Transgender Dysphoria Blues
(Total Treble Music)
Against Me!’s sixth studio album came out the week after Grantland published its now infamous piece about Essay Anne Vanderbilt, a transgender woman who, outed by Grantland’s Caleb Hannan, committed suicide. A few days before that piece was published, CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman arrested for second-degree manslaughter while defending herself and her friends from being harassed, was released early from her prison sentence. These types of stories are not uncommon in the transgender community, and their presence is felt throughout Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
The first album with their lead singer identifying as Laura Jane Grace, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is explicitly about issues of identity, gender dysphoria, transphobia, and the difficulties of living your life as you want to. While much of the strength of the album is in the seemingly relatable themes (common to punk music) of being an outcast and feeling alienated, it’s important to remember that what is discussed on this album is not, in fact, universal. As a middle-class, white, cis male, I will never face the kind of discrimination that Laura Jane Grace faces, exemplified in lyrics like, “You want them to see you like they see any other girl/They just see a faggot.” I can only listen to this music as an ally. I can only relate to it as someone empathetic and understanding. As populist as its punk music may seem, I know that it’s not entirely mine to relate to.
And those complex emotions brought out by Against Me!’s album, and Grace’s lyrics in particular, are what make Transgender Dysphoria Blues such a captivating listen. The album, produced by Grace herself, packs a powerful punch musically and emotionally, with anthemic songs as great as anything in their career and with heightened emotional stakes. The album ends with “Black Me Out,” an instant classic that holds nothing back. Its chorus screams out, “Black me out/I wanna piss on the walls of your house/I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers.” And while it’s safe for her to scream out like this in a recording studio with the support of her bandmates and friends, the courage that it takes for Against Me! to put out an album like this in a society that treats transwomen the way that we do should not be understated.