Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the first full-length album from Florida punk band Against Me! since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgendered, is surely one of the most important rock albums of this decade.
As always, Against Me! keeps things short and tight; TDB delivers 10 songs in just under half an hour. And, sonically, it doesn’t stray far from Against Me!’s practiced wheelhouse: blistering, refined punk rock. But it’s the urgency and clarity in Grace’s lyrics — some 33 years in the making — that position this album as a howling queer voice in the widely straight and cisgendered boy’s-club wilderness.
True, Against Me! has always been a vaguely LGBTQ-oriented band. Older songs “The Disco Before the Breakdown” and “Violence” and “The Ocean,” alluded to coming out, shame and gender dysphoria, respectively. The themes have always been danced around, easy to shrug off as speculative, as writing exercises. “If I could have chosen/ I would’ve been born a woman” (from 2007) lacks the assertion and self-awareness of, say, TDB’s title track: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/ You want them to see you like they see every other girl.” “True Trans Soul Rebel” confronts the high rates of suicide in the trans community. “Paralytic States” is about trying to reconcile the irreconcilable reflection in the mirror. Grace simultaneously specifies and universalizes; on “Drinking with the Jocks,” she recalls her pre-transition self laughing and using words like “bitches” and “faggots,” desperately trying to feel normal.
Punk has never had a touchstone album quite like this. The whole this-record-saved-my-life thing is kind of overused, but for the teenagers who pick it up in a store or download it on a whim, it could be literally true. Whether they’re struggling daily against heteronormative culture or just the assholes in the lacrosse pinnies at the other end of the cafeteria, there are kids who need to hear this.
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