Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Against Me! -- Transgender Dysphoria Blues

As soon as the last note rang out on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I turned to Facebook and wrote "Move right the fuck over, Macklemore. It's time for some queer music by queers and for queers."

And you know what? We queers are angry.

I don't know what the fan community is saying about Against Me!'s new fans, but if I'm a poseur then so be it. Against Me! was a band that was not far from the lips of the scene kids in my high school days, which meant I was instantly suspicious of them in their credibility. Leave me with my Refreshments and Sleater-Kinney, thankyouverymuch. When I did finally check them out, I enjoyed it but didn't love it. I turn to music to nurse my emotions, and political music only keeps me so warm, yaknow?

So if my becoming interested in the band only happened when its lead singer came out as an LGBTQ human, you'll just have to do with it. Coming out trans* is by no means the same as coming out queer, but it's certainly a similar experience.

Before I go further (because I suspect this will be a longer thinkpiece), I'll divide the article into a discussion of the actual music, and then a discussion of what I think about the music. First, the music.

The Music

There's just something about this album that sets my blood on fire. You're going to need an excellent pair of headphones to understand this one. Against Me! preserved their dance-punk feel, though it's quite guitar-heavy. I can't really speak to their previous output, but I'm in love with this album. Every note, harmonization, beat, and breath is impeccably and carefully placed, though the album is raw and emotional -- never overproduced. The rhythm section (I believe that's James Bowman and Atom Willard, though I'm having a hard time finding out who's in the band's current lineup) are incredibly tight. I'm surprised that after some further digging, this is the first time the band recorded anything in its current configuration. This is rock'n'roll at its purist and most aggressive, and for that alone I'm willing to say Transgender Dysphoria Blues is going to be one of the best records of 2014. 

The Thoughtpiece

Not that this was Laura Jane Grace's intention, but TDB represents an important counterpoint to the mainstream narrative of LGBTQ rights as represented by "Same Love." Macklemore's song reminds me of Elvis's "In the Ghetto": solid songs on their own, but mostly remarkable because the performer took a "risk" in taking a stand on an issue that's "not related" to them. The entertainment world (and thus, the audience) are perfectly happy to consume an outsider's take on the issue, but where are the hit protest songs against marriage inequality, hate crimes, or abandoning gay men to HIV? I don't know what this all is about; I guess the majority of people feel they can better relate to someone who stands outside of the issue but is related to the cause. Acknowledging how an "insider" feels, and how you're complicit in that oppression, is too threatening.

"But Rachel," you say, "things are good now! Same-sex marriage is legal in a bunch of states and anti-equality laws are being overturned across the country! More and more people support same-sex marriage and look at how many queer characters there are on TV! Kids are coming out as young as middle school! It's so much safer to be queer now! Look how cute those couples are in the Macklemore video!"

Yes but did you know it's legal in most states to fire someone based on their sexual orientation? Did you know that it's legal in almost every state to fire someone based on their gender presentation? Attacking an individual based on perceived sexual orientation is not considered a hate crime in many states, to say nothing of attacks against trans* people. Don't even get me started on immigration issues.

Over 50% of LGBTQ teens report being bullied in school. I'm dealing with a student right now who refuses to sit next to an openly gay male student. 

The suicide rates of LGBQ teens are higher than the general population. The suicide rate among trans* individuals is at an epidemic level.

So even though the fear of not being able to have the family I wanted almost made me another statistic back in high school, I say fuck your marriage equality. 

There is so much more to do. The marriage equality movement is nothing more than a means to mollify gay people while we continue to be denied basic economic and physical security. It also lets straight people feel noble about how much they sympathize with/help/support the queer community by giving them a feel-good cause (awwwww look at the happy same-sex family! Just like mine!) instead of one that approaches equality on a more fundamental level.

So I get Laura Jane's fury, even if the queer experience and the trans* experience is Different But Similar. The constant work we all have to do to conform to our society's gender and sexual roles is tiring and, at times, dispiriting. (Why do you want to be a woman? Are you a fag? or, one that's often directed at me, Who's the "man" in the relationship?) 

On the other hand, there's no denying the exuberance in Laura Jane Grace's voice. I can imagine how liberating it is to be out in such a public forum, to finally sing from the heart about what's in your heart. At the end of the day, that's why Transgender Dysphoria Blues gets me so fired up: we will never give up or give in. There is no option but to be true to ourselves.

(Enjoy a very confused David Letterman.)

Against Me! -- Official, Facebook, Amazon, iTunes

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