Against Me! front woman Laura Jane Grace made punk rock history when she came out as transgender in 2012. Now she’s opening up about her long, difficult struggle with gender dysphoria.
As a 13-year-old in small-town Florida, Grace “actively sought out self-destructive things, like deciding, like, I’m going to smoke cigarettes,” she shared on NPR’s Fresh Air “[I thought] ’This tastes terrible. It just made me throw up. But I’m going to keep going until I like these cigarettes.'”
She also engaged in cutting and sought out hard drugs. “I didn’t know—I had no resources,” Grace explains. “I had no one to turn to to talk about it.”
In the interview, Grace connects the anger in her early music to that struggle. “A hundred percent. I mean, there’s, like, no other way really to describe it or categorize it.” Dressing, talking, or behaving femininely—even in private—elicited “intense feelings of shame and self-hate.”
To make matters, worse Grace lacked the language to describe what she was feeling.
“I didn’t hear the term transgender until I was probably, like, 19 years old. Who wants to grow up to be something that, you know, you feel like is going to cost you a normal life?”
Because she couldn’t name her struggle, she grasped for other ways to label it: “I thought I was quite possibly schizophrenic,” she admits. “Sometimes I kind of romanticized that as, like, oh, maybe I was, like, born with a twin soul and these two twin souls are, like, warring for control over me constantly.”
But mostly, she hoped the feelings would go away on their own.
“I hoped it would pass, you know? And that it wasn’t, like, a lifelong thing,” she says. “So that’s, like, the cycle of binge and purge. Like, ’Okay, no more. I’m done. Now I’m a man. Now I’m going to grow up and I’m going to live the rest of my adult life and forget this ever happened.'”
Even though transitioning has provided its own set of challenges, Grace says her sense of self is radically different.
“It’s put me in touch with myself,” she explains. “It broke down a wall… I realized the more important part of transition is, if you’re living a closeted life and you’re living a life where you feel like you can’t be yourself, then of course you’re not acting like yourself.”
“But once you embrace yourself and you come out and you start living your authentic self and living as yourself,” she adds, “then you can just be who you are.”