Late Tuesday night, Rolling Stone posted a news item that Tom Gabel of the punk band Against Me! plans to begin living as a woman. Gabel will soon undergo the transition, with hormones and electrolysis treatments. According to Rolling Stone, Gabel has "dealt privately with gender dysphoria for years." The full story, written by Josh Eells, hits newsstands on Friday.
As Matthew Perpetua, a Rolling Stone contributor, notes in a thoughtful piece about autobiography in pop music, Gabel has addressed gender identity issues in Against Me!'s music before, most explicitly in "The Ocean," the closing song on the 2007 album New Wave.
If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura
I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her
One day I'd find an honest man to make my husband
And earlier this year, Gabel performed a new song, "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," with just an acoustic guitar, perhaps as a nod to Against Me!'s explosively vulnerable beginnings as a folk-punk band 15 years ago.
Gabel, who will take the name Laura Jane Grace, admits that the transition won't be easy.
"I'm going to have embarrassing moments, and that won't be fun," says Gabel. "But that's part of what talking to you is about — is hoping people will understand, and hoping they'll be fairly kind."
But Gabel will have a strong support to stand on. The punk community has long included and celebrated transgender musicians like '70s proto-punk and performer Jayne County and JD Samson of MEN, who doesn't identify as transgender ("I'm just me"), but supports the community. Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV frontwoman Genesis Breyer P-Orridge also doesn't identify as transgender but as "pandrogynous," a merging of identities between partners with spouse Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, who died in 2007.
Identity takes many different forms, and like Jayne County and Genesis P-Orridge, Gabel will make the transition in public. Fans have come to know Gabel as a man, a powerful singer with a throaty and "masculine" voice who, since day one, has not only tackled government and social issues but also challenged the punk community itself. Gabel has always questioned the basic principles well-meaning but very young and green punks post on message boards, like anarchy ("Baby, I'm an Anarchist") and protest songs ("White People for Peace").
More importantly, Gabel has directed questions inward, as a frustrated musician ("What We Worked For"), a cautious success story ("Don't Lose Touch") and a formerly naive punk ("I Was a Teenage Anarchist"). We don't know if the sound of Laura Jane Grace's voice will change, but as I've said before, Against Me! has always written songs about growing up, and I'm excited that she's publicly invited the band's fans to witness her become herself.