At the present time, it’s been a little over 24 hours since news of Tom Gabel’s sex change leaked and spread like wildfire across the internet. And in those 24 hours, I feel like there isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been said. Tom is now Laura Jane Grace, he’s going to stay married to his wife, and together they’re going to raise their two-year-old daughter. Most people have been supportive of Gabel’s – or should I say Grace’s – decision. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the punk community from which Gabel and Against Me! stem from is based on openness to this type of action. Hell, even the fans who shunned the band after they and their Fat Wreck label mates all went major-label warmly received who they now know as Laura Jane Grace.
While every political and social point has been argued already on a number of message boards, all I can offer is what this means to a fan. I’m not a transsexual. Aside from an extremely interesting sexuality class I took last semester, I’m very removed from the LGBTQ community. What I am though is someone who’s listened to Against Me! for close to nine years now. I was 11 when Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy dropped back in ’03, and it was around this time that I was first exposed to punk rock. I didn’t know what “Cliché Guevera” was about, but I sure did hate all the kids I’d see wearing Ché shirts without actually knowing who he was or what he did. It was an angry, uplifting, rebellious but still digestible album, and for someone like me entering my teen years, it was one of the key reasons I got hooked on everything Fat Wreck. Fast forward to 2006. At my first Warped Tour, Against Me! was playing last. I was 14, and I caught their first song and split in time to be home for my curfew. I obviously told my friends that I watched the whole set and it was the best set of the day. I don’t even remember the song they opened with.
Fast forward again to 2008. This time, I actually caught their set at Warped Tour. It might have been one of the most perfect sets I’ve ever witnessed. It was humid and sunny, but just as the band began to play, it started pouring rain. Within minutes, thousands of kids were drenched, singing “Thrash Unreal.” I think the stage roof had holes in it, because the band was soaked as well. It was just like the music video, and to a 16 year old me, it was the most punk rock sight ever. That year, it was the best set of the day.
Around that time, Against Me! started going in a new direction. I wasn’t a fan, and I quickly forgot about them. Songs like “Stop!” were the types of songs that I would pretend don’t exist. In fact, other than random nostalgic bursts, I haven’t kept up with Against Me! much in the past four years. When the news first hit my ever-so-quiet Twitter feed last night, I thought this was some kind of joke. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. After the initial shock, I began to consider the meaning of this. Laura Jane? Why not Tommy? Tommy? And his marriage will remain intact? The sentiment of love between him and his wife is awe-inspiring. And what about Against Me! and their sound? Why would he do this so late in his life, after all the fame he’s built up?
I think that the Gabel/Grace case is monumental because of these questions. Other than Chaz Bono, who’s arguably famous because he is trans, no person with this much notoriety has ever undergone a sex change, especially after making a name for themselves as one sex before switching to another. Not to mention, the notion that a straight man is choosing to becoming a lesbian woman is something that a lot of people find foreign in itself. The reality is, there’s no shame in admitting that Tom Gabel becoming Laura Jane Grace is shocking. It’s okay to be surprised, to find it not normal. Because it isn’t normal. This doesn’t happen every day, and in fact, this is the first exposure to transsexuality for a great number of people. Today, we’re at a point where LGBTQ rights are this decade’s Civil Rights issue. It’s important to note that on the same day that North Carolina announced their controversial amendment banning same sex marriage even more than it was already banned, Gabel’s news came out, almost as if it was a retaliation of some sort, a “screw-you!” to the ignorance of the close-minded. In the following weeks, months and probably years, we’re going to learn about Gabel’s sex-alignment and his journey to the body he’s chosen. We’re lucky that Gabel is willing to go through this procedure in the open, on account of the notoriety of this case. As an outside commentator I can only watch, offer moral support and, most of all, seek understanding and encourage those in support of the LGBTQ community especially heterosexual, cisgendered people to learn and gain understanding from this issue. More so, I hope that those who still are not comfortable with LGBTQ issues use this as a learning experience and embrace this as a chance to familiarize themselves with this type of stuff.
I’d like to end this editorial by tipping my hat to Mrs. Laura Jane Grace for the tremendous amount of courage and bravery to not only go through her procedure, but to bring public attention to herself. She is offering us knowledge of a topic foreign to many, and a topic that should have far more light shed on it. It’s through knowledge that we’re going to see less North Carolinas, and more “every other place that is tolerant and embracing of LGBTQ communities.” Also, I think it’s punk as fuck to change your sex. It’s the ultimate testament of personal freedom.