Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: "Tr**ny" by Laura Jane Grace

Veteran readers of this blog know that occasionally I do book reviews.  I don't review EVERY trans-related book I read, but some of them scream to be discussed.

One such book is Tr**ny by Laura Jane Grace.  Ms. Grace is the lead singer of the punk group Against Me.  She came out as Transgender in May 2012 in a VERY public way- on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  And unlike a certain trans celebrity, she has been an amazing positive voice for the Trans community.

A little background may be in order.  I was introduced to Punk music in the 80s.  Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Ramones, Misfits... that sort of thing.  In the short time I attended Drexel University, I went to South Street many times, as back then it was punk heaven, with stores such as "Zipperhead," "Trash and Vaudeville," and "Philadelphia Record Exchange."  I even managed to get into JC Dobbs once in a while.  This was back when the Music mattered- and all that mattered was the Music.

Oh, and I worked at something called a "Record Store."  If you don't know what that is, ask your parents.

Punk appeals to the Anger in me- the sense of Outrage.  At the inequity of the world.  At Injustice.  But mostly at the fact that I was born- and that I was born Different.  It was cathartic.  I still listen to Punk- the Punk I know anyway.

In the early to mid 90s, the music started leaving me behind.  It all started sounding the same.  The Revolution started by the grunge bands was sanitized, especially by Stone Temple Pilots.  (Nirvana is popular?  STP sounded like them.  Pearl Jam is hot right now?  STP sounds just like them.  Ad nauseum.)  The last "new" music I picked up was Green Day Dookie.  Yeah, really.

Fast forward to 2012.  Ms Grace came out Very publicly.  By that time, my True self had reawakened and I was on the road to transition, even if I dared not admit it.  I'd never heard of Against Me.  But I was so glad for Ms Grace.  Even a little jealous.  After all, she was living her Truth, and, as a "rock star," could easily afford to transition.  Or so I thought.

Laura Jane Grace
Photo credit: http://www.altpress.com/news/entry/against_mes_laura_jane_grace_to_release_memoir_tranny

Fast forward again to Now.  Laura Jane Grace released her book.  Even the title is controversial.  Let's face it- the title is a slur.  She said "It's almost mentally taxing to look at my book in ways, but it captures a lot of what the book is about. And a lot of what the book is about is internalized transphobia and self-hate and that's an experience that I had and I went through."

Right.  I saw the book when it came in, and bought it with my next pay check.

Ok, so the review.

I read a LOT of music memoirs, biographies, etc.  Some are the same old sex and drugs and rock and roll.  Some rise above that to become something Special.  Three come to mind immediately:  Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Bruce Springsteen.  Make that Four.  Really.

Does Tr*nny have sex, drugs, and rock and roll?  Yes, of course.  And it has the requisite "struggling band lives in a van/bus/car" as well.  What makes this different- what sets this apart?  History.  Ms. Grace has kept journals for many years, and in those journals, she has been brutally honest.

And, I'm sure her words echoed in the minds of SO many of us.


I tell myself every time that it's the last time.  I swear, just this one last time and then never again.

Cross-dressing feels like
I can never be anything more than a pervert dressed up in women's clothes.
So sick, sick, sick.
I want to black it all out.
I do not care if i am alive or dead.

Where are you supposed to go when you no longer feel welcome in the places you turned to because you didn't feel welcome anywhere else?

All of these, and many like them, hit me like a shot to the heart.  I felt physically hurt.  I KNOW those feelings.  I've lived them.  So many of us have.

However, a little later in the book, Ms. Grace completely tore out my heart.

I've had that conversation with my daughter.  And every year for Christmas, she asks Santa "I want my daddy to come home."

There is no Pain like it in the world- the pain of a child who just wants her world not to change.  All she wants is her daddy- and you can't give that to her.  Because daddy is dead.  Daddy was a shell- a poison killing the Soul.

Ms. Grace dealt with Pain through substance abuse and through her music.  And one day, when her male world was disintegrating around her, she finally made the only choice that she could make if she wanted to survive- to Transition.

But it is never easy- her band was all but gone.  She kept touring as her only form of income, but the cost of transition was far out of reach.  She did it anyway.  I understand completely.

The book tore my soul to pieces.  And, 3/4 through it, I wondered- here I was exploring the intense Pain of this woman's psyche, and I didn't know her music.  I knew what drove it- I knew its Source.  I felt like I was not getting the whole story.  So, I saved my pennies and bought Against Me's Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  

That was a month ago.  It has lived in my car's CD player since.

THIS... THIS...  This is what the Music used to mean to me.  Raw.  Powerful.  The Howl of a Soul who wanted- Needed to be heard.  Songs that spoke to not just my mind, but to my heart and hips.  THIS is the Punk rock I remember from that long ago day when I first heard the opening chords of Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols.  When I heard Joey Ramone's sneering voice.  Patti Smith half speaking "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine."

The Music of my Anger- of the Pain I felt from being born Wrong.  The Outrage of a Life that should have been.

You want them to notice,
The ragged ends of your summer dress.
You want them to see you
Like they see every other girl.
They just see a faggot.
They'll hold their breath not to catch the sick.

But even if your love was unconditional
It still wouldn't be enough to save me

NOW I understood the book in a new way- a more complete way.

So.  Obviously, I loved this book.  It is not for the Timid.  Ms. Grace's prose writing style is as raw as her music.  An exposed nerve.

For my cisgender readers, if you want to know what being Trans does to a person's soul- especially when one has to deny it for so long- then THIS is the book you need.

For my Trans readers- get past the title, and read this.  Share in our sister's Pain and Triumph.  Because that's what this book (and CD) is: a Triumph.

I'm going to save my pennies and buy more of her music.  She has restored my faith in it.

Against Me is currently on tour.  The closest they will come to me in Philly is Washington DC.  Maybe next time.  My dear friend Amanda Farren saw them, and even met Ms. Grace.  She said they are amazing in concert- and she is a woman whose opinion I trust.

Ms. Grace- Thank you for your music, your writing, and for being You.

Seriously.  Thank you.


  1. Sophie, this review from you makes me want to watch "Hedwig & the Angry Inch" once again!!!

  2. Hi Sophie - I "met" you through the company FB page and have been a fan ever since. :) I'm a cis woman, but back in 2004 a copy of Jennifer Finney Boylan's "She's Not There" fell into my hands and opened my mind. Now I have a good friend with a 16-year-old trans daughter, and your blogs have helped me be a better friend. So thank you for that!

    I've been a huge fan of Against Me for years ("Thrash Unreal" was my anthem when I was going through a divorce and life seemed to be going off the rails a bit), and was surprised but proud of Laura Jane when she came out. I think I still have that copy of RS floating around the house somewhere. I just heard an interview with her on NPR talking about her book - now with this review, it's moving to the top of my list! (Do you think it's suitable for a 16-year-old?)

    Lastly, I live in Annapolis, and we are close enough to DC that we go to shows there pretty regularly. If you want to come to DC to see AM!, I have a guest bedroom you are welcome to crash in! I'd even go with you. ❤️

    1. Thank you for your kind worlds and generous invitation. I can't afford a concert.