Rock ’n’ roll memoirs have become a genre all their own, usually telling similar stories of fame, sex, alcohol, and heroic amounts of drugs. These books have largely become formulaic, written by white, able-bodied, cisgender men. Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, the new memoir by Against Me! singer and guitar player Laura Jane Grace, nearly falls into redundant “rock star tell-all” territory, but Grace sets her memoir apart by describing her experience with lifelong gender dysphoria—Grace finally came out as transgender just four years ago.
Born Thomas Gabel in 1980, Grace was raised in South Florida by her mother after she separated from Grace’s disciplinarian military father. After a few early run-ins with the law, Grace discovered the DIY punk rock scene, which gave her an outlet for her rebellious energy. Tranny—cowritten with Noisey’s Dan Ozzi—traces the meteoric rise of Against Me!, from ramshackle two-piece folk-punk band to playing stadiums. Grace takes a few obligatory shots at former bandmates and label execs, but she mostly aims at herself, believing that all of her self-perceived narcissism, arrogance, and rage came from her dysphoria.
Half of Tranny is made up of Grace’s journals, which she’s kept most of her life. The other half—presumably the parts cowritten with Ozzi—is composed in dry “memoirese,” lacking the lyricism that has endeared Grace’s music to thousands of fans across the world. But what the memoir sections lack in original voice, the journal entries make up for with illustrations of the magnitude of fear and confusion she’d been living with for so long. “How many years am I going to spend staring at dress windows wishing they were mine?” she writes in a May 2004 entry. “I pray for something or someone to save me.”
Given that Grace only came out in 2012, Tranny is less about her new life as an out transwoman than it is about suffering from gender dysphoria for most of her life, while at the same time trying to lead a successful band (who attracted plenty of their own enemies). Though Tranny is not entirely reinventing the rock memoir, it does offer a new perspective, and it comes at a critical time for a nation that is still wrestling with transphobia. Grace and a few others are doing their part to open up the conversation, but many more will have to add their voices for true progress to be made. For Grace, and for others like her, Tranny is only the beginning of the story.