This is the third feature in a series that aims to elevate some of the transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who have played a significant role in the ongoing fight for trans and queer liberation. Head here to read the first feature with CeCe McDonald or here for the second with Kate Bornstein.
The act was revolutionary not only for the nature of her revelation, but also for the fact that for years Grace had been an icon in a genre of music shaped by hierarchies of masculinity and spaces that felt inaccessible for many queer people. Grace's public transition, in turn, forced a whole community -- as well as the entertainment industry -- to reflect on its relationship with gender and the idea of navigating the world as one's authentic self, no matter what that means, truly being at the heart of the idea of punk.
In the years since coming out, Grace has been through a lot. Shortly after the Rolling Stone article, she opened up about the ways that her announcement affected her relationship with her father. As time passed, she continued to share her story with the world by hosting a revolutionary series on AOL called True Trans that also elevated the stories of a number of other trans and gender-nonconforming people across America.
Now, the singer and trans icon is working on a new album with her band, spending time with her daughter and continuing to produce the music that she attributes to saving her life time and time again. In this interview with The Huffington Post, she discusses life over the last three years since publicly coming out, reflects on what it means to transition so publicly, and offers perspective about the state of the "trans community" in 2015.
The Huffington Post: What was it like transitioning in the spotlight? How do you think doing it publicly changed the process for you?
Laura Jane Grace: I think there are many sides to transitioning in the public spotlight. I was somewhat prepared in that I had already had a lot of media experience. I’ve been a touring musician since I was 18 and didn’t come out publicly until I was 32 ― so that’s 14 years of doing magazine interviews, radio interviews, TV shows and working with publicists. The good ones help you out along the way and you learn how to be prepared for an interview when you’re talking about something personal ― like my art is to me. But that was also 14 years of me building up defenses to really protect everyone from who I really was and what I was really going through. So coming out publicly on a large platform like Rolling Stone was still absolutely terrifying.
The carpet bomb approach of being able to come out to most everyone I knew (as I only told my very closest family and friends before word got out) had its advantages in that I essentially just had to have the conversation once, “here, read this...” and I liked that people could process on their own time in their own space before coming back to me with their feelings as opposed to telling someone face to face and putting them on the spot to react definitely saved a lot of crying. But it really put a stress on preparing a narrative to present in an interview context and then having to stick to that as your story when that’s not actually how life works ― life’s not a fucking narrative.
What I'm saying is that I knew that I was trans and I knew that I wanted to transition too but I didn't what any of that meant. And I don't mean "preparing a narrative" in a disingenuous way, I mean it like being prepared to know in what way you're going to answer a lot of really intrusive and inappropriate questions. I try and say it as much as possible, I'm not a good role model, I'm not trying to be a spokesperson, but I'm not stupid. I know that not only do I represent myself but inevitably whatever I say could [be seen as] a reflection on the trans community to some extent, as trans representation in the media is still a new thing and no one wants to publicly embarrass themselves. So I've always tried to really conscious of doing as much social good with that platform as opposed to personal promotion.
Fuck, there have been times when that has been too stressful though. I was pretty good at it starting out. I was really riding momentum and adrenaline, the emotional high of self liberation, but like a year into my transition I just slammed into a wall and had a total nervous breakdown. I absolutely could not handle the pressure of knowing what I was doing in my personal life while also accounting for it in real time publicly. I felt this pressure to like be transitioning more quickly -- at the snap of a finger be fully realized. It's hard to speak to what it's like to come out any other way though, as it hasn't been my experience.
What role has music and performance played in your journey to live as your authentic self?
The music and touring is what really saved me and has kept me together -- the release of performing live, the adrenaline of playing in front of an audience, feeling love from the audience, being able to be creative and put the emotions of what you're going through into art and creativity instead of sitting there and drowning in it -- that catharsis, still saves me daily.
Life is not a fucking narrative.
