Many of us have that one song we feel like was written about our lives. It was as though the songwriter had discovered our darkest secrets and just wanted to let us know that it was alright. They understood.
For me this was the title track off of Against Me!’s “Searching for a Former Clarity.” I had first heard this song shortly after the album had been released when I was 16.
At the time, I was deeply in the closet, cross dressing in secret, and had no clue why it was that nothing about my reflection in the mirror looked right. I had never heard the word transgender and absolutely no reference point through which I could describe my confusion.
When I heard the lyrics “And in the journal you kept by the side of your bed you wrote nightly in aspiration of developing as an author, confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women’s clothes, compulsions you never knew the reasons to” I could barely breath. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel so alone.
Music has always been my anchor. When I am overwhelmed by the mundane stress of life I will easily spend the next few days binge listening to entire discographies of various bands I grew up admiring.
I will pour over their lyrics in an effort to remind myself where I came from and hopefully find some strength to weather whatever it is I am going through at the time. Punk has always offered an outlet for those of us who felt angry and out of place in society.
During the fall of 2013, when I felt more lost and confused than any other point in my life, I began to retreat back into the music where I had first found solace.
Punk has always offered an outlet for those of us who felt angry and out of place in society, those of us with differing ideas about what constitutes a happy life, who didn’t mind being radically out of place while walking down the street.
We were all just freaks and losers with the courage to wear those slurs as badges of honor. Unfortunately, I had allowed myself to forget about those ideals for the better part of the past few years.
When I began finally explore alternative gender expressions and come to terms with myself as transgender, I listened to “Searching for a Former Clarity” for the first time in years simply in an effort to remember what it was that first made me feel at peace with myself.
In all honesty, I had completely forgotten about this band and that record. I hadn’t kept up with them much over the years and was pretty out of the loop when Laura Jane Grace had announced in a 2012 Rolling Stone interview that she would no longer be living as Tom Gabel and would be pursuing hormone replacement therapy. She was transgender.
At that point I was acquainted with a few other transgender individuals and was absolutely fascinated by their stories. I didn’t care about surgeries or what they intended to do with their bodies. I wanted to know how they knew.
But I was too afraid to ask. When I discovered that one of my childhood role models, someone who I felt understood my confused angst ridden teenage mind more than I did, had come to terms herself, I was able to see just what was wrong. I could breathe easily for the first time because I understood that I myself am transgender.
I’m not entirely certain how long it would have been before I finally admitted my dysphoria and desire to transition had I not began to rediscover the music I grew up listening to.
At the time, I needed someone who I felt like understood exactly what I was going through. To discover that a high profile punk icon who I had shared the same sorts of experiences with offered me the same sort of self-acceptance I had experienced when I was a teenager. Without a doubt I came to terms with myself because of Laura’s songs. I watched someone live authentically with courage and dignity. And that inspired me to do the same.
In the greater scheme of things, I’m fairly certain that my story is nowhere near unique. But I’m certain that I can speak for a lot of us by saying that I’m deeply grateful there is a transgender individual in the spotlight who is defying the clichés about how a trans* life is supposed to look like.
What Laura’s story offered me and many others was an alternative to the exaggerated femininity and weakness portrayed by the media. We need to hear more trans* stories like Laura’s. In her own words “I liked that punk was about fighting back, as opposed to just taking it.” Reading that as I began to come out helped me to remember why I personally needed to transition.
I had spent my entire life hiding and allowing myself to be beaten around by life. I was desperate for a way out of the mess in my own head. While punk had offered me a bit of clarity as a teenager, it offered me courage as an adult. I can only hope that stories like Laura’s keep being shared and that others will be able to live their lives with the same level of dignity that I have found.