Most memoirs wait to be written until their writers have lived a full life. At 36, Laura Jane Grace doesn’t need to wait for her twilight years to tell her story. Her experiences in that comparatively brief time have already afforded her a narrative that earns its keep in the rock memoir cannon.
Tranny, co-written with Noisey editor Dan Ozzi, will understandably be viewed through a rock ’n’ roll lens given Grace’s role fronting the political punk outfit Against Me! But even as the book tracks the band’s trajectory from its Gainesville, Florida origins to its ascent to modern-day punk-rock stardom, Tranny is Grace’s story to tell. Less the story of a band and its singer, the memoir lays bare its subject’s life-long struggle with self acceptance and identity crisis. What begins with the story of Tom Gabel ends with Laura Jane Grace, who wrestled gender dysphoria and braved years of confusion and self doubt to emerge as a latter-day transgender hero.
Grace’s memoir doesn’t eschew the rote narrative of the confused, fucked-up kid who turns to punk rock for comfort and guidance. Much of Tranny delves into Grace’s unsettled childhood, strained parental relationships, drug use, and school-day truancies that helped drive her to punk music. Broken homes and adolescent anger have long made for punk rock fodder, but in Tranny’s best moments, Grace takes that oft-told tale and transforms it into something entirely her own. The memoir wastes little time jumping right into her earliest moments identifying as a woman. She recalls watching Madonna on MTV as a young boy living the Army brat life, her first time trying on women’s clothing, and the admonishment she received from her father in those early years for exploring her femininity. From there, Tranny uses Grace’s own first-person account and scattered journal entries to tell the story of how she reconciled those two parts of herself—the boy she was born as and the woman she knew in her heart she was destined to grow up to be.
It’s a war she waged not only with herself, but also with those around her. As she kept her true self at bay from the world, Grace recounts the distance and separation her own insecurities created between those closest to her, from bandmates and family members to her first and second wives. It’s a bruising tale, but Grace writes about juggling the pressures of grappling with dysphoria and keeping her band together with such naked honesty that you can feel the weight being lifted off of her shoulders. After years of closeted living, there’s liberation in Grace’s words as she comes clean about her struggles. Tranny is rarely a sunny read, but it’s a page turner that brims with hard emotional truth.
Now some four years removed from Grace’s official coming out as a woman, Tranny leaves her in a much better place, even as she admits that her transition is still a work in progress. Still, the hardest part of Grace’s journey feels like it’s been completed by the memoir’s end. In a time where the world is becoming increasingly more aware of transgender issues, Grace’s memoir offers something more than just a quality read. It’s a poignant and timely look at a still-emerging cultural issue worthy of serious discussion.