Laura Jane Grace at the Rock and Roll Hotel

Against Me! transgender singer/songwriter Laura Jane Grace at DC's Rock and Roll Hotel. Photo: Laura Jane Grace

WASHINGTON, September 9, 2013 — For Laura Jane Grace, who appeared here recently at the Rock and Roll Hotel, the last few years must have been something like being buffeted by a strange whirlwind. Most people know Laura Jane Grace for fronting the folk punk band Against Me! But her life has changed considerably since the last time the band released any material. For one thing, many people still recognize her as Tom Gabel.

In 2012, Grace came out publicly as a transsexual woman, stating that she had been dealing with gender dysphoria since she was a child. Essentially, that meant she had been suffering significant psychological discontent due to the conflict between her given gender and gender roles generally assigned by society.

Gender dysphoria is a condition and issue that’s gained more attention over the last several years but is still struggling for acceptance, as are most transgendered people. In a musical genre still regarded as male-dominated – albeit one that is more recognized for acceptance than others – Grace’s public revelation of her condition and her decision for gender reassignment therapy is a strong and bold one.

There might be a certain segment of people who feel that this isn’t something to focus on in a discussion of Laura Jane Grace’s show at the Rock and Roll Hotel. The spotlight instead should be on Grace performing the new Against Me! album. Other issues should be consigned to the background according to this school of thought.

Of course Grace naturally puts a stop to any thoughts like that. Whether it’s on her own or as a member of Against Me!, she has always been an outspoken person, and this issue is no different.  She’s been remarkably open about the difficulties she’s faced her entire life and the ones that lie ahead. She is not a shy person. But what she’s talking about and is passionate about during this life transition is obviously more deeply personal.

All this becomes obvious once she gets into her set which revolves around Against Me!’s latest recording. Our first clue is the title of that new album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues. If that title isn’t already clear, the album and the songs being featured relate to Grace’s recent gender issues. 

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But the most important thing to note is just how little this new material varies from Grace and Against Me!’s previous material. Those suggesting that their basic sound might change because of the current shift would be guessing wrong. Despite claims that were made around the time New Wave was issued, the band still hasn’t altered it’s essential approach that much.

Even so, it’s interesting to see how Grace is able to connect with these newer songs. Her current frame of reference is something that not everyone is familiar with even in a second hand context. But she’s still able to make the narratives of the songs relatable.  In her appearance here, she backed her strong lyrical content with an acoustic version of the folk punk Against Me! has been known for since their inception, which allowed her to be as gruff and passionate as she’s always been.

Laura Jane Grace has gone through several changes in life over the last year or so. But from a musical perspective, she hasn’t changed her core personal and musical beliefs at all. Her set at the Rock and Roll Hotel showed that she’s the same performer she’s always been, with the potential of being recharged due to her new shift in gender focus.

One thing remains clear: the artist known as Laura Jane Grace is always going to remain uncompromising.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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