Published on July 24th, 2012 | by Polly Allen1
The Liberation of Laura Jane Grace, and Tackling Who’s Against Her
Punk has a new idol and her name is Laura. You might know her from the 31 years she spent living as a man, but identifying as a woman, and hiding her secret whilst being known as Tom Gabel. The charismatic front man for Against Me!, Tom’s gravelly growl and sharp lyrics made an impact on music lovers across the world, but he was far more fragile than he let on. Now, having revealed her gender dysphoria to steadfastly supportive wife Heather, young daughter Evelyn and her band mates, Laura told the world via Rolling Stone in May and embarked on the steps towards reassignment.
Feeling compelled to show support for Laura, fans have taken to Twitter, YouTube and online forums to give their seal of approval; instilling confidence in the singer and hitting back at the trolls trying to put her down. One of those supporters is musician Tony Gordon, who wrote the song A Letter to Laura Jane Grace to help spread the word as soon as he heard the news.
A Letter to Laura Jane Grace
“Straight away I felt I should show my support, so I wrote her a letter,” says Tony. “The idea to put it to chords came while playing along to some Against Me! songs the next day and Walking Is Still Honest came on (which begins ‘Dear Mother…’) and it just clicked.”
Tony recorded the song thanks to friend, producer and fellow fan Luke Godwin (who can be found playing guitar on the video) and the duo uploaded it to YouTube. They hope that Laura will see the message and that admirers of the band will help to distribute it and dispel some of the online negativity around Tom identifying as a woman. Ignorant comments on news stories and videos have somewhat inevitably sprung up thanks to the democratic voice of the internet, from criticisms of her vocal potential to personal remarks such as ‘Not her, an it. This thing is an it’, to ‘Sorry, but changing your sex is FREAKY!’, and the vitriolic ‘He is a sell out who is f****** up his credibility’. Laura has also encountered opposition from her father and the relationship is currently fractured.
Against Me! and the Punk Aesthetic
So why have some people been unable to accept Laura for revealing who she is? Looking at the band’s history, Tom Gabel’s lyrics were always tainted with emotion and personal insight. They could never be accused of churning out meaningless album filler, and it’s hard to listen to a clutch of their songs without pinpointing the sentiment behind the words. The melodies and the production may be full of guts, but it would take a complete simpleton to ignore the purposeful and often political writing that has gone into the band’s back catalogue. Because of this, it seems incredibly difficult to understand why fans would be so emotionally disconnected from Tom’s struggle to become Laura, when they should have been accustomed to Against Me!’s ethos of being open and, let’s be honest, sticking two fingers up to intolerant conservative behaviour. The forthcoming album Gender Dysphoria Blues was already on fans’ lips before the news of Tom’s transition broke, having been long in the pipeline. It’s ultimately disappointing that some supporters of such an alternative band should have a narrow-minded response to the transformation, from panicking about the effects of hormone replacement therapy on Laura’s voice (which, by the way, won’t be affected) to imagining the punk spirit would be in any way diminished by her femininity. As Tony put it, “those who have turned their back on Laura have probably turned their back on Against Me!”.
So, what does the future look like once the dust has settled and Laura begins to establish herself as a vocalist in her own right? Only time will tell, but it does seem likely that there will be a devoted crowd supporting her. Yes, some fans will have fallen by the wayside, but others will only have been introduced to the music through hearing about Laura’s decision. If Against Me! gains a big LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) following because of Laura then this is one very positive side-effect of her bravery. Meanwhile, fans like Tony and Luke will be shouting their respect and admiration from the rooftops and showing that there’s nothing wrong with staying true to yourself.
If you want to discuss LGBT or specifically transgender issues and get help and advice, talk to one of the following organisations.
The Beaumont Society – run by and for people who are trans-sexual or who cross-dress.
LGBT Community – a very comprehensive website for anyone who identifies as LGBT.
LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing – one example of a local support initiative, based in Scotland, but with a helpline available for anyone who needs to talk.