Diverse Book of the Month: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace, with Dan Ozzi

Happy June, everyone! It’s officially summer reading season, and if you’re looking for something quick to read this month with a unique perspective, then let me recommend this month’s Diverse Book of the Month pick: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace, written with the help of Dan Ozzi.

Summary: Laura Jane Grace, frontwoman of the popular punk band Against Me!, came out as a transgender woman back in May of 2012 in an issue of Rolling Stone. In 2016, she published this memoir, Tranny, to tell her story — and the story of Against Me! — in more detail, starting all the way back when she was a five-year-old trying on her mother’s pantyhose and wishing she’d been born a woman. The memoir is the story of her journey towards transition, and the way her gender dysphoria affected — for better or worse — her life, her work, and her relationships with her family, friends, and band.

What Makes This Book Diverse: Like our first two Diverse Books of the Month, Tranny is 100% an “Own Voices” book. Laura isn’t a doctor or psychologist theorizing about gender dysphoria, or a cisgender author projecting their beliefs of what it’s like to live with gender dysphoria onto stereotypical characters. Rather, she is transgender. She has lived the experience, and has the strongest authority to speak on the issue.

Genre: Memoir/autobiography

Trigger Warnings:

  1. Mentions of transphobia (but note that this is, surprisingly, far outweighed by examples of support Laura Jane Grace received once she finally announced her choice to transition)
  2. Drug and alcohol abuse/addiction and alcoholism
  3. Violence, including mention of police brutality

Pros:

  • You don’t have to be a huge fan of Against Me! to get anything meaningful out of this book. Though I do like a lot of their music and did see them and made it a point to go to their signing on Warped Tour back in 2008, I don’t listen to them very often, and I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir. It’s definitely well-written enough to appeal to anyone who picks it up.
  • That being said, this isn’t just the story of Laura Jane Grace. If you ARE a fan of Against Me!, this book is a great history of the band and Grace’s relationships with all the bandmates, fans, producers, managers, labels, and other musicians she’s worked with over the years.
  • Grace provides some great commentary on a plethora of issues, including classism, police brutality, anarchy and punk rock. The story is not just about her transition, but rather analyzes how her identity affects her life, her beliefs and morals, and her relationships, and vice versa.
  • Grace and her publishers made the decision to include excerpts from her journals over the years, which she saved until, apparently, this book was written. (In the epilogue she mentions deciding to burn the old, pre-transition journals as a farewell to Tom Gabel, the name she was given at birth.) The memoir itself is already very up-close-and-personal, but the journal entries add a great touch, since they show exactly how Grace felt at that exact point in time. They’re a nice compliment to her reflections back on those times.

Cons:

  • This book can be a little hard to read. Grace does not shy away from gruesome details, including her body’s reactions to her various addictions. There are also some pretty heavy topics discussed (obviously), so reading it can be exhausting mentally and emotionally at times.
  • If you’re not totally interested in Against Me!’s history, there are some parts of this book that might drag on for you. It’s not 100% about Laura Jane Grace, as I pointed out above. I personally don’t think this should hinder someone’s enjoyment of the book, but if you’re only interested in her experiences with gender dysphoria and being transgender, well, there might be some long parts about tours and management that you’re tempted to skip over.
  • On the other hand, if you are interested in Against Me!’s history, and only their history, I’ve heard complaints that this book is too focused on Grace, and doesn’t give the perspectives of the other band members. Which is fair, I guess. Granted, it’s her book. But I get it. She’s only human; obviously she’s gonna have some biases.
  • I think Grace presents herself, her complexity, very fairly. She knows when she’s been stupid or disrespectful, or when she could have handled a situation better, and she calls herself out on it. She’s very critical of both her past and present self. But some complain in their Goodreads reviews that she’s a “stuck-up, self-centered rock star.” If you aren’t interested in reading about someone who makes very honest, often very stupid mistakes, wellllll… maybe look elsewhere.

Personal Reaction: Let me preface this by saying I’m a pretty average Against Me! fan. I saw them perform at Warped Tour once in 2008 and got to meet them, but I only listen to them occasionally. They’re playing a show in my town soon and I’m still on the fence about going, since I haven’t listened to much of their recent music aside from their singles.

That being said, I really enjoyed reading this book. I’ve long admired Grace for her honesty and her politics, and it was great to read such a personal memoir about her.

I think my only complaint with this book was that it was written so soon. The only glimpse you get into Grace’s life after transition is a thirty-or-so-page epilogue — which is a pretty long epilogue, but the other 280 or so pages are mostly about her struggle through gender dysphoria before transitioning, her addiction, and her life on the road. If she’d waited a few more years to write the book, there might have been a little more… closure? I guess? I’m not sure that’s the word I’m looking for, but that’s the best way I can put it. Still, the epilogue finally added a little hope at the end of a very long, difficult journey towards Grace’s becoming her true self. Despite the obstacles that lingered even after her transition, including her divorce from the wife she loved very deeply and her ghostly relationship with her father, the ending is definitely optimistic. It’s clear Grace is finally becoming comfortable with her identity.

My favorite part of this book was the critique on anarchist/punk culture. I remember when the album New Wave came out and the punk scene started screaming that Against Me! were sellouts for signing with a major label. Grace goes into this issue quite a bit in this book, calling out the fact that a lot of so-called anarchists and punks these days want their favorite bands to keep playing for cheap, and never become successful or popular. Essentially, they’re snobs (often violent ones). Anarchy and punk culture are about so much more than just being anti-capitalism or anti-law enforcement. Anarchy and punk culture are supposed to point out the flaws of our government, of police brutality, AND of racism, sexism, homophobia… It’s about acceptance and empathy, not just about being angry. One of my favorite quotes in the book is: “Initially, I had been attracted to punk and anarchism because I saw them as a means to make a positive change, where everyone was equal. While there were some people in the scene who upheld those values, the more punks I dealt with, the more I realized that most of them were privileged white kids taking advantage of this idealism.”

Grace ties in all of this commentary on anarchism, as well as her struggle with addiction, her rocky relationships, and her need for control over the success of the band so neatly with her gender dysphoria. It’s a very well-thought out, well-organized, and insightful reflection on her life as a whole.

I hope you found this review helpful, and consider checking this book out. Feel free to ask any questions or even discuss the book, the music, or the band in the comments below.

Happy reading!

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