Presented verbatim without comment.
(…except for redacting some names. I don’t know if you want privacy, friends, but here it is, anyway.)
April 2, 2014
I saw Against Me! last night.
They were here in Winnipeg at the West End Cultural Centre, an old converted church they made into a music hall. It was amazing and very strange.
If you don’t know, their frontwoman is Laura Jane Grace, who came out as trans a couple years ago. Last year they released their first album since she came out, which I’ve been listening to over and over since I first heard it last month, and I love every song except for Drinking With The Jocks, which I usually skip. A trans girl friend of mine J got me a ticket, and she came over to get ready at about six. It’s fun, I do some eyeliner for her which she hadn’t done before, another trans lady friend of mine, M, also comes over for us to pre-game and get ready a bit before heading out. I wear my black acetate dress, which looks leather-y/pleather-y and which I haven’t worn for a long time.
When we get to the venue, the strangest thing to me immediately is how many punk-bros seem to be there. I didn’t figure that happening, though apparently the last time Against Me! played Winnipeg, they played the Garrick, which fits double the people that the West End does. It’s strange. All these punk dudes here to see a band fronted by a transsexual. I see some queer-punk types, and a few friends. What I see none of (that I can tell) is other trans women. M jokes that probably at least a fifth of the dudes are closeted trans girls.
“We should try to turn them,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. She takes out her bottle of estrogen and shakes it. “Come on, First one’s free.”
I guess a lot of people reading this might not know this about me, but when I was in high school I was super into punk and I went to tons of local shows. And I really liked pits. I got my ass kicked in them sometimes but I really liked pits. It’s easy today to think about it in a trans-light: There’s a weird mix in a pit of both losing touch with your body/your body getting hurt that would’ve fit neatly with the bubbling-under dissocation/hatred I felt about my body at the time. But maybe that’s too easy. Maybe I just wanted to boomerang around like every other punk kid. There’s a picture of me from an old show from 2002 where you can see me in the pit, with short piss-green hair wearing a Dead Kennedys shirt, and looking really fucking mad. “You look angry Athena,” a friend commented on Facebook a few years later when I was uploading old pictures. “Why are you so angry?”
Obviously, the idea that a transsexual could be punk and be in pits or at the FRONT of a STAGE back then, to teenage me in 2001-2005, was totally incomprehensible. And so when Laura Jane came on and Against Me! started to play, I was hit by that more than a little. With the exception of one show a friend played in NY a couple years ago, I hadn’t been to a punk show for years and years, well before I transitioned. And now here I am as a girl, and there’s a woman like me on stage. The first song she plays is FuckMyLife666 which might be my favorite song on the album. I am drunk by this time and I’m going nuts. I don’t realize how subdued the rest of the crowd is, in comparison, until they play the second song, an old one, and they explode. A pit appears and suddenly everyone’s yelling along.
Before Laura Jane came out, I’d only heard of Against Me! kind of tangentially, mostly in my first couple years of university, when I wasn’t too into punk anymore. A girl I had a crush on had their lyrics in her AIM profile, and a bearded guy at the Reed College co-op liked to blast Baby, I’m An Anarchist.
When she came out, I read the Rolling Stone article and cried a lot. I looked at the picture of her wrapped in towels with her face looking out the window for a long time. Someone on Facebook mentioned the song The Ocean. I downloaded it and listened to it over and over and over and cried more. I didn’t listen to any of their other stuff, I didn’t really want to, I only wanted to listen to The Ocean.
As the show goes on, a pattern happens between the new album and their old stuff. While the crowd is into the new album, and a lot of people know the words, they stand still for it, and it’s only when they play the old stuff the crowd explodes again. Some songs really get me, and Paralytic States almost brings me to tears (though it takes little sometimes to bring me to tears.) It’s fun being in the pit for the other songs, though I don’t know them and I’m not into them like the rest of the crowd. And why should, I suppose. I was never into them before, and I could have been. These are old fans. It seems like they must be.
Laura Jane looks so gorgeous up there. The whole show, I have a thing for her shoulders, probably because I always think my own make me big and dudely and house-like, but hers I see as strong and beautiful. I kind of want tats like hers too. She seems like she’s having a good time, especially when they play the old stuff. Makes sense with the crowd and all.
They play The Ocean. I cry a little. They come on again and play an encore. They play Drinking With The Jocks. A pit forms for that one.
When the show is over, M points out all these blue pills spilled over the floor that look uncannily like estrogen pills. They aren’t hers. I am flipping out (now also, in addition to the post-show endorphin high, completely shit-housed) and I say “OH MY GOD SOME TRANS LADY LOST HER ESTROGEN WE HAVE TO PICK THEM UP.” I do, and some others do, and then someone points out they are almost certainly breath mints. And they really are too big to be estradiol pills. I tip my handful of them into an empty plastic cup on a table.
M wants Laura Jane to sign her estrogen bottle. I try tweeting to Laura Jane’s handle and then we go over the whole building and back and try looking for her. No one in the band appears to be anywhere, which, of course, makes sense, since it’s minus fucking stupid still, and if I were her, a girl from Florida at the end of a long tour, hanging out in the cold with strangers probably wouldn’t sound super great either.
J has left early but she has my phone and keys, so M and I head to her house. After we’ll get a pizza and beer and stay up talking and eating in my room till very late, but first as we’re crossing Portage, we catch the eyes of a guy and girl on the corner. They point to us, then walk away, then come back and both speak to me at the same time. The girl says, “Can I bum a cigarette?” as the guy says, “Are you a tranny?!”
I yell “DON’T FUCKING CALL ME THAT” and give the girl a cigarette. The guy repeats, “Are you a tranny! I don’t mean nothing by it!” “DO NOT FUCKING CALL ME THAT.” “you are gorgeous, shut up!” says the girl. “You’re wonderful.” “DON’T,” I say. “YOU’RE WONDERFUL. DON’T FUCKING CALL ME THAT. DON’T FORGET IT.”
“Was I too harsh?” I ask M when we leave.
“No, you could’ve been harsher,” she said.
“I think I saw one other trans woman there,” she said a little later. “Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“I didn’t see anybody else,” I said. “That I could read, anyway.”
I know the girl who helped Laura Jane come out. Her name was also J, I met her in New York. Once, when I was living there, I was coming home late on the train and a man talked his way into my building, demanding to know if I had a dick, if I was a transsexual. He begged to suck my dick and he made a grab for me. He eventually left. I can’t tell you how terrified I was during the next few weeks, I’d been read-as-cis a lot in that neighborhood (and harassed accordingly) and I was sure that if this dude blabbed and others found out about me, every bad thing would happen. I started getting treated worse in the neigborhood, but, thank God, nothing that scary ever happened again. But I was terrified for a while. I jumped at any loud noise. And two days after the encounter with this dude, I was working outside at the Strand, on the dollar carts, and that girl, the other J, came by. I wanted to talk with her. I wanted to say shit had happened and I was having a hard time. She was another trans lady. If anyone would have understood. I said nothing at all. I think I actually made fun of her about something. I needed someone like her more than anything and even when she was right in front of me, speaking, just inches from my face, I couldn’t reach out, I couldn’t make any kind of connection.