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LitStack Review: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace
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LitStack Review: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout Laura Jane Grace Hatchette Books Release Date:  November 15, 2016 ISBN 978-0-3163-8795-8 In 1997, seventeen year old Tom Gabel dropped out of school and decided to become a punk rock musician. In his Gainesville, Florida bedroom he recorded ten original songs using an acoustic guitar, an […]

Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
Laura Jane Grace
Hatchette Books
Release Date:  November 15, 2016
ISBN 978-0-3163-8795-8

In 1997, seventeen year old Tom Gabel dropped out of school and decided to become a punk rock musician. In his Gainesville, Florida bedroom he recorded ten original songs using an acoustic guitar, an electric bass, a four-track cassette recorder and some stolen microphones. While designing the cover for the cassettes, he decided to call this new venture Against Me!

Over the next fifteen years, Against Me! added additional members and became a bona fide punk rock band, recording three EPs and five full length albums, garnering critical acclaim, opening for headliners such as Green Day and Foo Fighters, and touring extensively in the USA and abroad. But despite all the success, living the punk rock lifestyle, and amassing adoration from his fans (plus some charges of “selling out” when the band started making money), Tom felt dissatisfied, like his whole life was a lie.

In 2012, thirty-one year old Tom Gabel transitioned into Laura Jane Grace, going public in the May 24 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout is her story.

Tranny is an eye-opening biography, not just because of the gender dysphoria element which runs through the entire book, but in glimpsing all that encompassed Laura’s life. Utilizing not only first person narrative but also verbatim entries (often gut-wrenching) from her personal journals dating from 2000 to 2011, we follow Laura’s wayward youth, touring debaucheries, relationship struggles, and getting caught up in the music industry machine, but also her growing compulsion to retreat into a secret persona she dubbed, simply, “her”, where a stressed out and agitated Tom could feel free and in control – until the fear of discovery and shame intruded once again.

The book itself is compelling, but uneven. Laura’s early life feels like a recitation, glancing off her relationship with her divorced parents and barely mentioning her younger brother. And while her years with Against Me!, which understandably make up the bulk of the book, are vivid, the performances themselves seem to blur in a constant repetition of substance abuse and conflict, absent of any save the most fleeting of redemptive qualities, and every recording session seemed discordant and unsatisfying. It made me wonder why she persevered when at every turn the effort appeared to be such a hassle.

But despite the unevenness, the book is potent and incredibly engaging. Laura does not mince words, nor does she try to soften the effects of her rowdy, loud, and substance fueled lifestyle. No holds barred and absolutely no shits given. Yet there is a humanity under all the bluster and blow; friendships, even tumultuous ones, were cherished, relationships were lasting even when they were over, at its core the music was always genuine and who cared what anyone else thought? The system was messed up, but oh, how fun it was to play it – until it wasn’t. Then it sucked, big time.

But what is most gripping is how honest Laura is when she talks of the gender dysphoria that affected her most of her life, going unrecognized for what it is until she made the decision to transition. Once she makes the decision to stop fighting it, the need to embrace who she truly is becomes almost compulsive. (“If I felt this way when I was 8, and the way I felt when I was 13, and the way I felt when I was 20, 25, 28, and still now at 31, then this is going to be the way I’m going to feel forever.”) After years of living with such a deeply held secret, only cryptically hinted at in oblique, soul bearing lyrics, she virtually blurts out the news to her bandmates. Coming out to her family was much harder, but the public declaration via Rolling Stone made the decision irrevocable.

Still, she had doubts, and that is what truly broke my heart. With the band in turmoil, her family reeling, and her professional support in Florida reluctant if not nonexistent, she backslid, second guessing a decision that had finally given her a modicum of peace after years of internal conflict. Were it not for a (finally!) supportive endocrinologist in Chicago, this story might have turned out very differently – and one has to believe, far more tragically.

Let’s face it – gender transitioning, transexuality, gender dysphoria – these are issues that many of us struggle to comprehend. Yet they are part of the human condition, and merit our efforts to understand regardless of our own internal responses, perhaps in spite of them. Reading accounts such as Tranny helps to take the words, the concepts, the clinical explanations, and give them a face and a name; it makes them not only human, but part and parcel of this particular human, of this particular story. It is incredibly brave of Laura Jane  to share her story with us, especially given the chaotic stage on which she had – and does – live her life. The least we can do is listen.

~ Sharon Browning

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