Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way. I’ve never been a fan of Against Me! Really, for no other reason than lack of interest. They always came across as one of those bands that I should check out, but just never really got around to it. My ambivalence to the group extended to the point that, until a few days ago, I was completely unaware of singer Laura Jane Grace’s transition from Tom Gabel as a transgender woman. So when I picked up their new record, the aptly titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I really had no idea what was coming my way other than a band that I should like with an interestingly named new album…
To say that Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one of the most personal albums that I’ve ever listened to would be a gross understatement. Listening to this record is like flipping through the pages of Laura Jane Grace’s personal journal, with all of her deepest thoughts and emotions laid out bare for the world to see. The title cut starts off strong with a driving punk swagger that (presumably) fits nicely alongside the bands previous output. Lyrically however, this song is just the first of many that will stop your heart dead in it’s tracks. Grace sings “You want them to notice/The ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you/Like they see any other girl/They just see a faggot/They hold their breath not to catch the sick.” Holy. Fuck.
Grace’s catharsis surrounding her transition continues with the Alkaline Trio-esque “True Trans Soul Rebel” which ends with the blunt admission to herself that “You should’ve been a mother/You should’ve been a wife. You should’ve been gone from here years ago/You should be living a different life.” Later in the album on “Paralytic States” Grace provides a haunting narrative about life in transition as told from a third person context which is just as effective as previous songs, but the detached perspective helps shed a new light on the constant internal struggle that Grace has likely dealt with.
In spite of the fact that nearly every song on Transgender Dysphoria Blues deals with some aspect of sexual transition, there is still plenty on the album that will please both longtime fans and those not interested in Grace’s journey. “Drinking With The Jocks” is a rollicking, rage-fueled blast of punk rock fury while the contemplative “Dead Friend” touches on loss, grief and yearning in ways that most other rock bands wouldn’t dare sing about. Similarly, the acoustic leaning “Two Coffins” may just be the most poignant (and universal) song found on the record. It’s a song about love, acceptance and embracing the unknown together. It’s a brilliant piece of writing and quite frankly, one of the most refreshing lyrical performances in recent memory.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is not an album for everyone. It’s full of content that is challenging, unknown and at times heartbreaking. To say that it’s an easy album to listen to would be misleading. That being said, the lyrical journey that Transgender Dysphoria Blues takes you on will be like no other album you’ve ever heard. Its brutal honesty and contemplative nature will leave you with your mouth hanging open gasping for air, wishing that other musicians were as forward thinking and brave in their execution. Prior to this album, I couldn’t have said that I was an Against Me! fan, even in the slightest of senses, but after listening to this genuine expression of emotion and musical craftsmanship, I am firmly along for the ride, no matter where it takes me.