A punk at heart, I will always have a soft spot for the bands that helped me discover the genre, and Against Me! was of the most influential in that finding. Hailing from Florida and fluent in anarchy, Against Me!’s music is known for politically-charged lyrics and complex themes, which helped the band break through to mainstream success with “Thrash Unreal”, a single off of 2007’s New Wave (an incredible album, might I add.)
Following the coming out of lead singer Laura Jane Grace as a transgender woman in 2012, the band fell apart somewhat, losing two founding members (for reasons separate from Laura’s transition) and many fans along the way. Punk teaches the importance of abnormality and sociopolitical revolution, but is somewhat hypocritical in the fact that when change is brought upon the scene, it is often rejected (like the commercially successful femininity of glam rock in the late 70s, and the genre’s migration out of England with The Sex Pistols.) But, out of the hardship and darkness faced by the band, one of the most powerful rock records ever composed was born. Discussing themes of gender dysphoria, transphobia, and the various struggles of an incredible woman born into the wrong body, Transgender Dysphoria Blues chronicles a woman breaking free from societal convention, one chilling song at a time.
This record is a narrative, a story in its own right. Opening with the compelling title track “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” our protagonist is introduced: a woman who identifies as such, but who is recognized as a man by society. Anthemic lyrics like “You want them to see you like they see every other girl | they just see a faggot, they hold their breath not to catch the sick” expose the sincere and honest underbelly of what it means to be trans: wanting nothing more than to be completely and truly yourself, able to slip into the masses unnoticed, making this song rousing and raw in all the right ways.
The subsequent tracks follow this truthful suit, including a song that returns to Against Me!’s anarcho-punk roots: “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”, and with a title like that, the song sounds exactly how you’d expect it to: a shredding 2 minutes and 58 seconds of political propaganda, and it’s tremendous.
Towards the end of the record, situated snugly between the emotional “Dead Friend” and the dysphoric “Paralytic States”, sits my favorite track off of the album, and one my favorite ballads of all time: “Two Coffins.” A not-punk-at-all sounding, almost-emo, acoustic farewell, “Two Coffins” is a love song unlike any other: promising that after death has befallen the lovers, be it literal or figurative, there are “two coffins for sleep” awaiting them, macabrely romantic, if you ask me.
Rounding out the 10-song tracklisting, is the heavy-hitting metallic “Black Me Out”. Brimming with the punk sound that keeps me going, this song protests the person that our protagonist was before her self-acceptance: someone who used offensive terms and held little tolerance towards people like her. This song is dripping with regret but not by means of bitterness; instead, it swears to never again revert to that time of bigotry, and it is an appropriate and authoritative end to a stunning album.
Mass culture has never been notorious for its accepting and understanding nature, with racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. movements at the forefront of politics and media, being wholly oneself is almost self destructive rather than empowering. But, with the passing of each day and the strength of incredible people and groups, the world is slowing becoming a better place for all; Laura Jane Grace is one of these people and Against Me! is one of these groups. Baring it all for the world to see, Transgender Dysphoria Blues has the potential to change everything.
Listen to “Black Me Out” from Transgender Dysphoria Blues below: