In March, Against Me! singer Tom Gabel performed an acoustic, as-yet-unreleased song called "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" at a show in Corpus Christi, Texas. At the time, few fans could have realized how autobiographical its lyrics truly were. The track, named after the sensation of feeling one was born into the wrong gender's body, describes a struggle Gabel has been grappling with his entire life. In the next issue of Rolling Stone, the 31-year-old married father reveals he has decided to come out as transgender and begin living as a woman. He plans to take hormones and undergo electrolysis treatments, and will take the name Laura Jane Grace.
Gabel will remain married to her wife, Heather, with whom she has a two-year-old daughter. "For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news," Gabel said. "But she's been super-amazing and understanding." At the time of the magazine interview, Gabel had yet to discuss her decision with many family members and friends, however hints about her lifelong struggle with gender identity have peppered Against Me! songs. Gabel explicitly described such feelings in "The Ocean" (off SPIN's 2007 Album of the Year, New Wave), singing, "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."
In a particularly uncomfortable video interview conducted in 2010, Gabel is asked point-blank by a JBTV journalist, "Do you put on panties when you're at home?" The interviewer begins, "A lot of your songs, and it's been a pervasive theme throughout your records, you've sung about dressing up in women's clothes, the idea of gender non-comformity." Gabel responded in part, "The idea of gender confusion is a topic that fascinates me, for sure" while dodging the question about women's underwear. The journalist then turned to guitarist James Bowman and said, "James, can I ask you a question: Did Tom just totally avoid my question of whether he dresses up in panties?" Gabel expressed a preference for boxer-briefs.
While Gabel might be the most mainstream rock artist who has revealed themselves to be transgender, others like Life of Agony singer Keith Caputo have also come out to fans and undergone the transition process while still in the limelight. Wayne County became Jayne Country after Wayne County and the Electric Chairs split in the late '70s. Electronic music pioneer Walter Carlos chooses not to speak about the sexual reassignment surgery that allowed her to become Wendy in the early 1970s. More recently, Genesis P-Orridge underwent surgery alongside his wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in an attempt to transform themselves into a pangender between "man" and "woman."
Since Gabel's news broke last night, fans have poured onto message boards to discuss the news. "Tom's decision to live life authentically is a not only a personal step forward, but one that will advance the national discussion about treating transgender people with fairness," said GLAAD President Herndon Graddick. "As more and more Americans get to know people who are transgender, they're coming to embrace and celebrate them."
Check out the double performance of the song "Harsh Realms" Gabel played for SPIN four years ago, which has taken on fresh significance in light of her news: