Laura Jane Grace
|Laura Jane Grace|
Grace at the Dour Festival 2012.
|Birth name||Thomas James Gabel|
November 8, 1980 |
Fort Benning, Georgia, United States
|Origin||Gainesville, Florida, United States|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, singer, guitarist, record producer|
|Instruments||Guitar, vocals, harmonica|
|Labels||Misanthrope, Crasshole, Plan-It-X, No Idea, Sabot, Fat Wreck Chords, Sire, Total Treble|
|Associated acts||Against Me!|
Laura Jane Grace (born Thomas James Gabel, November 8, 1980) is an American musician best known as the founder, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of the punk rock band Against Me!. Starting as a solo act in 1997, Against Me! expanded into a quartet and released six studio albums, experiencing breakthrough success with 2007's New Wave and 2010's White Crosses. Grace also released a solo EP, Heart Burns, in 2008. In 2011, she founded the Total Treble recording studio and an accompanying record label, Total Treble Music.
Grace was married to visual artist Heather Hannoura from 2007 to 2014, when the two separated. Having dealt with gender dysphoria since childhood, Grace publicly came out as a transgender woman in 2012, ceasing to use her birth name and taking the name Laura Jane Grace.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Discography
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
1980–96: Early life
Grace was born Thomas James Gabel in Fort Benning, Georgia, the child of United States Army Major Thomas Gabel. The family moved frequently between military bases, living briefly in Fort Hood, Texas; Pennsylvania; Ohio; Germany; and at a NATO post in Italy during the Gulf War. Grace experienced feelings of gender dysphoria from an early age, playing with Barbie dolls and fantasizing about being Madonna.
Grace's parents had an acrimonious divorce when she was 11 years old, and never spoke to one another again. "I think Tommy became the catchall for the anger of the split", said Grace's mother, who moved them to Naples, Florida to live with Grace's grandmother. Grace felt severely depressed during this time, recalling it as "a period of extreme dysphoria – of just not wanting to be male." Picked on at school and called a "faggot", by age 13 Grace was experimenting seriously with alcohol and drugs including marijuana, LSD, and cocaine, and was arrested for possession of marijuana at 14. She would go on to struggle with addiction for years. Other coping mechanisms included skipping school to cross-dress at home.
While in junior high school Grace became a fan of punk rock, attracted to the nihilistic and anarchistic ideals of the genre. An arrest at age 14 crystallized her aversion to authority: Having gone to the beach on Independence Day 1995 to watch fireworks, "I walked up on the boardwalk, and a cop was like 'Hey, get off the boardwalk; you're blocking the flow of traffic.' So I turned around and got off, and he came up to me again and was like, 'Get off the boardwalk.' And I was like 'I'm off the boardwalk.'" Grace claims to have then been slammed into a police car, thrown face-first to the pavement, jumped on, hogtied, carried "like a suitcase", put in a holding cell, charged with resisting arrest and battery, and placed under house arrest for the summer, all because "I was a dirty, grubby little punk kid with black spiky hair who hadn't washed his pants in a year." Grace later said the experience "changed my life. [It] politicized me." "I have an inherent trust of mankind. I think authority and government base their power on violence. I refuse to recognize anyone's power over me." After the incident, Grace came to identify with British anarcho-punk band Crass, calling them "to me, the best band to ever blend music and politics": "I felt like Crass' music legitimately made a change. They really backed up what they were doing. I saw that writing a song against something was just as valid as standing on a street corner holding a sign." She befriended James Bowman when they met on their first day of high school; the two have been close ever since. "We were both punk rock kids with spiky hair and more belts than necessary", recalls Bowman. "We just hung out and smoked pot and did normal kid things." Grace's first tattoo—a Crass logo on the right ankle—was done by Bowman, though she later covered it up with a tattoo of the Rebel Alliance symbol because Bowman had been drunk and inked it sloppily.
