Trans frontwoman Laura Jane Grace proving punk rock isn't a boys club

While surviving and thriving with a Rickenbacker on her hip, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace is living proof that testosterone isn't a necessity to stand centre stage at a punk rock show.

With a new tour with Green Day on the horizon, and a brutally honest memoir and a new album in tow, Grace is challenging the norms of a music genre long the home of snarling, angry young men.

"I'm certainly not full of testosterone anymore, I'm literally pumping estrogen into me," she told CBC News. "But you can still feel rage, you can still feel anger, and you can still need that release. It's not exclusive to either gender."

'I just felt more and more dysphoric as I was put into situations like that, because it was less and less me. I didn't know who the audience was — I didn't know who I was.' - Laura Jane Grace, Against Me!

"In the past, I was male presenting and I had these emotions — now as trans, I'm trying to confront the same emotions and questioning whether or not they are gender specific."

Yet Grace still transitioned while playing a genre of music in which men have had a near monopoly for decades (with some notable exceptions, like Joan Jett, who Grace intensely admires).

The lopsided nature of who gets to stand onstage at a punk show comes as no surprise to her, seeing as Against Me! has been massively important to the genre since forming in Gainsville, Florida in 1997 — and a lightning rod for criticism from purists, who angrily accused the band of "selling out" after its major label success.

So what is it like to stand up as a controversial icon in the punk scene and say, "I have gender dysphoria?"

"Well, it wasn't like I woke up every day and I was surrounded by 15 punk rockers who were all pointing fingers at me," she laughed. "I'm just living my own life, and I happen to be in a punk band."

"For the most part everyone has been really supportive, and really surprising in that way."

Though the support was welcomed, it came alongside much pain. In her memoir, Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Grace outlines the feelings that threatened to consume her for years, as she fought against her dysphoria.

Several times within the book's pages, she contemplates suicide. Grace is open about her struggles with drugs, and the rift she feels between her and her father. Throughout its pages, Grace almost seems like she's drowning, desperately kicking towards the surface, and to the person she's supposed to be.

She also writes about how difficult it was to reconcile the band's success as it came — both in terms of its punk ethos, and uncertainty over how she was even supposed to act onstage as crowds and expectations grew.

"I was dying as an artist, because I was getting up on stage and I didn't know who I was. We were being put in front of these bigger, high-pressure situations in front of bigger audiences, and I didn't know what to say," she said. "A lot of that was the pressures of the major label world … they want you to fit a certain archetype, and 'Be the male frontman. Be the singer. Say these things on stage. Act this way.'

"I just felt more and more dysphoric as I was put into situations like that, because it was less and less me. I didn't know who the audience was — I didn't know who I was."

But slowly, things began to change. Grace came out publicly in 2012, and the band released Transgender Dysphoria Blues two years later — a hugely important collection of songs that centre on Grace's experience, which reached number 23 on the Billboard chart. It was the highest debut the band had ever had.

Crowds changed somewhat too, and a measure comfort came onstage for her. Smiles started appearing between in-song howls. "I assume that if someone is coming to a show now, they're on the same page, somewhat," she said.

The band's new album, Shape Shift with Me, is less an album focused on her journey, and more a collection of songs simply coming from a perspective that's lacking in pop culture today, she says — about what everyday life is like, from a transgender perspective.

"So much of the conversation around transgender lives revolves around just the transition process and the coming out, or the 'reveal,' if you want to put it like that," she said.

"This is examining what happens next."

Against Me! plays FirstOntario Centre with Green Day on March 20.

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