Merriam-Webster defines ‘punk rock’ as follows: “rock music marked by extreme and often deliberately offensive expressions of alienation and social discontent”.
It’s hard to get any more punk rock than Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Whether you know the story of Laura Jane Grace or not (you can learn more about it here), the circumstances that brought about the album could only make it interesting; it takes something else entirely to make the album good. I’m going to spoil it for you now: this album is Essential Listening.
The album starts off hard and fast with the title track. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is awash in lyrics that are gutwrenching because they come from a perspective you are not used to hearing.
“Your tells are so obvious, shoulders too broad for a girl”
“You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl”
And what may be my favorite line of the whole album for its blatant nature and unapologetic confrontation:
“You’ve got no cunt in your strut/You’ve got no ass to shake”
I could go through track by track and line by line, breaking down to you the voice that Grace has finally found. Although it may sound sonically similar to Against Me!’s vast catalog, there is something new and beautiful and painful about the point of view being shared. It’s almost a guarantee that no matter how alienated or put-upon you’ve felt, it’s never been as bad as being a woman trapped in a man’s body in a very masculine and male-dominated industry (and sub-genre of that industry). “True Trans Soul Rebel”, the second track, seems stitched together between her own story and others she’s witnessed. “Paralytic States” feels the same, songs about different methods of trying to escape the past that never seem to work out.
The songs are short and mostly melodic; by the first few seconds of each I am ready to start singing along to the chorus. The sound is a natural evolution for Against Me!; this is a band that sounds better with every album. Some of the louder tracks (“Drinking with the Jocks”, “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”) aren’t my particular cup of tea, but I’m sure there are plenty of fans who will welcome the raucous guitars and screamed vocals.
The last track of the album is undoubtedly my favorite. I was lucky enough to see Laura Jane Grace on the Revival Tour, about two weeks before she came out and told us she no longer wanted to be referred to as Tom Gabel. When she played “Black Me Out” I was floored at the passion and venom present in the song and the performance. This indictment of the music industry and the petty despots who clutch at power is easily translatable to whatever petty despots we find present in our own lives: “As if you were a kingmaker/As if, as if, as if”.
That sentiment sums up “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” for me. The emotions, the pain, the longing, the self-consciousness, the self-confidence, and the love are all things that I understand and identify with immediately, even if I haven’t gone through the same things that Grace has.
If you find yourself uncomfortable with the subject matter don’t be ashamed. Only be ashamed if you aren’t human enough to listen to this album and give it, and Laura Jane Grace, a chance.