Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace is the founder, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Against Me!. After coming out as a trans woman in 2012, she's become a champion of the trans movement.
What does the word “outspoken” mean to you?
The word “outspoken” goes hand in hand with punk rock. But for me, the people who I admire, that are my heroes that I’ve grown up listening to, reading, or watching, or whatever, or being around, have always been outspoken people who weren’t afraid to say what they were thinking or stand up to what they thought was right. That’s been something that has always been attractive and admirable to me in other people and something that I’ve always held myself to a standard of.
Is there anyone in particular who comes to mind?
Yeah, I mean so many people who come to mind, whether that’s on a personal level, from my grandmother to my mother, to first musical heroes, like Madonna, to punk rock heroes, like somebody like Joe Strummer, to even political heroes. That’s just, again, always something that’s been important to me and I’ve admired these people.
What’s the connection between punk and activism? How does the spirit of punk—in terms of its relationship to authority—inform what you do as an activist?
You just always question. You never take anything for what it says and make sure you understand it. You’re not being directed. You’re not being told. For me, punk rock was a stepping stone into activism, and I feel like activism and revolutionary movement, class struggles, whatever, there’s always been a soundtrack to it—there’s always music that goes along with it, and it’s an important part of it. For me, I need to know music is real in order to connect with it. I can’t listen to music within television commercials or something like that. It feels like they’re not real, it’s almost like it values it in that way. I need to know something is real.
You really embody the idea of the personal being political in terms of how visible and how open you’ve been about being a transwoman and how public your coming out was, and it’s undoubtedly given hope to trans women around the world. What has it meant to put yourself out there like that?
It feels real. My band started in the Florida anarchist activist beat, and we used to throw protests and we were really part of the protest movement. Then as we got bigger, it kind of drifted further and further away from that just because we were challenged so much. When you’re touring 250 days a year, you have a hard time being part of anything, but spending time talking about things that don’t really matter, like “What is punk?” or “Is it punk rock to do this? or be on this record label? Or do something like that?” became really boring and I realized it didn’t matter after a certain point. I am a musician and part of that is that you do interviews when you put out records and oftentimes sell them. In the past, the things that I would find myself talking about weren’t real. I didn’t have any interest in them. But this is real to me and I know it’s real to other people. I know a moment like that specifically, I guess if you wanted to say within the transgender movement or whatever, I would push for visibility and I would push for acceptance and I would push for understanding and I would push for education. To be a part of that is just like you recognize you’re a part of something bigger than yourself or bigger than your band or bigger than your music. I’m just humbled to be a part of that.
What surprised you the most about coming out?
The level of acceptance and support. Part of coming out was getting to a point where you don’t really have a choice. You’re just like, “Well, this is happening. Their actions can be whatever they are, like fuck it.” But to come out and see so many people within the music community, be that bands or other musicians or even the press, be so supportive and be so willing to be understanding and try to get it, like that I would have just never imagined. I’m not sure if it would have been the same like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or whatever, but it doesn’t matter. Now it is that way, and there was that level of support, and I think that is an incredible statement on how far people have progressed.
Let’s talk about that time you burned your birth certificate on stage.
Obviously, it was symbolism, going to North Carolina after HB2. We had booked the show before that came up and once HB2 came up and all of the protests around it and the boycotts started happening, I was asked by my manager if we wanted to do that too and I said, “No, we’re going there on tour still.” I might not live in the state of North Carolina, but I work there regularly, touring through there at least once or twice a year, and I pay taxes in the state. I think that for the people of North Carolina, it’s not an option for them to boycott their state, just decide you’re not going to shop anywhere and you’re not going to go to work, and I felt like I wanted to have solidarity with that. And to be defined by something like a piece of paper that was written out seconds after you were born that you had no say in, as if that is some kind of end all be all. People point to that as if it’s some kind of biblical truth handed down from God, like “Here is this birth certificate, you can never deny what this birth certificate says! You are forever tied to this birth certificate!” is just fucking bullshit! It’s just a piece of paper. I can have other pieces of paper made up, too. I don’t know. It was funny, too, because after that happened, I saw a lot of people being like, “Oh, that was a dumb move.” Like what the fuck? When was the last time you used your birth certificate for anything? And the idea that part of HB2 is you have to use the restroom that corresponds to what it says on your birth certificate, like people actually carry around their fucking birth certificate to show when they’re going to the bathroom. It’s absurd. Fuck your birth certificate.
What do you see the biggest challenge facing trans women in 2016 and what can everyone do to help?
I think it’s just to further push for understanding. I feel like that right now there is visibility, there’s greater visibility, but it’s that further push for understanding. There was that moment when the Attorney General spoke in regards to HB2, and I was flying down to start the tour that would take us to North Carolina. I was in the Detroit airport and there was this huge wall-sized projection of the Attorney General speaking in the airport and I stopped and watched it along with other passengers in the airport, and it was an amazing moment because you can’t really get more mainstream than that of a visibility moment being in a major airport and seeing someone representing the Obama administration say that they recognize transgender people, and it was incredible. I started crying in the middle of the airport, then I went over to wait by my gate, and there was a bar, and I ordered a glass of wine, and I was sitting there, and I noticed the employees. They were kind of huddled down at the end of the bar, and I could hear them talking about it, and a couple of them started saying some really ignorant things. So, I went down there and I was like, “You know what, actually, I’m a transgender person, and this is wrong what you’re saying because of these reasons,” and I just started explaining things, and I went off on whatever lap I was going off on, and I stopped and the one airport employee, their only response was, “Is it true that Caitlyn Jenner is thinking about going back to being a man?”
And it was just like one of those forehead-slapping moments where you’re like, “Are you listening to what is getting through to you?” You have that visibility where these airport employees, who I didn’t even know if they’d ever met a transgender person before, and it was like the reality from the TV was coming to life in front of them, because of the Kardashians, because of Caitlyn Jenner, but there is yet to be that real interaction on a human level for them. There’s the visibility there, but you need the education, and it needs to be something that’s not sensationalized, and it needs to be something that is not turned into a fetish as it’s classically been. It needs to be something where there’s that human connection, and that’s when people start to get it.