Florida’s Against Me! have been performing in various incarnations for over 15 years. In 2012, however, the band made headlines for reasons other than their music: its frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, came out publicly as a trans woman and began her transition. 2013’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues explicitly addresses Grace’s experiences, and yesterday, she took to Reddit to tell her fans all about them. We’ve collected the highlights of Grace’s candid, informative Q&A, available in full here.
1. She’s been thinking about changing her hairstyle. Turns out long locks are something of an occupational hazard for a rock singer. In response to a Redditor’s inquiry about bangs: “Lately I’ve been having trouble at shows. I’ll go to start singing and suck hair down my throat and start choking. So yes, I have thought about bangs.”
2. TDB wasn’t the first time she wrote about her experiences as a trans woman. Parts of “Tonight We’re Going to Give it 35%” refer to her private struggles with her gender identity in addition to being wooed by record labels: “A lot of the song is about touring and the person you miss back home. It’s about trying to reconcile your politics with the choices you’re making. It’s also about shame and gender dysphoria ‘Can you live with what you know about yourself when you’re all alone?’ I wasn’t ready to address the things I knew about myself back then when I was all alone.”
3. “The Disco Before the Breakdown” and “Pretty Girls” contain references to dysphoria as well, and Grace says almost all of album Searching for a Former Clarity talks about it as a retort to backlash against Against Me! from within the punk community: “At the time the band was facing intense scrutiny from the punk scene about the politics of what label we were or weren’t on. That album was me saying ‘I don’t even care about these things. Do really want to know how it feels on the inside right now and what I’m really thinking about?'”
4. “Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart,” a collaboration with Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sarah, was written about Grace’s now-wife Heather Hannoura: “I wrote that song the summer I fell in love with Heather. I really didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone and I was fighting it. I wrote the song with Tegan’s vocal in mind. I wanted her to sing on it from the start.”
5. In case you want to hear more about Grace (you should), there’s a book in the making! “I am currently working on a book. Actually, I should be working on it right now but I’m procrastinating by doing this AMA.”
6. She has some excellent advice for young trans* people, although it sounds like it could apply to just about everyone: “Don’t take any shit from anyone. Keep your head up. Don’t feel like you have to go from Box A to Box B. Surround yourself with people love you for who you are and accept you without judgement.”
And some more wise counsel, in response to another Redditor: “Just hearing yourself verbalize what you’re feeling is a tremendous step, regardless of what’s said to you in return. Transition at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to measure up to someone else’s standards of how quick you should be moving or where you should end up.”
7. She doesn’t believe in the idea of “selling out,” at least among musicians: “I want to spend my life playing music. If I’m lucky enough to do that in front of a couple 100 people each night then great. If not, I’ll stand on a street corner and busk for change. I don’t care. That’s why it’s never been an issue of selling out or not for me. Selling out to me always meant trading my guitar for some kind of soul-sucking job that I hated that didn’t have anything to do with music.”
8. Her social anxiety is “sometimes crippling,” but working as a performer helps to alleviate it: “Being on tour helps. I’m comfortable in a show environment when it’s my band’s show. I don’t mind taking pictures or talking to people, whatever. There’s a sense of control still. It’s when I’m not on tour, when I’m alone that it’s really bad.”
9. Her two favorite Against Me! songs to play live are “FUCKMYLIFE666” and “Black Me Out,” both tracks off of Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
10. Despite what she may have said before its release, TDB isn’t a concept album: “Saying it was a concept record early on was really more of a ruse because I felt nervous about the songs I was writing. It’s an autobiographical record…I’ve never been good at writing fiction.”
11. She can’t just pick one favorite Madonna song: “Damn, that’s a tough question. Can I name 3?
1). Material Girl 2). Express Yourself 3). Justify My Love 4). Hung Up
Oooops that’s four! Oh well.”
12. Between R. Kelly and Woody Allen, she’s got a view choice words on the art-vs.-artist debate. She’s able to forgive great artists for being bad people…to an extent: “I think it’s okay if an artist is an asshole to some extent (I have a hard time excusing racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc, of course, but am okay with someone being crotchety). They don’t owe you anything other than their art. Hell, I’d rather an artist was an asshole than a Scientologist. But that’s why I never really want to meet most of my heroes. I’d rather not know them personally and just enjoy whatever it is about their art that speaks to me.”
13. Transitioning has been good for her development as a performer: “Deciding to transition has been really liberating as an artist, especially on stage. I feel like it’s just okay to be me and I don’t have to measure up to some popular perception of what a ‘front man’ does. Which before had been extremely dysphoria inducing.”