Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout


Portrait by Harry Griffin

A version of this story appeared in the October issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe. Come back on October 31 to read the full excerpt.

There is an endless library of rock star memoirs out there about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Pick any of them up, and you can flip to a page about groupie fucking, hotel-room trashing, and white-line snorting. So when Laura Jane Grace and I started working on her book, TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, about her life fronting the punk band Against Me!, we wanted it to be different, because while she has definitely engaged in plenty of bad behavior, there was so much more going on underneath it all.

While the band was chugging along, Laura was hiding a secret that she wouldn't reveal until she was almost 32: She was a transsexual. She would soon drop her birth name, Tom Gabel, and live as a woman. Throughout TRANNY, we took great care in describing her struggle with dysphoria and gender identity to the reader. We explored it in detail in the earliest pages, as she fought to understand it as a misbehaving teenager, but then we faded it into the background toward the middle of her story, when she became distracted by the lifestyle of her rock star adulthood.

The midpoint of the book captures this era of her life. Laura (still known as Tom then) had recently eloped with her second wife, Heather. Against Me! had just released its major label debut, New Wave (2007), which brought newfound fame but also a small army of pissed-off fans who felt they'd been shafted by the leap. The rising profile of Against Me! and the taxing schedule that came with it caused tensions and fights among its members. And on top of it all, Laura wasn't much caring for the face of the selfish, perpetually hungover prick she saw staring back at her in the mirror every day.

The selection below is from that part of the story, when Tom Gabel couldn't get out of the way of their own damned ego. So while much of TRANNY deals with the nuances of everyday life as a transgender person, this is the section where Laura and I said "fuck it" and indulged ourselves in some full-on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll writing. And yet, for all the proverbial dick-swinging of this scene, it's also a moment when her rock star persona begins to crumble and gives way to Laura Jane Grace. —DAN OZZI

The tour bus was waiting for me in the parking lot of the Leon County Jail at 4 AM after I was processed, charged with battery, bonded out, and released on $500 bail. Radar, our bus driver on that run, gave me a kind nod and smile as I jumped onboard with a sigh.

In my cell, I had been seated next to a bleary-eyed man dressed only in a pair of sweatpants and a white tank top who went by the name of Mills. "All the prisons gonna start farming out inmates' body parts for profit," he told me. He seemed like a seasoned veteran of the system, and I didn't question his wisdom. I nodded my head, listening to him talk, but mostly my mind wandered, lost in regret. I thought about what a stupid mistake I'd made and how much hell was in store for me.

Earlier that day, Heather and I walked to a coffee shop in Tallahassee that shared a parking lot with the Beta Bar, a venue Against Me! was scheduled to play that night, a place we had played regularly. We ordered tea, and I walked toward the back to use the restroom, where I saw a bulletin board on the wall with various flyers and notes tacked to it. One was a write-up for our show cut from a newspaper. Someone had taken a pen to it, crossing out all our eyes with "Xs" and scrawling the word "sellout" across my forehead. I tore it down, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash. When I turned around, there was a punk right in my face.

"What'd you do that for?" he snarled.

"This was insulting to me, so I threw it out," I told him.

"Who the fuck do you think you are? This is our space, not yours." He turned his back to me, walking to take his seat at the counter.

I chased after him. "I'm a fucking human being, and I don't know you. Why are you treating me like this?"

He sat in front of his coffee, ignoring me. "What's your problem?" I pressed.

"As far as I'm concerned, this conversation is over," he said, flashing me a smug look.

As far as I was concerned, it wasn't. I snapped. At that moment, this guy was every person who'd ever called me a sellout, every punk in the crowd who'd given me the finger, every asshole who'd ever slandered my band's name in a fanzine.

He raised his cup to take a sip, but I knocked it out of his hand before it reached his lips, sending coffee splattering in all directions. I grabbed him by the back of the neck and slammed his face down, pinning his cheek against the wet counter. I was completely blacked out. I don't know what I would have done at that moment if I hadn't been torn off of him by some people who started taking shots at me.

What I didn't realize was that later that night, this coffee shop was holding a protest show to counter the Against Me! show next door. Most of the people there knew who I was, and they tried to wrestle me to the ground. To me, they were just strangers throwing punches, but they knew my name. Every blow that landed on my body was a mark of revenge on behalf of the punk scene. It was a headbutt that brought me back to reality. It wasn't that it hurt; it was just that the idea of getting headbutted was so ridiculous that it snapped me to my senses.

"Just let me go," I told them.

"I'm going to release your arms," I heard someone behind me say. "If you hit me, I swear to God I'll fucking kill you."

Sure, bro, I thought. You're going to kill me. Right.

I had no idea what Heather was thinking as we left the scene. She said nothing. We walked in silence along the nearby railroad tracks until it was time to get back to the venue. There were two police cars waiting in the parking lot when we arrived.

Copyright 2016 by Total Treble, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Hachette Books, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

A version of this story appeared in the October issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe. Come back on October 31 to read the full excerpt.

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