1997–2005: Forming Against Me! and first marriage
In 1997, at age 17, Grace dropped out of high school and began writing songs, naming the musical project Against Me! Moving to Gainesville, Florida at 18, she began performing as Against Me!, either alone on an acoustic guitar or with friend Kevin Mahon accompanying by drumming on pickle buckets. Her songs drew influence from early acoustic protest music, covering topics such as class struggle. Early Against Me! shows were played at dive bars, laundromats, and anywhere else that would allow Grace to perform, to audiences of a few or even zero. Making ends meet by working odd jobs, dumpster diving, selling blood plasma, and living in a low-rent house with twelve roommates across the street from an experimental waste dump, Grace also volunteered with nonprofit socialist groups such as Food Not Bombs. She was arrested again at 18 for obstruction of justice and resisting arrest without violence: "I was picking up [Mahon]. He was like, 'Pop the trunk—I want to throw some stuff in there.' I was waiting in the car and I saw two cop cars come up behind me. I got out and they had my friend on the ground. I went up to the first officer I saw and said, 'Excuse me, officer, what’s going on?' He's like, 'Down on the ground—you're going to jail.' I started to ask another question and he grabbed me, slammed me into the cop car, and arrested me."
In 2000, Grace convinced Bowman to move to Gainesville and began teaching him how to play Against Me! songs on guitar. She also married at this time, though the marriage would end in divorce four years later: "It was more of an embarrassing thing", she later stated. "I was 20—I was way naive and shouldn't have gotten married that young." After some early EP releases, Against Me! developed into a full band consisting of Grace (then still being billed as Tom Gabel), Bowman, bassist Dustin Fridkin, and drummer Warren Oakes. Their debut album, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, was released in 2002 through local independent record label No Idea Records. With Fridkin replaced by Andrew Seward, the band signed to Fat Wreck Chords for 2003's Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy and 2005's Searching for a Former Clarity. The latter sold over 65,000 copies and was their first album to chart on the Billboard 200, reaching 114. Against Me! supported it with a tour of all 50 U.S. states.
As Against Me!'s popularity increased, Grace felt alienated from the male-centric punk scene: "With the band especially, I felt more and more like I was putting on an act – like I was being shoved into this role of 'angry white man in a punk band.'" The stresses of the band's tour schedule, coupled with going through a divorce at age 24, contributed to her addiction: "I was just getting fucked up all the time: drinking, drugs, whatever. I felt unhealthy and depressed about so many things." Throughout this time Grace made oblique references to gender dysphoria in song lyrics, including "The Disco Before the Breakdown" ("I know they're going to laugh at us / when they see us out together 'holding hands' like this"), "Violence" ("You've been keeping secrets [...] Nothing but shame and paranoia"), and "Searching for a Former Clarity" ("In the journal you kept by the side of your bed [...] confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women's clothes / Compulsions you never knew the reasons to"). To help escape the stress and depression, Grace spent 18 months living in hotels on the outskirts of Gainesville while writing the next Against Me! album.
2006–11: Second marriage, mainstream success and Heart Burns
In December 2005, Against Me! signed to Sire Records, a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group. With increased mainstream exposure, Grace swore off cross-dressing and other expressions of femininity: "You go through periods of binging and purging. I was 25, we were about to go on a long period of touring, and I was like, 'That's it. I'm getting rid of all this. I'm male, and that's it.'" In March 2006, while touring as an opening act for Alkaline Trio, Grace met artist Heather Hannoura, who designed merchandise for Alkaline Trio and other bands. The two spent the summer together on the Warped Tour, began living together, and got tattoos of each others' names. They married in December 2007, after a year-long engagement. At the time Grace had firmly committed to living as a man, saying the gender dysphoria "wasn't completely overwhelming. There wasn't any malice in terms of withholding anything. Our relationship completely consumed my thoughts." Grace also became a vegan in 2006.
Against Me!'s first major-label album, 2007's New Wave, brought the band mainstream success: It debuted at no. 57 on the Billboard 200; featured their first charting single, "Thrash Unreal", which reached no. 11 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart; and was named as Spin's album of the year. The song "The Ocean" directly referenced Grace's gender dysphoria, with the lyrics "If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her / One day I'd find an honest man to make my husband". Though Grace anticipated "completely outing myself" with the song, no one involved with the band seemed to pick up on the lyrics' literal meaning. She also wanted to cross-dress in the music video for "Thrash Unreal", but the label's A&R representative vetoed the idea.
In August 2007 Grace was arrested in Tallahassee, Florida, on charges of battery, following a confrontation with a coffee shop patron after Grace tore down an article about Against Me! that had been hung up and defaced to mock the band. Grace allegedly knocked a cup out of the man's hand, then forced his head into the wooden counter. She admitted to intentionally knocking over the cup but denied hitting the man, and was released on bail the following morning. "We were playing at this place The Beta Bar," she said, "and this coffee shop next door was having a protest show against ours. I mean... go protest the fucking war!"
