By Sara Karlovitch
Midway through the performance, Laura Jane Grace, punk rock’s self proclaimed “infamous anarchist sellout,” had a microphone malfunction.
Her acoustic guitar let out a horrible feedback sound that sent the audience recoiling. Grace fiddled with her guitar, but the feedback sound wailed out with a less than pleasant tune.
There was a lot of things Grace could have done next. She could have waited for a new microphone, try to fix this one again or just stop playing altogether. However, Grace did none of these things. In one of the more unexpected and surreal concert experiences of my life (and I’m sure for many others in the room) she jumped off stage, leaned back against its edge and played the whole set completely unplugged.
Now, I was initially skeptical. I know the woman has pipes, but I highly doubted her vocal cords would be able to fill a ballroom with about 100 spectators in it. However, as she opened with her hit “True Trans Soul Rebel” all my fears were put to rest. Simply put: Grace rocked it.
Grace spent about two hours answering questions and playing music in the the Stamp Grand Ballroom at this university Nov. 30. Grace is the lead singer of the punk rock band Against Me! She’s an author and devoted parent. Her and her band have garnered a cult following over its 20 years of existence. The band has seven full length albums, several of which are highly successful.
Grace was also born Thomas James Gabel. After her coming out in 2012, which was well into her music career, she has become an LGBTQAI+ icon. There are scores of LGBTQAI+ fans who have stated that her music has personally helped them through their own transitions and coming to terms with their own gender.
In an interview with reporters before the show, Grace said, “There was lots of people who I’ve met who are like, ‘Hey I used to listen to you and then … I drifted, or whatever, and then I came back after you came out and I came out too and I’m transiting too.’”
Grace’s music, even before she started to transition, has always infused the topic of gender and gender dysphoria. Take for example, one my my favorite songs by the band, “The Ocean” contains the following lyrics:
“And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura
I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her
One day, I’d find an honest man to make my husband”
“The Ocean” is from their 2007 album “New Wave.” Grace writes in her book “Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout” how that particular song almost didn’t make it onto the record because the record label, Shire, didn’t like it.
Since coming out, Grace’s music has been more open about her sexuality. In 2014, she released “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” which hit 23 on Billboard’s top 200 list. On the record is the song “True Trans Soul Rebel” which is what she used to open the set at this university. The song asks, “Does God bless your transexual heart / true trans soul rebel?”
Grace said that after she came out, her music became a lot more open, a lot less coded. She said she doesn’t want her music to become “straight forward” but that, “on a personal level, being able to be honest with myself about who I am, and the way I feel is a lot more liberating as an artist because then you don’t have to … self-censor in that same way.”
Fans from not just the local area, but from all over the country came out to hear Grace play. Gild Delamora travelled all the way from South Carolina. Delamora said the music, “makes me happy and that’s the most important part.”
Curt Bernhartt came from Ridgewood, New Jersey. Bernhartt is a longtime fan of the band. “I love music. That’s why I’m 42 and on a college campus still looking like a 18-year-old idiot. I am. Music always makes me feel young, makes me happy, [gets] me through bad times,” he said.
There were plenty of students from this university in attendance, as well. Spencer Yaculak, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said she started listening to Against Me! when she came out to herself as a trans woman. Yaculak said listening to Against Me! makes her feel “empowered.” “That’s one of the wonderful things about punk,” she said. “Don’t get sad get angry.”
Grace is a fierce, empowered presence both on and off stage. When she first came out, she told Rolling Stone, “However fierce our band was in the past, imagine me, six-foot-two, in heels, fucking screaming into someone’s face.”
Her music empowers and validates listeners. She’s given a voice to people who didn’t have one before. Whether part of the LGBTQAI+ community or not, Grace’s music means something to a lot of people.
“It’s okay to be a work in progress … to be in transition always” Grace told the crowd.
God bless you, you true trans soul rebel.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Laura Jane Grace’s Facebook page.
Sara Karlovitch is a sophomore journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.