Against Me! talk about their tattoos…
Stream Against Me!’s new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, by clicking the image above.
The bracingly political Florida punk band Against Me! has been a going concern since 1997, but Transgender Dysphoria Blues can’t help but feel like a debut: It’s the group’s first album since singer Tom Gabel came out as a woman. Now named Laura Jane Grace, she still barks her lyrics with fiercely assertive intelligence – with a voice as yet largely unchanged from the one in the band’s earlier work – but Against Me!’s subject matter can’t help but be turned on its head.
It’s right there in Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ title that Against Me! intends to address Grace’s new identity upfront: This is a coming-out record first and foremost, from its opening line – “Your tells are so obvious / shoulders too broad for a girl” – through songs that channel her fears and characteristic defiance. At times joltingly profane, Transgender Dysphoria Blues doesn’t let up for 29 brisk minutes, but real tenderness and vulnerability surfaces in the melee. In “Unconditional Love,” Grace repeats the self-lacerating line, “Even if your love was unconditional / it still wouldn’t be enough to save me” – a terrifying and revealing notion, even as Grace remains by all accounts happily married to her wife.
Against Me!’s music only addressed gender issues in passing before Transgender Dysphoria Blues, so the album certainly qualifies as a left turn. But the end result is just as catchy and anthemic as the terrific speedball punk records that precede it. Gabel always told the truth as he saw it, so it makes sense that Laura Jane Grace would do the same, with the added benefit of comfort and courage in her own skin.
You may have been hearing more and more about the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, and the effort to create a more tolerant and accepting community. It wasn’t too long ago that Tom Gabel from the band Against Me! announced that he was, in fact, a woman. The response from the punk and greater music community was mixed, with some people being supportive of the courage it took, while others were critical or simply angry. Well, now there is an openly transgender member of the skateboarding community. Skateboarding has always been quite progressive and open-minded, and it will be interesting to see how this news will be received.
Hillary Thompson was born on the 10th of September in Raleigh, North Carolina. She started skateboarding at about 4 or 5 years old on a single kicktail with big plastic wheels. Around the age of 4 or 5 is also when the imposing societal ideas of sex, gender and sexuality became a reality in her life. While your sex is defined by your anatomy when you’re born, gender is a construct, and is generally given to the corresponding sex i.e. “girl” to female, and “boy” to male. The problem with this is that some people born male may not feel “male”. Hillary always just expected that she would grow up and become a woman. She was given a male gender when she was born though, and was therefore in conflict with her internal gender identity. This is called ‘gender disphoria’; an anxiety created by the conflict between a person’s assigned gender and their internal gender. This can be very difficult for that individual, as exhibiting female characteristics when you have been given a male gender can result in a lot of hatred, aggression, and possibly even violence from society.
She ignored it for a while, but it became difficult to simply run away from the issue, and at around 18 she knew that she had to do something about it. Her parents sent her to a psychiatrist, as she started battling with depression and began isolating herself. The psychiatrist basically just gave her a prescription though, which obviously didn’t help anything. So she decided to do some research on the internet, ordered female hormones, and read up on how to transition. Her family and friends love and support her.
Finally Hillary was able to go to a therapist specialising in gender and gender issues, and be able to speak about what she was going through. Because the therapist wasn’t trying to ‘fix’ her, she could begin a constructive transitioning process and become who she always wanted to be. Often when people transition between genders, they feel like they have to forget all the habits from the pervious gender, but because Hillary skated, she could ignore all of that and just carry on skateboarding. At first she didn’t skate much with other people because she didn’t think that people would accept it, but the support and acceptance she has received from the skateboarding community has been mostly positive.
Today, Hillary is moving forward and living a happy, healthy life, learning to creating accepting relationships with herself, and he family and friends. Talking about skateboarding, she says “Well I like it more now than I ever have, because before there were always boundaries I wouldn’t cross because I was living in fear. There was the transitional period when I just skated by myself, which I didn’t like because for me skating is a really social thing. Skating alone is really depressing. Now I have friends to skate with and I’ve lost those barriers and boundaries. I can be myself.” She skates pretty much every day.
This will probably be a new thing for many members of the skateboarding community to think about, and we are interested to hear what your opinions are. Feel free to comment below, but please be respectful of other’s opinions.
Photography: Sam Mcguire