10 years later, we still need ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’

OPINION: Against Me!’s seminal 2014 trans punk album is more vital than ever in 2024

This week marks 10 years since the Against Me! album Transgender Dysphoria Blues hit the world, an anniversary worth reflecting on considering how much has changed—and how much has stayed the same—for trans people since lead singer Laura Jane Grace first wanted us to notice the ragged ends of her summer dress. 

Released on Jan 21, 2014, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the sixth studio album of the long-running punk outfit Against Me!, but it was the first since Grace came out as a trans woman in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview. It also came five months before TIME Magazine published its infamous “Transgender Tipping Point” cover featuring actress Laverne Cox, and subsequently became a defining moment that year for trans people. 

In the Rolling Stone piece, Grace spoke about how her choice to transition publicly was influenced by meeting a young trans Against Me! fan.

“When I saw her at that show, I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah,’” she said. “I just found it so awesome and empowering. In a way, it showed me what a coward I was being. Because if she had the courage to come out as trans—then why the fuck didn’t I?”

Little did she know at the time, but she would become an influence and battle cry leader for a whole generation of trans people. I mean, I’m certainly one of them. 

I was spinning the album on my late-night college radio show long before I could name my transness for what it was. And in the years since I’ve come out, Transgender Dysphoria Blues has soundtracked everything in my life, from road trips with chosen family to Pride parties. I’m certainly not alone in that—just look at the reception NHL organist Lindsay Imber got when she covered the track on the arena organ for the Anaheim Ducks’ annual Pride Night last year.

 

I saw Grace play a solo, mostly acoustic set at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver in 2022, donning a black hoodie with a shaved head. She obviously wanted to play her newer stuff, but knew what so many in the audience were there for. As she sang “True Trans Soul Rebel”—a chorus that ends with a declaration “does god bless your transsexual heart?”—the crowd of pink-haired East Vancouver trans punks nearly drowned her out with euphoric, primal cheers. 

In that moment she was god, and our transsexual hearts were blessed. 

It’s hard to find a more influential single musical work that embodies the trans experience than Transgender Dysphoria Blues. That’s not to discount musical legends like the late SOPHIE or Wendy Carlos, who both arguably had a greater influence on music broadly, separate from their transness.

But Transgender Dysphoria Blues is distinctly, bluntly, aggressively trans in a foundational way. It’s messy, it’s heavy and it’s angry. The album tackles issues ranging from dysphoria to social transition to attending the funeral of a dead friend with the sort of raw reality reserved for trans-only subreddits and group chats—think of song titles like “FUCKMYLIFE666” or “Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” alongside discussion of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the longing alienation of drinking with jocks and the eternal struggle of being seen just as a “faggot.” Grace and her band were setting those big messy trans feelings to throbbing guitar riffs and thundering basslines for the world to hear.

And hear the world did. This was no underground DIY album shared loosely on SoundCloud—Transgender Dysphoria Blues somehow, remarkably, made Grace and Against Me! more famous, at that exact tipping point of trans visibility. Following its release, it became the band’s highest charting album, debuting at 23 on the Billboard 200 and 6 on Top Rock Albums. It was critically acclaimed, and landed in a pile of “Best Albums of 2014” lists, including number 2 for Noisey, where writer Dan Ozzi predicted Grace’s influence.

“Her unwavering commitment and honesty will undoubtedly be largely responsible for a new generation of the trans community or simply those who feel different, for those who look at her and say: Me too,” he wrote. “The album stands as a modern-day punk masterpiece and a message to those who’ve ever felt uncomfortable in their own bodies: you are far from alone.”

The album also preceded a broad ranging media tour for Grace that included everything from BuzzFeed listicles to an AOL docuseries on her transition. She was equal parts educator and critic of the system as she wove her way through mainstream media promoting an album that sounded anything but. The band even made it onto the Late Show with David Letterman, which at the very least led to Letterman saying the phrase “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” probably for the first time in his life.

The album’s infiltration into the mainstream in 2014 is a lesson we should learn from as the album celebrates its 10th anniversary.

A decade later, we’ve hardly made the progress on trans rights that the trans advocates in the thick of the “Transgender Tipping Point” were hoping for. If anything, many rights for transgender people have been rolled back with these dangerous waves of anti-trans legislation in Canada and the U.S. over the past few years. Our bodies, our identities and our very existence have become political talking points. And with the 2024 U.S. presidential election looming, that isn’t going anywhere. 

I’m not saying we need Laura Jane Grace out there teaching the normies “10 questions not to ask trans people,” but we certainly need that same empathy her album sparked in the music community: the idea that these trans experiences of alienation, discomfort and unrest aren’t unique to us—that fundamentally all we’re asking for is to be seen as ourselves. 

@xtramagazine

Transgender Dysphoria Blues, the trailblazing album from punk band Against Me! about lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s transition, turns 10 this week! It was released January 21, 2014 and went on to become a vital part of trans music history. Let’s look back on the iconic album’s legacy 🏳️‍⚧️🎸 #fyp #foryoupage #lgbtqnews #againstme #trans #music #transmusician

♬ original sound – Xtra Magazine

I’ll admit I was surprised when I realized it’s been 10 years since Transgender Dysphoria Blues, because in many ways it feels like yesterday that I was first putting “True Trans Soul Rebel” on playlists. But you can trace its influence over that time, and how much more open music has gotten. Besides the big milestones like Kim Petras winning a Grammy, there’s simply the existence of bands like 100 gecs or We Are The Union, who both could certainly cite Against Me! and Grace as influences, just like the young trans stars of today would point to Cox and that Time cover as a defining moment.

And a new generation of trans teens (or older trans folks who are still, at our hearts, trans teens) are certainly still discovering Transgender Dysphoria Blues and feeling those big feelings alongside Grace for the very first time. All I want in the world is for them to get to experience that. 

Ten years since Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I hope we get to feel those big feelings and be ourselves for a long time, and that the true trans soul rebels Grace sings about get to have the freedom and the peace and the love that she spent much of that album longing so hard for.

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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Culture, Music, Opinion, Trans, History

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