On July 22, 2014, I spent the day en femme in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I revisited the excellent Hunter Museum of Art, but the primary reason I drove from Atlanta was to see the band Against Me! play at Track 29.
Against Me! is led by Laura Jane Grace, the first M-to-F transgender person in rock, or at least the first one to be noticed by the mainstream. Their album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, has been getting a lot of attention and critical praise. Musically, Against Me! has a fairly broad appeal a la the Foo Fighters, but it’s the record’s thematic content that makes it a signpost for its time.
My daughter is a fan Against Me!. I know this because she “likes” them on Facebook, but I had been hiding their new CD under the seat of my car, realizing that she and my son have, no doubt, been “connecting the dots” about me, and I didn’t want to give them another dot. What would they think of a father who rocks the title track, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, in the minivan, turned up to 11 –
You’ve got no cunt in your strut, you’ve got no hips to shake,
And you know it’s obvious, but we can’t choose how we’re made.
You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress,
You want them to see you like they see every other girl,
They just see a faggot.
In Chattanooga, I was determined to represent at the show, realizing I was two hours away from home in a smallish town with little LGBT strength compared to Atlanta. I guessed correctly I would be the only man presenting as female but, clad in my crème leather skirt, black silky top, and black boots, I went anyway.
Laura Jane Grace and Against Me!, independent of the fact the new record is a favorite of critics and gender-dysphoria-burndened people, are testing uncharted waters. Against Me!’s music on past records, and the new one, too, might be called angry, thrashy, and muscular; in other words, testosterone-driven. The majority of their fans are men, men who like to mosh and slam their manly bodies together and pump their fists while chugging a beer. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!) But, obviously, Laura Jane Grace has created a possible disconnect between her and a significant portion of her fan base.
One of the thrashiest songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues is “Drinking with the Jocks”:
I’m drinking with the jocks, I’m laughing at the faggots
Just like one of the boys, Swinging my dick in my hands
All my life, All my life, Just like I was one of them
Look at all them bitches, yeah, I’m going to fuck them all
Look at all that pussy, yeah, Fill ’em up with cum
All my life, All my life, Wishing I was one of them
(Against Me! did not play this song, one of the best from the new record, at the Chattanooga show, indicative of something, or perhaps nothing. Other than that disappointment, the show was just great – Laura Jane, guitarist James Bowman, bassist Inge Johansson, and drummer Atom Williard, delivered solidly. From the floor, the band seemed happy and totally professional, even though the turnout was light, it being a weeknight show in a relatively small market.)
There are very few “fuck you’s” left to say in rock and roll, but Laura Jane Grace has found one – lyrically spitting on a portion of her fans, but how big a portion? Will there be fallout? Obviously, Laura Jane Grace has taken a huge amount of risk, but, on the other hand, she might be making changes in rock and in the minds of her fans that will, ultimately, put her mark on history, and that is a risk worth taking.
When I got back home, I draped my Against Me! concert t-shirt over the chair in my room. My wife said, “Your daughter covets your shirt,” so I gave it to her, as well as the Transgender Dysphoria Blues CD, which she put on immediately, and she wore the t-shirt to play practice that same day, too.
So now Laura Jane Grace has helped me in two ways. She’s given me a great rock and roll record that speaks of my values, fears, and hopes, and, perhaps, has also helped bridge the huge emotional gap that currently exists between me and my daughter. From the first time I’d listened to it, I’d hoped the album might serve to soften the blow for her, a girl who will be learning, eventually, some hard truths about her dad. Against Me! is playing in Atlanta in October; perhaps she and I will go together.