Most progressive-minded musicians would be thrilled to play an event as massive as the 2014 WorldPride celebrations in Toronto this week, but for Against Me! vocalist Laura Jane Grace, their June 27 gig at Yonge-Dundas Square after the Trans* Pride March will be extra special for her.
“This my first time playing any Pride event, or even attending one!” exclaims Grace, who came out as trans in 2012 after living most of her life closeted about her gender dysphoria. "I'm really fucking excited about it, and really looking forward to it. We've been on tour for two months straight, and this is the last show before a little break, so it's also going to be our big end of tour party celebration in Toronto."
Since publicly coming out and going on tour in support of their most recent album "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," most of the press Grace has done has focused on her transition. Many musicians resent when media put so much focus on their personal life rather than the music, but Grace seems to accept that she's been had to spend so much time talking about hormones and prejudice instead of the actual songs.
"I really try to take the approach that there is no such thing as a bad question. Being that this is our sixth album, I've realized by this point that most of the time when you do press around a record, it rarely focuses on the things that a musician would like to talk about, because they're usually pretty boring for most people: things like what kind of guitar I used through which kind of amplifier or whatever.
"Most of the time journalists try to frame a story around a record, and for a long time the story around our band was the debate about whether it was punk rock to be on a major label, which I found completely boring. So being in a position now when I'm talking about transgendered people and talking about myself, I see it as an opportunity to educate people. Unfortunately most of the time I'm doing interviews with straight, white, cis males, so I try to look at those opportunities as a chance to not only talk to the readers, but also just to educate the journalist on a one-on-one level."
Grace is also quite aware of the lack of role models for trans people in the music scene. Growing up, the only trans musicians she was aware of were Jane County of NYC proto-punk pioneers the Electric Chairs and electronic music composer Wendy Carlos. Since coming out herself and beginning to talk publicly about her experiences, she’s seen first hand the impact that being out and visible can have.
“I definitely see a change in the audience in a lot of ways, specifically more of the trans and queer communities coming out to our shows. I meet a lot of people who tell me that they used to be into our band back in the day but had drifted away, and in that period had transitioned or came out themselves, and once they read about me coming out myself, felt comfortable coming out to our shows again, which is awesome and a great connection to have with fans."
She's still not completely used to how much weight her words on the topic have now though. She definitely didn't anticipate the firestorm of debate inspired by her tweets criticizing Arcade Fire for casting "Amazing Spiderman 2" actor Andrew Garfield instead of an actual trans actress for their "We Exist" video.
"That was a tweet that I sent at 9am in the morning when I had just woken up, and I didn't think there would even be any response to it. But I appreciated the discussion that happened around it, and enjoyed hearing other people's views on it, even if they disagreed with my own.
"It wasn't meant as this ultimate damnation of them as people, it was more just criticism of their art. As an artist myself who has received tons of criticism and has to be open to that, I feel like I have the right to do that for other artists, and they should have to be accepting of that, even if they disagree, which is also fine."
Grace admits that even she probably wouldn't have been as sensitive about issues of representation before coming out herself. Pre-transition, she wanted to crossdress for the video for their 2007 song "Thrash Unreal," but the idea was nixed by their label and management.
"I think that was one of the things about the Arcade Fire video, is that it felt dated to me. I felt like if it had come out ten years ago, it would have had a much stronger impact than now, and would have had a different meaning to it in a way. I wonder if they would even have been able to make a video like they did ten years ago."
Grace is also aware that she left herself open to similar criticism about appropriation and representation by initially describing "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" as a concept album about a trans sex worker. While she hasn't had to directly deal with any criticism from sex worker activists, she wants to make it clear what her motivations were:
"That concept was mentioned by me to the press early on, but was really just a thinly veiled disguise for me to hide how autobiographical the album actually was. There are a couple songs that were kind of written under that premise, but it's not really a record about that.
"That being said, I also always try to make it clear that I have nothing but respect for sex workers, whether they are trans or not. I think it’s very unfortunate the way most of the world views sex workers and treats them. It’s an admirable occupation, and people deserve respect if that’s what they choose to do.”