Laura Jane Grace: I want music to have more diversity
She may be Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, but the Against Me! singer’s public transsexual transformation gives her a unique view of sexuality in today’s music industry
If we can judge a band by their famous friends, then Against Me! are clearly doing something right. Butch Vig is a long-time collaborator and supporter. Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett and Foo Fighters are also champions of these punky, politically charged, emotionally raw rockers. Punk rock, claims the band’s founder, singer and guitarist Laura Jane Grace, taught her to question everything. Including her own gender.
Grace founded Against Me! as a teenager in 1997, initially as a high-school solo project, and expanded it into a full band after moving to Gainesville in northern Florida when she was 18. Back then she was called Thomas James Gabel, an army brat who’d grown up on US military bases all over the world until his parents divorced acrimoniously when he was 11.
Gabel was an angry kid drawn to the politicised rage of punk rock. But privately he also felt a queasy detachment from his male body, idolising Madonna as a role model more than any macho rock stars. As Against Me! began to make waves, he initially kept this gender dysphoria quiet, but began dropping heavy hints in song lyrics, which he sometimes wrote in secret while wearing women’s clothes.
“The things that attracted me to punk rock were the anarchist politics,” explains the 36-year-old Grace, in Canada on the latest stop on Against Me!’s long North American tour. “Anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti‑patriarchy, anti-sexism. Maybe part of that was knowing that, okay, I’m a closeted transsexual. But regardless of whether that was a factor in my life, I hope I would have found those politics anyway.”
Against Me! enjoyed their first surge of commercial success a decade ago with their major-label debut album New Wave in 2007, followed by White Crosses in 2010, the latter hitting No.34 on the Billboard chart. Both were produced by alt.rock legend and Garbage founder Butch Vig. “I consider Butch a dear friend, I respect the hell out of Butch,” Grace says. “I have a closer relationship with my producer than with my dad.”
As Grace recalls in her archly titled 2016 memoir Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, the band were roundly criticised for signing to a major label. In 2007 she was even arrested following an altercation with a scornful ex-fan in a Florida coffee shop.