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  • Writer's pictureJoscelyn Transpiring

Yet to be born

(Edited and republished: November 11, 2023; Originally published on the fediverse on February 25, 2023:

CW: Gender Dysphoria, Depression, Self-Harm, Suicide

Transpiring Influences: Laura Jane Grace, Against Me


“Who’s gonna take you home tonight? Who’s gonna take you home?!” I belted out in the bubble of my car at 2 am. This was a ritual of mine as I drove home down the I-80 expressway, flying through the dark, and otherwise, quiet night. Every night, as I drove back from working the late shift, I would sing along to Laura Jane Grace. It would still be another 5 years until I understood why.

I first learned about Laura in a 2012 Rolling Stone article. It’s now titled “The Secret Life of Transgender Rocker Laura Jane Grace,” but at the time the headline deadnamed her and was rife with misgendering, cliches, and tropes that were common in media coverage of trans people for decades. Even so, it gave more space for her to present herself the way she wanted and platformed her voice.

It’s funny, thanks to paywalls, I can’t even access the full article today. But I don’t need to because I remember so much of it vividly. Rather than presenting a dolled-up stereotype, the pictures showed an androgynous punk trans femininity, having more in common with cis women like Kathleen Hanna and Joan Jett than the stereotype of trans women I saw in media. I couldn’t look away.

She discussed being a trans woman attracted to women, who was raising a kid alongside her then wife. She described a life history that I had a lot more in common with than most trans stories I had heard. The article even explained how she wouldn’t be changing her raw, aggressive singing voice because women can sound like that too and loved being a towering punk dyke in heels. I didn’t know any of this was even an option. It was a revelation that kicked around my head for years.

Listening on repeat

When her band’s 2013 album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, came out, I listened to it over and over again. I somehow felt embarrassed about it and didn’t tell anyone, but when it did come up, I told people I thought it was some of the most real punk music albums I had heard in a long time. And I think that’s true enough – it’s sincere, passionate, and fighting for a voice from the margins.

Looking back on the album though, it is so much a product of that moment in Laura’s life. She began writing the songs before coming out to anybody, presenting it as a concept album about a trans woman sex worker as a cover. It spilled out of her though, and soon she had to come out to her wife and her bandmates. And it’s ripe with the conflicting feelings and thoughts that storm inside one on the cusp of cracking one's egg and in those early days of beginning transition.

The exact sequence of events of the cracking of my own trans egg is in some sense lost to me. Instead, I have a jumble of moments that all feel like they happened at once, thanks to the strange queer temporality that emerges in the face of our complex trauma. One of those moments was re-listening to a song from that album, “FUCKMYLIFE666.”

Just a skeleton

I had gotten married in March of 2019 before it all boiled over and I could no longer hide from myself. My wife, while trans, is petite and poses a seemingly natural refined feminine elegance. While Laura wrote the following lyrics in FUCKMYLIFE666 about her own wife, she could have easily been writing about our marriage, with a yearning that was both envy and desire:

The ease of your pose
The grace of your silhouette
The way that your shoulders meet your slender neck

And then it hits like a ton of bricks:

Where would we be without all the distance?
You know I’m already just a skeleton

At that point in my life, I felt like I had worn thin - like I wasn’t really alive, like I was moving through the world already having withered away into only a skeleton. This came from trying to live a whole life with only a part of my self, keeping so much of me buried away.

Where would my wife and I be without all the distance? Without the distance of what I was hiding that forced me to keep everyone at arm’s length. Without the distance between me as a man and her as a woman. Maybe it would be possible to close this distance…after all, what do I have to lose if I’m already dead?

She repeats this theme in the second verse of “True Trans Soul Rebel” :

Yet to be born, you’re already dead.

There was this part of me that hadn’t even yet been brought into the world, and yet I was also already a ghost.

And in the chorus of “Paralytic States”:

Our waking life’s just a living dream

I was walking through the world disconnected, not fully in it, like a dream.

Along with a few other moments, what followed was the night where I could no longer slumber. The night I came to face myself, I started journaling. I’m not sure how long I wrote about this strange feeling of disconnect and misalignment with my body and the world, but by 3 am there was truth on the page I couldn’t escape: I am trans.

What followed is something I had sensed was just over the horizon of my former self, something that Laura said in “FUCKMYLIFE666” that had shaken loose:

No more troubled sleep
There’s a brave new world
That’s raging inside me.

I had heard the thunder all those years ago in those moments singing alone into the dark, and now the raging storm was upon me.

Struggle and Catharsis

One of the things that is obvious looking back on the album now is how Laura was wrestling with internalized transmisogyny – but also how important the catharsis of belting out those lyrics was for me in those early days.

Sometimes this internalized transmisogyny takes on the sound of that voice inside we use to keep ourselves from thinking we can ever be ourselves.

In “Paralytic States,” she sings,

Cut her face wide open
Shaved the bone down thin
Pumped her lips up exaggerated
A fucked up kind of feminine.

I’m not sure others read this the same way, but to me, I hear that self-hating voice inside saying that we can never truly embody the feminine, it is all just artifice and that is somehow inferior. Importantly, these lines in the second verse run parallel to a verse about a trans woman slitting her wrists. These are the terrible things she says to herself to enable her own self-destruction.

Other times, these feelings show up in the words that come from wrestling with the fear we have of how others will see us. Like in “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” the eponymous track,

Your tells are so obvious
Shoulders too broad for a girl

And later

You want them to see you like they see every other girl
They just see a faggot.

I know this is what I told myself, I could never be seen like every other girl. That's because I was clockable and visibly trans, no one would ever see me or accept me.

In this same song though, Laura begins to accept herself despite this.

You’ve got no cunt in your struts
You’ve got no hips to shake
And you know it’s obvious
But we can’t choose how we’re made.

We can’t choose how we’re made – just like any woman who feels insecure about her body. We don’t have to apologize for our body and it doesn’t invalidate who we are.

No regrets

Similar to the theme of death, we see Laura also come back again and again to the choice of living without apology. In FUCKMYLIFE666:

Don’t wanna live without teeth
Don’t wanna die without bite
I never wanna say that I regret it.

These lines gave me so much power. Amid the storm of conflicting self-talk built out of the trauma turned inside upon me, there is this furious power. I am going to live with teeth and make sure I don’t regret it.

In those long, long months where each day was a new peak to climb in my internal journey, I was worried that, like in “Paralytic States,” it would remain a sisyphean endeavor:

In her dysphoria’s reflection,
She still saw her mother’s son.

Here I am, four years later, “standing naked in front of that hotel bathroom mirror” and what do I see?

I see my mother’s daughter.

I feared I too would be “never quite the woman that she wanted to be.” There were days I felt this so viscerally. But now, I am so fucking much the woman that I wanted to be, more than I ever thought possible.

To become her took many of those “another night that you wish you could forget, walking the street all alone.” But I am so whole and happy in being myself in this world.

Live in power

The album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is one that I will forever be grateful to. These days, it gives me less catharsis and angry release than it does nostalgia and power in remembering what I had to overcome. There are criticisms to be made of this album and of Laura (i.e. Torrey Peters has some fair ones in Detransition, Baby), but thanks to her, I no longer have those nights I wish I could forget. Instead, I have days I love to remember.

Frankly, I think this music saved my life once upon a time. Laura Jane Grace unlocked the door of the closet I would finally leave. Her example revealed impossible realities I hadn’t yet discovered. Those nights spent yelling a pain I didn’t understand into the darkness that tumbled by along the highway was the road to a life lived without apology. I’m finally “living a different life” and it is better than I ever dreamed.

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