For a long time, Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace was mainly asked questions about her band and it’s relationship to punk rock. The Florida quartet went through label switches and tough decisions, and each new turn provided the onus for a fresh wave of inquiries about whether Against Me! had “sold out.” Thus, Grace found herself forced to continually rehash the tenets of what constitutes punk rock over and over again.
Now, Grace is being asked a very different set of questions. It started in 2012, when Grace came out as a transgender woman to Rolling Stone. But for Grace, the journey began long before then. In her recently released memoir, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, Grace provides honest answers and recounts hard truths about her long struggle with gender dysphoria.
Tranny draws inspiration and information from journals Grace kept from an early age (and continues to keep to this day). Billboard has called it “one of the 100 greatest music books of all time.”
Yesterday, Grace was joined by San Francisco Popscene co-founder Omar Perez for a conversation hosted by Scribd at their Bush Street headquarters. Here are some of the highlights from their discussion.
1. Grace started keeping journals as the result of a school assignment when she was eight years old.
Grace told Perez about a trip she took to Germany when she was eight. As an army brat, she was living in Italy at the time, so her teacher assigned her to keep a journal as a way of doing some schoolwork during her absence. The trip, she said, was “impactful,” including her visit to Dachau Concentration Camp and witnessing her brother get hit by a truck.
“As an eight year old, trying to understand what fascism was, who the Nazis were, what the Holocaust was – it was hard to process,” she said. “Writing helped me with that.”
2. Grace’s black sleeve tattoo on her right arm was an accident.
She flew across the country to visit a tattoo parlor in the Tenderloin to have a specific tattoo covered with a black square, but on her way over, she saw a suicide jumper.
“It was straight out of a movie,” she said. “[I saw] a cop up there trying to talk to the person, and people down below. I walked into the appointment just completely shaken, just not on the same page as the people in the shop. I’d explained what I wanted, but I wasn’t paying attention – and walked out with half a black arm.”
3. The amount of reflection and looking back required to complete her memoir made Grace want to write songs about “how I feel right now.”
“I want to right a song about this instant, about whatever I’m doing,” she said. “Maybe that’s a dumb crush on somebody, but I’m going to write a song about that dumb crush, and it’s not going to have any weight to it. It’s just going to be what it is. It was really freeing from a songwriting perspective.”
4. She was “really conscious” about not rewriting the past when sourcing stories from her journals…with one exception.
“A lot of the times in the book, if I’m talking negatively about someone, it’s the feelings that were then,” Grace said. “If in 2006 I’m talking about not getting along with my bass player, it’s because at the time we weren’t. I didn’t want to go back and justify it.”
There is, however, one instance in the book that doesn’t quite reflect the full truth of the moment. In recalling a fight she got into at a young age with a jock who was bullying her with a paint can, Grace admitted that the story does not mention that she was on LSD at the time. There is, of course, a completely reasonable reason for this exclusion: At the point in the narrative where the bullying store comes up, Grace had yet to discuss her history with drugs. She and her co-writer both agreed that randomly mentioning LSD use at that moment would’ve detracted from the flow of the narrative.
5. Grace plans to eventually burn all the journals that she used to collect the stories for Tranny.
“I still have [the journals] at this point, but I plan on burning them once the book tour is done,” she said. Grace admitted she has no idea where she can legally burn the journals in Chicago, where she lives, but suggested that “maybe just a nice barrel fire” would do the trick.
6. Grace was blown away when she saw Duff McKagan wearing a JanSport backpack after a show.
While Grace has yet to meet Madonna or Axl Rose (two of her musical heroes), she did have a chance to meet Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan when Against Me! played a festival with Velvet Revolver. “Honestly, they’re like people who I look at and [I’m] like, ‘those are rock stars,’ ” she said. After the festival, Grace saw McKagan backstage. When he put on a backpack, Grace was in shock to learn that rockstars use JanSports, too.