Entertainment Weekly

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content

Article

'Tranny' by Laura Jane Grace: EW Review

Posted on

Against Me!

type:
Music
Current Status:
In Season

We gave it a B+

An itinerant army brat and displaced child of divorce, Tom Gabel was exactly the kind of alienated ’80s kid punk rock was made for. By junior high he’d grabbed on to it like a life raft, finding release in three-chord rebellion and community in the few willful freaks and anarchists stranded in the staid backwater of west Florida.

Music offered an identity and eventually a full-blown career fronting the band Against Me!, underground heroes who earned a reputation for incendiary live shows and flirted with the mainstream enough to earn a major-label deal and praise from Bruce Springsteen. But Gabel, now Laura Jane Grace, also burned through two marriages and an Olympic amount of drugs and alcohol trying to push away the truth: that the female heart and mind inside didn’t align with the undeniably male body in the mirror—and that that otherness went way beyond the Manic Panic mohawks and knuckle tattoos of her peers. As a child watching “Material Girl”-era Madonna on MTV or a pixie-cut Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, she felt a jolt of rightness and recognition but had no idea how to bridge the gap: “I didn’t have a name for the way I felt. No information was available, and there was no adult that I could trust with my secret.” Instead she thought she might be schizophrenic, or even possessed; for every furtive experiment with wigs and women’s clothing, there were months or years of avoidance and self-loathing.

Tranny—which pulls heavily from a decade of tour diaries— is actually a traditional rock bio in a lot of ways, full of road-dog debauchery, studio tales, and score-settling with ex-bandmates and managers. The physical transition, which doesn’t come until the last few chapters, feels almost like a postscript, and the prose swings between blistering and banal. But the book is also a powerful, disarmingly honest portrait of becoming, and the new last name feels like more than a coincidence. As Laura Jane, she’s found what eluded Tom for more than 30 years: Grace.