Well, this seems to be a first for punk rock: Tom Gabel, lead singer of Against Me!, announced in a new Rolling Stone interview that he is transgender and will begin living as a woman, via hormone and cosmetic treatments. Future name: Laura Jane Grace. Gabel plans to stay married to wife Heather — and apparently to keep on rocking: The Florida band has a new album on the way and a national tour headed to the Fillmore in Silver Spring next month.
“I’m going to have embarrassing moments,” Gabel told the magazine. “But . . . [I’m] hoping people will understand, and hoping they’ll be fairly kind.”
We’ll see. There were messages of support on the band’s Facebook page, but some ugly outbursts on other music forums. The news surprised fans of the band, whose liberal-activist politics are wrapped in a macho aesthetic — growly voices, loud guitars, tattooed lumberjack arms. (Of course, their song “The Ocean” is getting a new listen: And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.)
Truth is, it’s not just new territory for punk rock.
The list of VIPs who have undergone gender reassignment in a very public way (excluding those like tennis player Renée Richards, who became famous only after surgery) may begin and end with Sonny and Cher’s kid, Chaz Bono, who announced his transition from female to male in 2009; it later became a theme for his reality show. (His rep declined “to comment on others’ journeys.”) But Larry Wachowski, half of the publicity-shy sibling team that directed “The Matrix” movies, never discussed her change-of-gender until press materials last year for a new movie casually referred to her as “Lana Wachowski.”
Megan Wallent, a Seattle-based Microsoft executive, decided to chronicle her 2007 transition from Michael to Megan on a blog. With the prominence of her job, “we took the approach the more people know, the easier it’s going to be.” Advice for Gabel? “The biggest pitfall,” Wallent said, “is making your life be about your transition rather than making your transition about your life.”
Which could be tricky for Gabel, who went from being a moderately prominent rocker to That Transgendered Rock Star overnight. No worries, said Wallent, the novelty will wane. “If you’re awesome at what you do, if you’re a great person, that’s what’s going to persist.”