this post was going to be about Moonrise Kingdom, and that post will come on Wednesday, but I had to reserve this post for reasons of discovery. About the true trans soul rebel who speaks to my heart, and the clever supernatural animated show that makes me happy to be an adult while I’m watching it.

Sometime last week, I was finally convinced to watch Gravity Falls, the latest animated show on the Disney Channel. I wasn’t entirely sure until a friend of mine told me that it was basically Twin Peaks. Now I haven’t seen Twin Peaks, but any mention of a Disney Channel show that is modeled after a David Lynch TV show must be some sort of quality.

And oh, how correct I was. No… not even correct describes how quality Gravity Falls is. Centered around twins Dipper and Mabel Pines during their summer in Gravity Falls, Oregon, each episode has the two dealing with a new supernatural element of the town. When the first episode dealt with gnomes that puke rainbows and form a giant gnome like a Japanese mecha, I knew I was going to enjoy the series greatly. The animation style is really cute and the characters are extremely fun and well developed. It always makes me happy when the girly girl can get rough and tumble the way Mabel does or when a boy like Dipper realizes that he doesn’t have to be alpha male all the time in order to be a man. Not to mention that the plots and writing seem to be getting more and more hilarious with each episode. As I’ve described to many people, the series is like every funny episode of The X-Files and Supernatural without the undercurrent of angst that each series has.

Even with all it’s supernatural mysteries that would have scared me as a little kid, the series is still a funny show about clever kids having the most awesome summer vacation ever. It’s hard to believe this show made it on the Disney Channel since the content feels more like it should be leading in to The Legend of Korra or Adventure Time. Still, if you like quirky and clever animated shows and your supernatural with a side of comedy, Gravity Falls is right up your alley!

My second discovery this week is something I’ve been flirting with for a while. Since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender, I’ve been slowly getting into her band. My first foray was their acoustic Daytrotter session, but it was this weekend that I finally booted up Spotify to listen to New Wave and White Crosses.

I was barely a minute into ‘New Wave’ when I shouted “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?!”

I’ve liked a few bands with punk and political angles to them in the past, but something about Against Me! feels different. Grace’s lyrics aren’t just anger and frustration against the mainstream, it’s also just as much against certain things of the circles she falls in. ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ and ‘Thrash Unreal’ are prime examples of this. It’s weird to explain, but all the parts of me that get frustrated at the world seem to be spelled out by Grace’s lyrics, but also the parts of me that believe in the best. ‘New Wave’ is how I feel about being in the Steampunk scene and ‘Bamboo Bones’ gives me hope for getting through the worst times. Which, if you’ve been reading my blog lately, it’s not been a great mental place for me. Even if I’m getting slightly better.

I still have a few more albums to listen to, but I feel like I’m going to enjoy listening to and becoming a fan of Against Me! I’m sure that I’ll be considered a bandwagon jumper by some since I’m giving the band a shot after their lead singer tells the world she’s a transwoman, but I really don’t care. Grace is a woman of conviction, and if she lost a few fans because she decided to finally live publicly as her true self, then I hope she gains ones full of intelligence, love, and respect.

Because she, like all of us, deserves to be surrounded by such.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Music, Television

 

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