Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the record Laura Jane Grace has been screaming to get out for many years. Two May’s ago, the Against Me! front woman revealed her lifelong struggle with gender dysphoria and came out as a transgender woman. After a flurry of press and support followed by a desolate and bleak recording process that almost killed the band rises an album that shuts out all the white noise and delivers the best Against Me! album ever. Laura Jane Grace has a lot to get off her chest, so it’ll be best if you give one of the most essential punk records of our era your full and undivided attention.
Grace immediately throws down the gauntlet on the album’s opening title track. Seething with attitude, Grace furiously lays everything on the table by exclaiming, “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./They’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick.” Just because she came out as a transgender woman to heaps of support from within and beyond the punk community doesn’t mean that everything has been roses for her – there is still an every day struggle for her and the trans* community – and the album’s title track drives that point home. “True Trans Soul Rebel” follows up that point with feelings of self-worth and the lack there of over a humming, guitar-driven chorus. It’s one of the album’s most visceral tracks dressed up as a pop song. “FUCKMYLIFE666” works in almost the same way – a folky, jangly rock and roll song that tackles self-doubt and a yearning for happiness. The bouncy Green Day-esque pop-punk of “Unconditional Love” has Grace acknowledging the outpouring of love and support for her yet reminding us that isn’t always enough to yield the loathing she places on herself.
Against Me! has never been subtle with its message and Transgender Dysphoria Bluesabsolutely continues that trend. In fact, halfway through the record is when listeners will get hit by some of the band’s heaviest songs ever – both thematically and musically. The raw, “Drinking With The Jocks” is an aggressive punk song that features Grace hiding her true self to fit in with the guys. It’s a purging of a lifestyle that was never her. The crushing “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” is a devastating reminder of hate crime against the trans* community, encapsulating the very real fear and paranoia that comes along with such threats. It’s one of Blues most harrowing and powerful moments.
It’s just one of many moments as listeners continue through the album. The beautiful acoustic strum of “Dead Friends” is also the most heartbreaking song on the record – a song that makes you hit pause and have a good cry. While the vigorous penultimate track “Paralytic States” is the perfect appetizer for the album’s pissed off finale, “Black Me Out.” Despite whatever you’ve heard about the song’s origins, it’s not about Against Me!’s time at Sire Records, instead it’s a simmering takedown of people’s expectations and perspectives – a middle finger to the world, if you will. “Black Me Out” closes out Transgender Dysphoria Blues the same way it started, loud and in your face with a palpable sense of purpose.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues has an universal appeal that will resonate with anyone, but I want to stress that these ubiquitous themes do not mean I get to compare my privileged life to what Laura Jane Grace and others in the trans* community have gone and continue to go through. I’ll never face the prejudice and hate that the trans* community faces on a daily basis and it’d be disingenuous of me to act like I understand any of that. As a straight male, I really have no authority to write at length about trans* issues, despite my continued attempt to further educate myself on the subject. I don’t know shit, but Laura Jane Grace’s often brutal, always honest lyrics and the way she shares her personal experiences and struggles will help educate people like me, but more importantly it’s a record that can be beacon of cathartic strength for those who are bullied and viewed as less than for the person they are. This a record that deals with a wide array of issues like depression, identity, and alienation. And honestly, as a reviewer, all I can really opine on is how fucking great Transgender Dysphoria Blues is and what it accomplishes. Laura Jane Grace and Against Me!’s authentic mindset and objective sets this record apart from any other rock record releasing right now, as it’s one of the boldest and most important punk rock records to blast out of stereos in a long time.
Laura Jane Grace coming out as a transgender woman was (and still is) incredibly brave and courageous and it’s truly fantastic that she’s sharing her story, but I look forward to the day where coming out as trans* isn’t treated as a “shocking news story” and that it’s viewed as just a normal part of everyday human life. I feel like Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a step in that direction, but there’s still a lot of work to be done from the trans* community and their allies. But in the mean time, she has become a role model and a voice to the trans* community and her band’s latest record will be a way for Laura Jane Grace to open eyes and minds while giving the voiceless a voice.