Recently Against Me’s Laura Jane Grace sat down with Marc Maron for his WTF Podcast to discuss her experiences as a trans woman in a punk world. It’s a riveting, educational and moving eighty-minute conversation that perfectly highlights why Laura Jane Grace is one of the most vital figures in today’s scene. The conversation covers everything from her childhood, her family life and her experience of coming out.
“If you look at suicide statistics amongst the transgender community, it’s something like 50% at least attempt it,” Laura Jane explains. “I’ve been slowly trying to kill myself for the past 34 years with alcohol and drugs as a result of that [feeling of shame and confusion.]”
She then goes on to explain how the title track for ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ talks about the experience of “going into those department stores when you’re perceived as male and you’re buying feminine clothing and the cash registrar is looking at you like you’re disgusting. By owning it, I’ve been able to feel a lot more comfortable and confident in a fuck you way, in a punk rock way.
“When you’re hiding it, you feel shameful and that makes you feel defensive and closed off as opposed to being open about it and being ‘I am who I am, you may not fully understand that but I don’t care. I have a right to be here, I have a right to shop in the store and I don’t have to explain it or justify it to you. If you have a problem, it’s your problem whereas before I felt scared and I didn’t want to feel scared.
“The questions which are really placed on you when you first come out can often create this pressure on a Trans person,” she reveals in reference to the physical process of transitioning. “You’re asking someone whose Trans to explain something they don’t understand totally. They’re just taking one step. They’re saying ‘I identify in a way that’s different to how you probably identify. We’re going to call that Trans. I’m taking a step towards figuring out what that means and what I want to do. Maybe that means hormone replacement therapy, maybe that means eventual therapy, but it doesn’t have to.’
“It gets in your head. You asking ‘what am I doing that’s reactionary?’, ‘what am I doing to fit into someone else’s understanding of an interpretation of gender?’ and ‘what am I doing that’s actually making me feel right in my body?’. That’s hard to do in the public eye. That’s hard to do out of the public eye. It’s hard in general,” she emphasises. “It’s a brave new world.”
“My parents didn’t sit me down and say ‘Don’t be transsexual’. You learn about it because you see sensationalised headlines in supermarket stands – you see Silence of the Lambs, you see Ace Ventura. All these things are thrown at you where [Transgender] is the butt of the joke. It’s a scary thing, it’s a laughable thing. That’s just instilled in you,” Laura Jane explains, referencing the Transphobic world we live in.
“I had a suicidal nervous breakdown a year after coming out. I just dissolved as a person,” she states. “It was a combination of things. There was the mental side where I legitimately lost the foundation of why I was transitioning. I saw that my marriage had gotten so far away from me because I was scared. I was working on a record, I was transitioning publically, I had a studio – so I was locking myself in there for ten hours a day, which I needed to do for this record, but also I was hiding. Realising my marriage had fallen apart crushed me. At the same time I started having this weird reaction to the hormone therapy I was on. I had been living with a parasitic infection in my intestines. It was the perfect storm, a tree fell through my studio and destroyed it, my bass player quit, my drummer quit. [They’re] separate things. The drummer is kinda a jerk and the bass player was a dear friend. It was time to move on, unrelated to that.
“I don’t mind accepting all the blame for everything, I would just hate to put any guilt on anyone else. Everyone processes the news of someone coming out in a different way”, she emphasises in relation to her marriage.
“The punks have been really supportive and really cool. There have been some dicks but there are always a couple of dicks. Just don’t read the comments. It’s been really surprising in a great way.”
“It’s really not that big of a deal after a second,” says Laura in regards to the reaction of her bandmates. “It’s like ‘You’d just prefer me to use feminine pronouns with you and we’re going to practice and then go on tour, we’ll hang out, have fun. You’ll still have the same sense of humour and like the same things? Cool.’”
“Honestly, I’m happy that anyone wants to see me,” says Laura Jane on touring. “Obviously you want to feel like you’re progressing and doing new things. I don’t want to feel like I’m playing the same club over and over. You do want to feel growth. That’s a natural, healthy thing. Ambition is a good thing. I’m the singer in a band. I’m a little bit arrogant and vain, I think everyone has a thing for me to a certain extent, at least that’s the way I carry myself through the world,” she adds with a laugh.
“I don’t know how to reconcile with my life beyond where my tour dates end. My problems now are normal problems. I’m going through another divorce, I have to deal with the fact I work and travel and I have a kid. Those are some of the realities of life.
“ I feel way more comfortable about myself, I’m happy. I’m doing what I’m doing. I feel like I have much better understanding of what I need and what makes me feel right than I did three years ago – certainly more than I did ten years ago – but I feel like in another three, four years I’ll have an even better understanding of what I need. I don’t think it’s something that’ll ever feel complete, at least to me.”