Wednesday, May 9 — There are a few things you need to know about me. First off, I do not have any interest in following or paying attention to figures in the entertainment industry, I prefer to wear black and I’m obsessed with politics.
When Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston died I wasn’t upset or even interested. In fact, I found the amount of attention that their demises fostered to be a waste of time. I have never understood how people can have such strong emotions attached to celebrities they probably have never met.
Only recently have I realized how much music — and especially the people behind the notes — can have an impact on our lives and who we are as people.
There is one exception to my avoidance of entertainment figures: the lead singer/songwriter of a band I found when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I’ve listened to everything he has written and loved (nearly) all of it. I’ve seen his band and his solo shows. He is the reason I started wearing black when I was young —because he did. The reason I’m into politics and now work as a news/political reporter is because I heard his song, “Baby, I’m an Anarchist.” Researching what an anarchist was led to my tumbling down the rabbit hole of political discourse and ideology, eventually landing me in the career I have today.
In essence, this person and his music played a huge part in shaping my personal identity.
His name is Tom Gabel, the lead singer of the punk band, Against Me! But now the world shall know her as Laura Jane Grace.
She came out as transgender to Rolling Stone yesterday and plans on beginning hormone treatment to start the process of changing her body to that of a woman. To be honest, I was hit with an emotional battering ram when I found out. When I knew her as a man, I would jokingly say he was the only guy I’d “go gay” for — turns out the only rock idol in my life, the one I’ve admitted to having a “man-crush” on for years, was struggling with her own identity while simultaneously shaping mine.
Like I kept saying to my roommate last night as we were talking about it and wrapping our heads around the news, “Life is crazy.”
I always had an inkling that something was up. I’ll leave it up to you to listen to “The Ocean” and “Searching for a Former Clarity.” Even the tattoos under her collarbones — “Grace” and “Gabel” — were subtle giveaways. When I first read the headline I initially saw the word “transgender” as “transvestite.” Perhaps I had some mental filter telling me, “Well duh, I knew that. So he likes to wear dresses sometimes, that’s cool.” But after a second and a third glance the magnitude of the word hit me.
I’m happy she came out. I cannot begin to imagine the struggle her life has been and how difficult it was to go public. I respect and support her in whatever way a single admirer out of thousands, perhaps millions, of fans can.
Every song Against Me! and Tom Gabel song I’ve listened to, fell asleep to, drank to, danced to, cried to and related my life to was being sung to me by a person who felt trapped in her own body. The meaning and power of these songs, for me personally, has amplified. If I ever have kids, I still fully plan on singing “We Did It All For Don,” to them as a lullaby.
She is married with a 2-year-old daughter, and her wife plans on staying with her. This coming out has taught me, in a very short amount of time, a great deal about love and about inspiration cradled in the arms of music.
While the situation is still new and the future uncertain, the fact that her wife is standing by her speaks volumes about what it means to love — that, while initially coaxed by aesthetics, at its core it’s much deeper. It’s a rooted connection between people that is engrained by who they are as human beings and the joy and positivity experienced and created by having them in your life.
I used to think that the tones of rage, love, loss and hope that inspired me were the guttural incantations that of a pissed-off, tattooed, punk band frontman.
Now, more than ever, it’s easier for me to see and value that the feelings and thoughts provoked by music are symbolic of a simple fact. Regardless of gender, race, class, or any other labels we use to define ourselves, music is a universal bridge between us as people.