Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace: How "Rolling Stone" Got Her Story (Almost) Right
Laura Jane Grace playing with her band Against ME! in 2011.
Photo Credit: elawgrrl at Flickr Creative Commons.
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I hesitated before opening this week's Rolling Stone. The much-publicized cover promised “The Secret Life of the Rock Star Who Became a Woman”—writer Josh Eells's profile of Against ME!'s Laura Jane Grace, who recently came out as a trans woman. Being trans myself, I've read more media profiles of trans people than I'm willing to admit to.
This is where things get weird. I didn't fill my BINGO card (the modified version of the game involves filling a square for every cliché one hears, in this case about trans women) . If you don't have a card don't worry. There are plenty of places on the Internet where you can download the afterhours equivalent. Google “trans documentary drinking game.” Go ahead, I'll wait.
For those of you with shit to do, here's a (much) abbreviated version of the narrative of transsexual women that spawned these particular hobbies: "I had a beard and no makeup and now I take girls pills and wear makeup andhatefootballandkissboys. Also: vagiiiiinnnnaaaaaaasssssss."
Back to the game: I was able to fill in a few squares of my card. There 's the business on the cover (and in the article) about “becoming” a woman (as opposed to say, being one). The editors managed to highlight a section about genitals, the word “PENIS” staring readers down from the center of the page. Yet, for the first time in a long time, I didn't win. Before I got my caps lock on, I even spotted a mention of trans feminism ( Whipping Girl , the seminal work on the subject by Julia Serano).
What happened? Yes, pieces of Eells' profile deserve criticism. Sure, it would be possible to spend time dissecting and debating Grace's life (unfortunately, there's the rest of the Internet for that). At the end of the article, though, I was left with a touchingly human picture of a trans woman and her wife. While casual observers may find this unremarkable, I admit being thrown for a huge loop.
In past decades, public portrayals of trans people have been few and far between. Transsexuality (in women) made its first major appearance in the modern American media via Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen was a young American (a veteran of World War II, no less), who scandalized much of the world when she returned to the US in 1953, having “changed sex” with the aid of a Danish physician. While Jorgensen was famous merely for being trans, during the late 1970s, Renée Richards garnered fame for playing women's tennis while trans.
None of this implies that gender non-conformity is a modern invention, nor that Jorgensen and Richards were the sole exceptions to Western society's contemporary notion of properly sexed and gendered bodies. Countless humans have lived in ways that contradicted the most popular current conception of men, women, the universe, and everything. We're everywhere. We always have been.
Despite this, trans and otherwise gender non-conforming people have ever suffered from an abundance of highly visible role models. In the Stone piece, Grace recalls the two versions of trans women she grew up seeing on television, “the sad tranny, and the fucking scary tranny.” (As a trans woman who grew up in the same era, I can vouch for her: as a teen I realized I couldn't possibly be trans, simply because I wasn't especially pathetic or predatory.)
These days, the Internet touches almost everyone. For trans people seeking information and support, today are many more avenues available than there were for Grace and her predecessors. However, that only counts for so much when society barely acknowledges our existence outside of the occasional episode of SVU and hesitates to discuss actual crimes committed against us .