Since coming out as transgender in 2012, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace has become one of the most visible and inspiring trans figures in punk rock. She’s also been working tirelessly as a leading trans rights activist and educator. Now, Grace is releasing her latest project, Black Me Out, an audio-only memoir about her life and identity journey.
Consequence is also sharing an exclusive clip from Black Me Out, which is out today (September 2nd) as the newest installment in Audible’s expansive Words + Music series. In the clip, Grace talks about her experience as a closeted trans women, and the imperfect liberation she found in private self-reflection.
Over the years, Grace has worked through a number of different mediums outside of music to educate the public on trans existences and chronicle her own experiences as a trans woman. In 2014, she released the 10-part docuseries True Trans With Laura Jane Grace, and the following year, started an advice column for Vice’s Noisey.
In 2016, Grace put out her acclaimed autobiography Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, based on journals she had been keeping since the third grade.
Black Me Out represents another entry in her multimedia journey to grasp, define, and relate her personal truths. As its name would suggest, the Words + Music format gives artists the opportunity to tell their stories through a blend of narration and music.
Black Me Out intends to capture Grace’s struggles with gender dysphoria and mental illness through sound and conversation. Although the subject matter is so personal, the underlying drive towards self-knowing is universal.
Take a listen to the Black Me Out clip, and check out an exclusive Q&A with Grace, below.
In 2016, you published your memoir, and now you’re returning with an installment for Audible’s Words + Music. What are you able to accomplish as a storyteller through these mediums/formats, and how does that align with what you try to convey through music?
I don’t necessarily see the two things as separate, and that’s one of the things I loved most about this opportunity with Audible’s Words + Music series — half of it is music, revisiting songs and documenting them in this particular time and place. And that was my approach to my particular episode: make it a document.
I’m not sure I would have gone at it the same way, were we not all sharing these same global pandemic circumstances, but something about going through this process hit different, for sure. It gave introspection and reflection, a kind of disordered and urgent, almost anxious fever dream-like energy. Which is kind of how I envision what the inside of my head looks like as the world seemingly burns outside around it.
Songwriting is storytelling for sure, even if those stories are abstract or impressionistic, and that’s what first drew me to music: I was able to communicate the way I felt better without words. The “words” part is something I’ve had to work on over the years, and it’s something you learn is a somewhat necessary part of being a stage performer, or at least has become for me.
You can either blast through a set Ramones-style and leave no room for talking in between, which is definitely how I’ve been before, but more and more, I wanted to create room to breathe, if not even time to tune your guitar. Also, the words part is something I’ve become more and more interested in with my life outside of music — it’s a separate passion. I love reading and I love writing and I’m an avid journaler, and as you said, released a memoir in 2016. Joining the two when given the possibility seems like an easy “yes” whenever the opportunity is presented, because I always learn so much from it.
Are there any stories you are able to better tell specifically in the audio/spoken format, as opposed to written word?
Your speaking voice is always different from your writing voice, and if you’re just recording what is coming out at a specific time, there’s going to be nuances of emotion that will just come through that wouldn’t when writing because writing time is measured at a different flow. I wanted to go for a document: “This is how I felt in this time and place, this summer just passing now, Year 2 of the plague.” Emotions change. It’s okay to feel differently about an experience as you grow, so if you tell stories then it’s only natural for those stories to change as you grow. I think that’s interesting and freeing.
In this audio clip (“Laura Jane Grace on a Source Of Empowerment”), you mention how being closeted actually became a source of empowerment for you as a public figure constantly under scrutiny. Can you recall the moment or period where you embraced that mindset?
I think I really fell into that mindset around 2011. My band was coming out of some legal troubles, we had just gotten dropped by our record label, we had lost our management, and also, the connection between the four of us was shaky. We were just exhausted. I was [at] my wits’ end and kind of had to surrender to it, because what was the alternative? The mindset wasn’t really an elective decision, so much as it was being faced with the choices of, “A: Are you an abomination undeserving of love and unwelcome in society?”, and, “B: Fuck all that, I have value.”
Over the years, you’ve grappled with the dichotomy of the public’s perception and your personal truth. How do you maintain that balance of your private self and identity, with your visibility and activism?
How do I maintain the balance? Poorly, probably! I guess it’s something that I’m still learning to do — set boundaries, that is, and enforce them. But I don’t put on separate uniforms between worlds; I am who I am in all circumstances. Making yourself accessible and approachable and treating everyone as equals and hoping for genuine connection with every interaction are all values that punk rock taught me, and so far that’s guided me pretty well, all things considered.
How do your experiences as a musician and as a writer inform one another?
They serve each other. I put more focus on writing as a way to subvert writer’s block as a songwriter, and to build strength as a lyricist. I think the best approach to overcoming writer’s block is to just never stop writing. Sometimes, now, I’ll pull a song from a journal entry months or years down the line — journals almost become external hard drives for powerful memories.
Also, you don’t ever have to go back and read [it] again. I think it’s important to know that creativity isn’t exhaustible like a magical powder or energy bar level, it’s more like a muscle, and the better maintained and exercised and nurtured, the more true and gratifying the results, regardless of medium.