Laura Jane Grace, singer for political punk rockers Against Me!, has always been outspoken, but for much of her life she felt forced to hide her true nature.
That all changed in 2012 when she came out as transgender on the cover of Rolling Stone, inadvertently turning herself into a leader of the growing trans rights movement. Grace first took advantage of this spotlight with the band's magnum opus "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," one of the most powerful — and personal punk — albums in recent memory.
"I try to always let people know that I'm not a role model, in the sense that I don’t have it all figured out, I don’t have the answer. I'm going to be a f**k-up, like there’s going to be missteps that I take in life, that's part of being a human being. But I do recognize that I have a platform so if I can use that for any good then I want to do that."
To wit, Grace is going even further with "True Trans", an AOL Originals webseries that is about reality but is adamantly not a reality show.
"Saying that kind of implies that it’s like the 'Real World' or something like that, which it’s absolutely not. Me and the band are the backdrop to it, and it really was a chance for me to talk to people that I admire and had questions of about their journey and their experiences. I have the chance to speak with so many like people from different walks of life. It was incredible."
Meeting fans after the show is part and parcel of being in a punk band, but this time rather than connecting over political view, there was a new, personal connection because of the album and Grace's openness.
"The lessons I was taught with punk rock — of making sure to never put a barrier between you and your audience and to make yourself accessible — I've always tried to stay true to. It’s not like I have a security guard usher me from the stage to my bus and I don’t talk to anyone, I always try to be around and hang out," she says.
"The comfort that I receive of knowing no matter where I go in the world, there’s someone there who I can meet up with who is going to have some similarity of experience or can relate on some level, I mean that’s incredible, you know? And 15-year-old me could've never imagined that as a possibility or reality, so that’s just continually mind blowing."
The AOL film crew travelled with Against Me! on tour for around three months, capturing countless connections Grace established with fans and activists like a San Diego community organizer named Blue who was an ex-marine and had been given a dishonourable discharge after 13 years when it was found out he was a lesbian.
"He's in debt hundreds of thousand of dollars to the marines because he has to pay back his GI bill and all the money he received as advances for that. So that alone was pretty staggering to hear, and then when we started talking about what Blue did as a job in the marines, which was receiving bodies of fallen soldiers from Iraq and making sure they had all their medals on them and they were dressed appropriately to be sent back to their families, I mean, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. This is a person whose gender and sexuality affected no part of them doing their job. And the way they were treated by the military was just horrendous."
The first four episodes are online now with two more batches of episodes to be released in the coming weeks.
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"I really hope that it demonstrates to people gender-variance," Grace says. "That it's not about Box A or Box B, that it's not about fitting into a box. Just because you’re saying that you're trans doesn't mean that you then fit the stereotype of what that means, and that there is just so many different variations of gender out there and so many people doing cool things and living positive lives with really inspiring stories that I really hope I showcased."
"Whether that's people in entertainment and they’re a musician, or they’re organizations/ activist organizers, or that they work in retail or whatever, that there’s just all different types of people out there and that their gender and sexuality has no effect on all that."
The launch of "True Trans" comes at an exciting time for the trangender community as people like Laverne Cox land on magazine covers and their civil rights movement takes hold in the broader culture.
"You feel like you're part of something bigger than you, you know? It’s crazy because I think most who transition will attest that when you're younger, and especially growing up in a pre-internet age, whenever I saw a news article or a blurb anywhere that said 'so-and-so transitioned' I saw it as this sign from the universe that was speaking directly to me."
Grace says the increasing coverage of trans issues and people has a huge impact on those who have yet to come to grips with their feelings. "Seeing more of this makes you feel like it's more possible, that it doesn't have to be a horror story, that there are people of all different gender variance and different type of sexual orientation and it’s not a big deal. When it comes down to it, everyone is just a human being."
"There have been so many moments in my life where if 14-year-old me could've seen myself now or the way the world is now," Grace adds, "I just, never would've believed it."
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