Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues | Album Review | By Volume

The kid that went down isn't dead; he just can't find his phone. The Hold Steady - Almost Everything

Against Me!

Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Punk called.

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Author: on January 21, 2014
Total Treble Music

Punk found me in 7th grade when I barely knew which side of the bed to piss on in my mental mess of fear and fury. In loud, raucous music I carved out peace of mind and a sense of hope. Against Me!, alongside bands like Operation Ivy, Green Day, Rancid, and Sleater Kinney, wrapped me up, pain and all, and told me I would be okay. In high school I moved onto indie rock, explored hip hop, and fell in love with my mother’s Motown records. Punk and I only crossed paths occasionally, like childhood friends who catch up with six-hour phone calls twice a year.

Last week, my old pal barged through my front door and tackle hugged me with Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

It’s the first Against Me! record since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender. Clocking in at just under half an hour – punk’s perfect album length (London Calling serving as the exception that proves the rule) – every second gushes feeling: rage, loss, confusion, peace.

You’ve got no cunt in your strut!” Grace growls in the title track opener, setting the tone for a record that boldly relates her experience with gender and transition. Her voice sounds better than ever, reminiscent of riot grrl singers (without the ugly anti-trans elements of that movement) or a punked-up Dolores O’Riordan. “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot / They hold their breath not to catch the sick,” she sings in that song’s chorus. This first song does everything punk does at its best: it hits a social theme, it’s loud and tight, and the lyrics are deeply personal while still relatable to a wide audience.

Elsewhere, the brutal “Drinking With The Jocks” shows off new drummer Atom Willard’s chops; “Two Coffins” will please fans of the band’s acoustic work; “FUCKMYLIFE666” and “Dead Friend” are back-to-back shots of pop punk delight. The anger and frustration of Transgender Dysphoria Blues feels raw and frank, so it never weighs these songs down. Each track is bright, fun and well-executed.

The album roars to a close with “Black Me Out.” The standout lyric – “I wanna piss on the walls of your house” – would sound ridiculous in anyone else’s mouth, but in Grace’s it succinctly captures the furious power of the record. [Incidentally, I want to shout it at anyone who has a bad word to say about Against Me!, this record -- or trans people.]

Like many great punk albums, Transgender Dysphoria Blues uses personal experiences and political and social critique to delve into broad themes.  At its core, this is an album about doing what you must to stay alive. For Laura Jane Grace, that means being a woman in a world full of people who will insist she is a man. In “FUCKMYLIFE666”, Grace sings, “Don’t wanna live without teeth / don’t wanna die without bite / I never wanna say that I regret it.”  In “True Trans Soul Rebel”, she poignantly addresses suicide, which is tragically frequent among trans women. These songs matter because they create space for people who society so often prefers to ignore. It has the secondary benefit of addressing trans issues to punk fans who otherwise might never think about them.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is different from the punk records of my early teens, and those differences explain why I connect with it so hard after many years away from the genre. Back then, I was looking for salvation. I needed Tim Armstrong and Joe Strummer to make me ok because I didn’t know how to be on my own. This record isn’t here to save anyone, it’s just here to be with us while we figure it out on our own. On “Unconditional Love,” Grace sings, “Even if your love was unconditional, it still wouldn’t be enough to save me,” and her voice slides along the edge of losing control. Another person’s love, no matter how great, can’t save you. The music can’t save you. You have to do what it takes to keep yourself alive. But punk will always be here to help.


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