This one’s a quicky.
Last night, Laura Jane Grace performed in Boston for the first time (as far as I can tell) under the name Laura Jane Grace. This is significant as in the multiple times she has appeared in Boston prior to now, either solo or fronting scrappy Florida punk band Against Me!, it has been as Tom Gabel.
It has been quite a year and a half for the singer/songwriter/frontWOman since she very publicly announced her status as a transgender woman and her intention to begin publicly presenting as a woman after 30+ years presenting as a man (12 or 13 of which include presenting as a man on concert stages the world over).
She took the stage a few minutes late since boring opener Mina Caputo just HAD to play two more boring songs. The sold out crowd lit up with her entrance, easily giving her 120% of their attention (vs the 10-12% given to the two opening acts, one of whom (Franz Nicolay) was easily worth 80 or so). As she quickly said hello and began tuning up her acoustic guitar, one exuberant member of the crowd a few feet behind me said what I am sure she assumed the whole room was thinking. “YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL!”, she hollered across the sardine can of the venue floor, a sentiment shared by most of the room given the boisterous cheer that went up immediately after.
It’s true, she did.
I’d seen her perform seven or eight times as Tom Gabel and I could immediately see a new energy in her familiar, but different, face. A year and a half into presenting as female, her straggly curly hair blocked out her eyes from time to time (as if it had been doing so her entire life), but the glimmer in them was still present. She DID look beautiful. The kind of beauty that is obvious from someone completely in control of their life. I have looked that beautiful before, and I hope you have too.
But that, I came to realize, is NOT why my loud fellow concert goer said what she did.
I realized this when, after about 50 minutes of (mostly) new stuff, peppered with some deep Against Me! cuts that brought on some of the best sing-a-longs I’ve been a part of in a while, Laura began thanking the opening acts and the venue and us for singing along and once again, the mystery bullhorn opened up.
“THANK YOU FOR COMING!” she belted.
A simple enough platitude from a gracious concert goer on the surface, one which brought a smile to Grace’s face and a muted “my pleasure” to her lips. It was there, if you were looking for it, her gracious response. It was everywhere but the microphone.
A few seconds later, the final nail in my opinion of this person I will never know came, as she repeated her compliment, this time with the stubborn indignation of a child being ignored by their parent when asking for a Reese’s Big Cup in the check out line. The pain in her voice that resulted from not having her compliment publicly acknowledged by Grace was clear and present.
The repeated platitude went unacknowledged by Grace.
As it should have been.
This person hurling love her way was perhaps doing so out of a genuine desire to have Grace know that regardless of the choices she makes, she will be supported by her fans. Of course, the sold out crowd singing along word for word to all of her songs, INCLUDING some of the new ones that were only around three weeks old, probably did that a lot better than a simple platitude hollered into the ear of the poor soul standing in front of the drunk girl at the rock show.
But no, what was obvious to me, the rest of the room and probably Grace herself was that this person was NOT lobbing compliments out of the goodness of her heart. She was saying what she did because she wanted to be KNOWN as the supportive one, as the loving, accepting one, and she wanted to be publicly acknowledged and praised for it. Her message was being filtered through a think film of self interest.
“Fuck you, bitch” is the most eloquent response I can muster.
Don’t come to the punk rock show and make it about you, because it’s not about you. It’s not about me, fuck it’s not even about Laura Jane Grace. It never was, and that is how it is supposed to be. Her new songs, written during and sometimes about her public transition between genders prove a much deeper point than I think even she knows. A good songwriter can craft songs that eloquently convey the feelings in their heart and their mind. A GREAT songwriter can craft songs that take their feelings and make them universal regardless of one’s situation.
I am not a transgender female. I will never understand the pain Grace has felt in her life or the struggles she will undergo moving forward. Yet, I related to this new batch of songs just as much as the old stuff for one simple but immensely loaded reason: I am a human being.
Regardless of what happens to be going on in any one of our lives, love, confusion, angst, pain, heartbreak, fear and most importantly joy are universal feelings. Acknowledging this, even (especially) silently brings us closer as a species. Grace is living a life wildly different than my own, and yet her words resonate with me just as strongly as they ever did.
And no amount of vapid platitudes thrown across packed concert halls can prove that if you can’t see it for yourself.