Grace's solo EP, Heart Burns, was released in October 2008. Timed to coincide with that year's United States presidential election, the EP's songs addressed the country's political and economic climate, criticizing presidential candidate John McCain and the trial of environmental activist Eric McDavid. "I wanted to do something that was the complete opposite of [New Wave] in the sense of approach", she said. "I didn't want to really think about it. I didn't want to obsess about anything. I just wanted to go in and play songs. I wanted to record because it'll be fun, and that's what this is supposed to be about." Grace supported the EP by performing on The Revival Tour with Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music, Tim Barry of Avail, and Ben Nichols of Lucero.
Grace and Hannoura had a daughter, Evelyn, in 2009. Grace's feelings of dysphoria "started coming back really strong" about the time Hannoura became pregnant that February, but were not acted on. The family moved to St. Augustine, Florida in 2010, when Evelyn was about a year old. Against Me!'s fifth studio album, White Crosses, was released that year and became their most successful, reaching no. 34 on the Billboard 200. By that September, however, Grace began taking week-long writing trips alone, checking into hotels dressed as a woman and writing a concept album titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, about a transsexual prostitute. Against Me! cancelled a series of tour dates in October and November 2010 due to "a culmination of circumstances engulfing us", and left Sire/Warner. In 2011, Grace purchased an abandoned post office in Elkton, Florida, converting it into a recording studio called Total Treble and launched an accompanying record label, Total Treble Music, through which to issue future Against Me! releases. The first album recorded at the studio was Cheap Girls' Giant Orange (2012), which also marked Grace's first experience as a record producer.
2012–present: Gender transition and Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Grace publicly came out as transgender in May 2012, announcing plans to transition to living as a woman. Having been inspired to come out after meeting a transgender Against Me! fan, Grace had informed the rest of the band that February.
Grace is currently undergoing medical transition. She is receiving hormone replacement therapy to inhibit body and facial hair growth and increase breast size. She also has mentioned her plans to undergo electrolysis. She has said she's considering breast implants and facial plastic surgery, but is apprehensive about chondrolaryngoplasty and vaginoplasty: "I don't give a fuck if I lose my penis. It's just fucking scary because of the surgery. I've needed to have my wisdom teeth removed for five years, and I still haven't." She has said in a May 2012 interview with Rolling Stone that she would live as a woman and undergo psychotherapy for a year before considering full sex reassignment surgery: "Right now, I'm in this awkward transition period. I look like a dude, and feel like a dude, and it sucks. But eventually I'll flip, and I'll present as female."
The singer now goes by the name Laura Jane Grace. "Laura" is the name her mother would have chosen if Gabel had been assigned female at birth; "Jane" was selected simply because she thinks it pretty; "Grace" is her mother's maiden name. She will remain married to Heather, who is supportive of the transition: "For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how [Heather] would accept the news," said Grace, "but she's been super-amazing and understanding." As of January 2014, Grace and her wife live separately. Grace plans to continue performing in Against Me!, saying "However fierce our band was in the past, imagine me, six-foot-two, in heels, fucking screaming into someone's face."
In response to Grace's announcement, a number of figures in the punk community voiced their support, including musicians Brian Fallon, Brendan Kelly, Franz Nicolay, and Mike Shinoda; cartoonist Mitch Clem; and professional wrestler CM Punk. Herndon Graddick, President of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, hoped that Grace's public profile would increase public awareness and acceptance of transgender people: "Tom is displaying extraordinary courage by coming out as transgender after already establishing herself as a rock star. For many of the band's fans, this may be the first time they're actually thinking about transgender people and the bravery it sometimes takes in order to be true to yourself."
Against Me!'s sixth studio album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, was released on January 21, 2014. Grace has stated intentions to release an autobiography in the future, likely to be a collection of journal entries from Grace since she was 17 years old.
With Against Me!
- Studio albums
- Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose (2002)
- Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy (2003)
- Searching for a Former Clarity (2005)
- New Wave (2007)
- White Crosses (2010)
- Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
- Heart Burns (2008)
- List of female rock singers
- List of guitarists
- List of lead vocalists
- List of people from Gainesville, Florida
- List of people from Georgia (U.S. state)
- List of singer-songwriters
- List of Sire Records artists
- List of transgender people
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- "Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!: ‘I Didn’t Know If the Band Was Going to Stay Together’". Time. January 7, 2015.
- "Laura Jane Grace Doesn't Apologize for Being Herself". The Advocate. August 20, 2014.
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