Collected Works: Music
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
by Against Me!
‘You’ve got no cunt in your strut,’ a woman spits out, the hard consonants contained by quotation marks. ‘You’ve got no hips to shake.’ The harsh invective mimics those who have misgendered her as male, citing the way that she walks and the frame of her body as seemingly irrefutable proof. These insults are reinforced by the instrumental backing, the standard structure of which parallels the pressures and implicit hierarchies of heteronormativity. Chords do not deviate from the major-key scale. Snare drum hits fall squarely on the beat.
Against Me!’s sixth studio album follows the trials and tribulations of a transgender sex worker. Though not autobiographical, it is informed by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s own experiences with gender dysphoria. The narrator longs to be treated like ‘every other girl’, yet many project another identity onto her, one founded on their own prejudices. On the opening track, Grace’s vocal range is limited to three notes. The defiantly personal words that she has authored, allowed only a small space for self-expression, remain penned in.
The protagonist often turns her anger inwards to condemn her own past behaviour. ‘Drinking with the Jocks’ rowdily recalls an adolescent attempt to fit in, with singing of dick-swinging and vulgar boasting giving way to a shouted outro, in which she flags up her true colours: ‘There will always be a difference between me and you.’ Only on ‘Two Coffins’, a meditation on death and decay, does the energy subside. The song’s acoustic guitar strums and swaying melody serve as a morose lullaby: ‘All things will fade / Maybe it’s better off that way.’
On ‘Black Me Out’, the album’s final song, each chorus closes with a leaping cry of the titular phrase, leaving the melody feeling incomplete. Two and a half minutes in, what we assume to be a bridge is revealed to be an outro, marking an irreversible move away from prior material. Lyrics speak of the freedom of transitioning – ‘Full body high / I’m never coming down’ – then the song ends with a restful descent. The musical oppression heard earlier is cast aside, a lifelong dissonance transformed into a lasting resolution.
Words by John Wadsworth
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Terry Gross has interviewed Laura Jane Grace for NPR, as have Alex Morris for Rolling Stone, and Michelle Ruiz for Vogue. Carl Wilson has written about how the album returns punk to its roots in an article for Slate.