Against the Grain: A Review of Transgender Dysphoria Blues

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By Will

2013 was a productive year for the LGBT community. A portion of the infamous Defense of Marriage Act was overturned, (according to LA Times) gay marriage was legalized in 7 states, and transgender individuals in California won the battle to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. It’s clear the LGBT community is becoming more and more prevalent in the US, and the world. However, while many public figures including Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, and Elton John are comfortably out as gay, the level of transgender acceptance is much lower. That’s why I was completely surprised when the singer of one of my favorite bands, Against Me!, came out as transgender. Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gabel, declared that she was transitioning into a woman and writing an album about her experience as transgender. Fast forward to 2014, the album, entitled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is finally out on Grace’s own label, Total Treble Music.

Against Me! @ Dour 2012

When I first listened to the album, I wasn’t surprised at the sound. In the two years before the record came out, I’d scoured the web for live videos of the new songs. Their last two albums were extremely tame, with the songwriting obviously influenced by the major label, Warner Bros Records, that Against Me! formerly belonged to. Instead, this hard-hitting, alternative punk album brought a resurgence of passion that was missing from the previous records, a passion that drew people to Against Me! in the first place. This album’s strongest point is clearly the powerful lyrics. We hear a taste of Grace’s desire for acceptance during the title track, where she 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.” In a world that can be largely ignorant to transgender issues, Grace exposes her struggle with extremely personal songs in a heartfelt and impressive way.

However, while I’m a big fan of Against Me!, the album isn’t perfect, or even great. It’s still the same watered down sound as the previous records, just slightly faster. Against Me! started as an anarchist folk punk band, but some of these songs wouldn’t be out of place on one of Green Day’s new albums. The feeling is familiar and the riffs are recycled for the most part. In terms of their sound, they’re not breaking any new ground. To be honest, I found it hard to listen to after about six songs. The album closes strong however, with the thumping “Black Me Out”, criticizing the way major label reps influence a band’s sound (which I see as a bit ironic). Overall, I give this album a high 6 or a low 7 out of 10. While the sound might not be original, this is record is a huge stride for the LGBT community and deserves some recognition.

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