Much has changed in the two and a half years since the release of punk band Against Me!’s last album. In May 2012, the band’s singer — then known as Tom Gabel — publicly came out as a transgender woman and announced her plans to begin living under the name Laura Jane Grace.
The title of the band’s new album — Transgender Dysphoria Blues — reflects the diagnosis given to individuals who feel discontent with the gender identity they were assigned at birth. After announcing her plans to fully transition to living as a woman, Grace said she has dealt with gender dysphoria since childhood.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is told from the perspective of a young, transgender prostitute who is dealing with feelings of gender dysphoria. Though the story is several steps removed from Grace’s own life, the album retains a deeply personal feel and offers insight into her own struggles with gender identity.
Grace has never been afraid to speak her mind as a lyricist. She approaches gender dysphoria with an unflinching honesty that is almost unheard of in today’s music.
“You want them to see the ragged edges of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see any other girl/They just see a faggot/They hold their breath not to catch the sick,” Grace sings on the album’s title track.
Other songs offer deeply personal insight into the struggles Grace experienced in coming to terms with her own gender identity while growing up. At times, these lyrics offer biting commentary on other gender issues including traditional notions of masculinity.
“I’m drinking with the jocks/I’m laughing at the faggots/Just like one of the boys with my dick in my hand/All my life/Just like I was one of them,” Grace screams on “Drinking with the Jocks.”
Grace’s lyrics paint a brutally straightforward portrait of a society that has struggled to accept anything that does not fit into its traditional gender roles and identities. As a whole, it is an unrelenting approach that very few artists today would have the bravery to commit to like Grace does.
Musically, most of Transgender Dysphoria Blues sounds similar to the band’s most recent albums, New Wave and White Crosses. The pop-punk flavor of both albums shocked long time fans of Against Me!, who had grown accustomed to the anarchist folk-punk sound that defined the band’s earlier work.
Luckily, this is where the similarities end. While New Wave was a good album, White Crosses was a disappointing effort that many fans would prefer to forget. The album was criticized for abandoning the radicalism and political messages that defined earlier albums such as Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose in favor of ready-for-market pop-punk anthems.
With Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Grace proves that Against Me! hasn’t lost its edge. Tracks such as “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” and “Black Me Out” show that the band is still grounded in its punk roots.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues feels like the album Grace has wanted to write for long time. As far back as the 2005 album Searching for a Former Clarity, Grace was writing lyrics about “confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women’s clothes.”
On New Wave, a song called “The Ocean” included an entire verse about what Grace’s life — still living as a male at the time — would be like as a woman named Laura.
Grace’s deeply personal lyrics and brutally honest perspective on gender issues, society and acceptance alone make Transgender Dysphoria Blues worth a listen. Yet behind this is a musically diverse album that completes the experience and will appeal to both old and new fans of Against Me! alike.