Album Reviews | Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)

I always thought my introduction to this album was somewhat strange. One of my favorite sites is Bill Simmons’ sports/pop culture emporium Grantland, and I first heard of Transgender Dysphoria Blues at the end of 2013 when Grantland’s music critic Steven Hyden mentioned that Against Me!‘s new album was really strong. Then, on January 14, Grantland published an extremely considerate and thoughtful piece by Hyden on Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel), the singer/songwriter who fronts Against Me!, that doubled as an interview and a review of the band’s new album. A day later, Grantland published one of the most notoriously abysmal pieces of journalism that has ever graced the Internet: a feature-length piece called “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” that has a barely comprehensible payoff. At the story’s center was a woman who had invented an amazing putter, and as the journalist’s reporting continued, her behavior grew increasingly erratic. When the reporter kept digging into her past through other sources, he discovered that she had in fact been born a man, and when he confronted her with this information, she cut off contact with him for good and killed herself a few months later.

Somehow, this story, which was originally supposed to be about the putter, became about the reporter’s encounter and investigation, and somehow, some way, Grantland actually thought it was a good idea to publish the story. (Christ, the article read like the journalist’s reporting actually was responsible for the suicide.) Needless to say, this article created a firestorm on the Internet, prompting Simmons himself to issue an apology. In the process, though, I finally learned what the difference between “transgender” and “transsexual” is: transgender is when you are born a male or female but identify as the opposite gender, and transsexual is when a transgender person has actually had the surgery to become a member of the other sex. Anyway, I always thought it was odd that Transgender Dysphoria Blues came out the same week the explosively controversial “Dr. V’s Magical Putter” story was published. I don’t pretend to know much about being transgender or transsexual, and I certainly don’t know anything about what the trans community is like, but everything I have ever read suggests that they have a much, much tougher time with life than the rest of us.

Fitting in with others is difficult enough for someone who isn’t trans. Imagine, on the other hand, not fitting in with yourself. That your mind rejects every physical part of you, rejecting your body as really yours. This alienation, more or less, is transgender dysphoria, and it provides much of the subject matter for Against Me!‘s Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Yet what makes Transgender Dysphoria Blues such an interesting and illuminating listen is that it’s an extraverted record: none of it feels particularly insular, even though it’s so obviously personal. It’s a remarkable album with a unique voice; the songs are spirited and good, too. There’s a lot of muscle here, and the dive-bar aggressiveness of the band’s attack in places is pure punk (indeed, the band is classified as “punk revival“), like the intense “Drinking with the Jocks” or the awesome “Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ.” The band isn’t entirely one-note though: “Dead Friend” and “Two Coffins” are appropriately sentimental — effectively so, in fact. Clocking in at under 30 minutes, Transgender Dysphoria Blues shrewdly avoids overstaying its welcome, and is pretty accessible stuff to boot. Recommended.


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