Note: I’m going to be using female pronouns throughout this blog post in reference to Against Me’s lead singer Tommy Gabel/Laura Jane Grace who is a male to female transgender person. I’m doing it as a matter of respect. If you get confused, please refer back to this statement. You are now free to continue reading. Oh, and keep your hands inside the ride at all times.
Last month, I was stunned to hear that the lead singer of punk band Against Me was transgender and going ahead with transition. It was a good kind of stunned, mind you. But, even in this day and age, I’m still taken aback a little bit by such high profile announcements. Last Wednesday, my friend Sarah and I saw them live. It feels like an understatement to say that it was a positive experience.
The extent of my experience listening to Against Me was the two songs that made it onto FM radio from their last album. The songs Thrash Unreal & New Wave were great. But, if you would have told me when I first heard them, their lead singer would come out as transgender, I would have told you you were on some serious shit. Granted, the only thing I had to go on was her voice. She has a very deep gutteral sound to her voice. Not that that should lead anyone to assume anything.
The announcement of her transition came three or four days before the Rolling Stone article came out. I was suddenly a fan. I looked up their music on Spotify. And I showed up at my favorite book store a day early to see if they had put the issues out yet. Sigh. They hadn’t. The Rolling Stone article was very well done. Although, if it were me they were interviewing, I’m not so sure I would have allowed myself to be photographed in my towel. As I read it, it all seemed very, very familiar. Almost creepily so. She was the child of divorce. She felt it from a very early age. She wrote about her feelings. She has a wife named Heather. OH WAIT A SECOND. Excuse me. I might need a second.
The article said they were on the verge of a tour with The Cult. A band who peaked in popularity in the late 80’s. I had never seen them live. I know. Very surprising since they are one of the legendary 80’s bands with the word “The” before their name. I decided right then and there that I was going to go to their show if they made it to Denver. But, something happened as the show approached. I didn’t have any money. My job was quickly draining everything I had. I was selling things just to stay afloat. I wasn’t going to be able to go.
Even though Sarah and I had just returned from an epic trip through Utah and back over 3 days that included two concerts by the same band, she still sent me a message asking if I wanted to go. I told her I didn’t have the money. She told me not to worry about it. I fought back a little bit. But, I finally caved. I really wanted to go.
I had forgotten what kind of fans The Cult attracts. I felt a little bit of my element. Although I grew up listening to them, I tended to listen to less hard core music than the people waiting in line outside the Ogden Theater. When the Cult’s album Sonic Temple came out, I was listening to the Cure and Depeche Mode. But, I did listen to a fair share of punk music. As it turns out, my slight craving for punk was ressurected listening to Against Me.
I wondered what people in line around me would think of Against Me. If she made any reference to being transgender, would they boo? I had read an article a few days before hand about the first show of the tour. Everybody seemed to accept her and have a live and let live attitude about it. Ian Astbury, lead singer of The Cult had expressed his support. This support amongst the general public is all very strange for me still.
As we entered, we both agreed that a bathroom break was a good thing ahead of the show. Since I’m still presenting male, I went left and she right to the women’s room. I finished first. So, I waited for her close to the door to the women’s restroom. That meant that we entered the theater on the right. In my peripheral vision I could see someone to my right selling t-shirts. I heard a teenage girl ask the person behind the table “Are you Heather?”. I looked over as we passed and sure enough, there she was. The supportive wife of Against Me’s lead singer Laura Grace. The same woman I had seen in Rolling Stone. Cool.
We ended up standing very close to where we watched Of Monsters and Men two nights before. But, just a little closer. We suffered through the first of the three bands playing that evening. The most memorable thing about the first band was how much the lead singer must have been a fan of Iggy Pop. Interesting. When they finished dismantling their equipment, I started seeing Against Me’s drummer hovering around the drums. He’s the son of E Street Band drummer Max Weinburg. After not long, the show I had been waiting for was beginning. When she came out, I smiled. I marveled at her strength. She was dressed in a tank top that hung below her waist, tight fitting dark jeans and some cool shoes. Her hair looked like it had been curled or perhaps she had a perm. She was wearing some minimal eye makeup. If you had no idea, you probably wouldn’t have seen any signs of her intenant to transition. She looked like a rock star. She’s very skinny. And although the Rolling Stone article listed her height as 6’4″, I found it hard to judge from my vantage point.
Apparently, they have a new album coming out called Transgender Dyshoria Blues. I was a little shocked to hear her say the word trans in introducing the first two songs. The coverage of the first show pretty much said that they didn’t address it. But, I guess if your calling your next album Transgender Dysphoria Blues and you told your story to Rolling Stone, it’s like trying to ignore the elephant in the room.
It may have been the news of her transition that brought me to their concert. But, they really do play really good music. I especially liked I Was A Teenage Anarchist. And when they played a song called The Ocean, my ears perked up. In The Ocean, she had essentially outed herself before she outed herself. The lyrics are:
If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman
My Mother once told me she would have named me Laura
I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her
One day, I’d find an honest man to make my husband
We would have two children, build our home on the Gulf of Mexico
Our family would spend hot summer days at the beach together
The sun would kiss our skin as we played in the sand and water
And we would know we loved each other without having to say it
When I heard the song start, I looked at Sarah and gave her a look of oh here it comes. I then looked around at the crowd and then back to the band. Then it happened. The lyrics left her mouth. And the crowd roared in support. I was stunned. I think I remember saying the word wow. Sarah said later the look on my face was worth the ticket price. That moment really had an impact on me. I couldn’t believe it.
In the downtime before The Cult came out, and at the encouraging of Sarah, I went over to see if I could say something to her wife, Heather at the t-shirt table. I walked over and stood to her right against a pillar, waiting for the line to thin out. Once she was done processing orders (and accepting payment via a Square module on her iPhone, BTW), I very shyly walked over and leaned in so she could hear me.
“I don’t have any money for a t-shirt. But, can you tell her I said thank you?”
She smiled and said “Of course.”
I got the feeling I haven’t been the only person to tell her something similar.
At the end of their set, Laura took to the mic and thanked their supporters for coming out. But, she also said “If you’ve never heard us before, thanks for coming out and we hope to see you again.”
If their music wasn’t any good, I wouldn’t be saying this. I’m now a fan. And I’ll be standing in line to see them on their next tour.
Oh. And The Cult? Ian Astbury has put on some weight.
*Thanks to Sarah’s husband, Bill for giving me ear plugs before the Of Monsters and Men show. I didn’t use them then. But, I was glad that I brought them along for this show.