Against Me!: A Case Study of the Punk Rock Community

Believe it or not, one of the safest places in the world is in the midst of a punk show. No, I don’t mean the most tranquil or peaceful place in the world – necessarily – and I don’t mean you won’t get any bruises. But that’s all part of the fun. Underneath the aggressive, angry, and wild appearance of a punk show is an entire subculture: one that rejects systematic oppression and thereby accepts everyone who shares the same ideology as equal.

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The rules of 924 Gilman, a punk venue in Berkeley, CA

The punk movement, which began almost 50 years ago, was founded on the concept of creating a place for those who were rejected, in some way, by society to come together and express their subsequent rejection of society. By default, the punk subculture was made up of misfits, so the need for judgement was quickly eliminated. Instead, punks focused their energy on creating a place where everyone could finally belong. And the cramped, dirty venues were that place. For this reason punk shows, despite their appearance, are one of the most welcoming environments I can think of.

In 2014, this spirit of acceptance was entirely reiterated with the help of a Florida punk band by the name of “Against Me!” Founded in 1997, the band has been churning out distinct, catchily-aggressive tunes for almost 20 years, not including several brief periods of hiatus. After spending several years touring as an opener and playing relatively small shows, Against Me’s 2007 release, New Wave, pushed the band into the territory of mainstream acclaim. Their first major-label release, the album featured two songs that earned spots on the Billboard 200.  Against Me! continued to gain popularity, and their next album, White Crosses, was generally received well, although it did not receive as much praise as New Wave.

In 2012, the band’s founder and lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender after a lifetime of struggling with gender dysphoria. It was at this time that she changed her name to Laura and began the first stages of her transition. Despite the controversial nature of the issue, many figureheads of the punk scenes soon voiced their support of Grace’s announcement. In 2012, Grace began performing with Against Me! under her new name. Though she still faced a certain amount of discrimination, Grace saw no reason to let this halt her musical career.

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The album cover of Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Then, in 2014, Against Me! shook the world with a groundbreaking new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. As its name suggests, the album is an extraordinarily brave, revealing, and very personal narrative of a troubled girl trapped inside the body of a boy. The first track, which shares a name with the album, sets the tone: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / you want them to see you like they see every other girl.” Grace’s lyrics have hinted at her feminine side in the past, but this album lays it all out on the table, unashamed.

The album addresses, accompanied by Against Me’s distinct, jagged instrumentals, Grace’s experiences with discrimination, depression, dysphoria, and essentially tell the story of her rebirth. It is a collection of beautifully crafted, self-exposing poetry, thinly veiled behind aggressive instrumentation and vocals. It is by no means discrete – Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an undeniable, in-your-face declaration of identity. It is, unabashedly, a punk rock album about being transgender. And it is beautiful.

Despite its tricky and, to some extent, shocking subject matter, the critical and commercial response to Transgender Dysphoria Blues was overwhelmingly positive. In addition to high star-ratings across the board, the album also debuted at their highest Billboard position yet, at number 23. Buzzfeed boldly stated that the album is “proof that rock and roll still matters.” Transgender Dysphoria Blues had managed to thrive in the punk scene as well as breach wider audiences. Among few other genres would this widespread acceptance have been possible. 

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Laura Jane Grace in 2015

Today, Against Me! is on tour with Green Day, playing alongside – not opening for – the biggest rock band in the world. 19 years ago, Grace began her career has a self-destructive young kid, confused about everything, writing songs that she played all alone. You could say she’s come a long way.

 

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