Also being surrounded 24/7 by my touring family, my band and crew, sleeping feet from each other in a tour bus, traveling across the world, having good management and publicists. Having that support structure of people around me. I'm so lucky to have had all of this. At first that pressure to be fully realized was what broke me down, but then once I was at that bottom I just said "fuck it, the pressures of transitioning publicly have almost completely destroyed my personal life so what do I have to lose?" and I just started strolling into interviews like "here I am, this is 100% the real me, I'm not hiding anything from you, if don't like it then fuck you!" AND THAT was truly liberating -- just being myself.
How has your relationship with the entertainment industry and your fans changed since you came out? I hope that it's made my relationships in the entertainment industry stronger. Simply put, not having to continually compartmentalize my personal life made me a somewhat more well adjusted person and given me a better quality of life, and I'm usually in a pretty good mood as to before when I'm sure I was often more prickly. I've learned to release control a little more, hope for the best and try and put trust in people while still knowing when a relationship is good or needs to be ended. After conquering fears of coming out publicly I'm definitely not afraid to tell say no to something if I don't like it.
I don't know -- I love what I do. I love playing music and doing it publicly makes me an entertainer, but I still like to think about it like a scene, you know? I try and surround myself with the people who are there to be a part of the music, lifers, not the hangers on and everyone who is just as important to the scene. The entertainer needs the guitar, needs the sound engineer, needs the light person, the manager, the publicists, the promoters, etc, etc, etc, cause we're all trying to put on a show and have a good time, right?
What are your thoughts about "the trans community," especially as it's seen by the mainstream? How do you view where "the community" is right now and where it is going?
I think the focus should be on representing yourself and if you're a good representation of yourself, you'll be a good representation of "the trans community." I'm not sure about a term like "unified trans community," as that's starting to sound like a league of superheroes, but I am in for the costumes if there are any. The point is that there is so much diversity in the trans community -- and that needs to be represented publicly. Trans people are not cliches and there is no one way to "do trans right" -- just as much as there is no one way to "be a real man" or to "be real woman."
As I said before, I want to try and do good with the platform that I have because that platform is part of what I do anyways. I put out records, I tour, I do interviews. If by putting myself out there publicly and sharing my story helps educate a journalist or their audience, if someone has a question, or if someone in the crowd at a show gets any of that same catharsis out of one of our shows, if a song brings them up when they're feeling low, whatever. If I can do any of that then I guess I'd say I'm a contributing member of "the public trans community," or maybe better put, "publicly making contributions to the trans community." But beyond that transphobia targets all members of the "trans community," myself included. I am 100% a member of that community, so I'm in for the fight against it no matter what. Solidarity!
There is SO MUCH diversity in the trans community -- and that needs to be represented publicly.
What does the future hold for Laura Jane Grace? What do you want your legacy to be?
At the moment I'm in the studio, working on a new album with my band, spending time with my daughter, working on writing. I'm looking forward to starting back up with more touring next year. I really do mean it -- I'm very lucky to have all that I have in life and I'm thankful for it, all the good people and all of the artistic outlets.
What do I want my legacy to be? How about "He came, He saw, SHE ROCKED!" Nah! Nevermind, no comment.
Want to hear more from Grace? Head here to follow her on Facebook or here for Twitter.
Check Huffington Post Gay Voices regularly for further conversations with other significant and historic trans and gender-nonconforming figures. Missed the first two interviews in this series? Check out the conversations with CeCe McDonald and Kate Bornstein.
15 Things To Know About Being Transgender By Nicholas M. Teich
Against Me! Rocker Laura Jane Grace Opens Up About Trans Identity in 2015
15 Things To Know About Being Transgender By Nicholas M. Teich
1. Defining Transgenderism
The root of the word "transgender" comes from the Latin word "trans," meaning "across." A trans-Atlantic flight goes across the Atlantic Ocean; a transnational issue affects people all across the country; and so on. "Transgender" literally means "across gender." "Transgender" is defined today as an umbrella term with many different identities existing under it.
<em>Image via ccharmon on <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/9439733@N02/4922468556/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a></em>