By Chase Ishii
Last Wednesday, on the same day President Obama gave his personal endorsement of same-sex marriage, an equally shocking tremor ran rampant through the punk music scene. Rolling Stone released a teaser story in which Tom Gabel, lead singer, guitarist and writer of the 15-year-strong Florida punk band Against Me! announced he was transgender. He has dealt with gender dysphoria and intends to begin living as a woman — Laura Jane Grace — by taking hormones and undergoing electrolysis treatment and full sexual-reassignment surgery.
Imagine how this announcement was received in the punk community, known for angry outbursts and middle-finger responses — a community Gabel helped create. Many people have been very supportive, but the responses have run the spectrum. Many are confused, some betrayed, others malicious. Masked by the anonymity of the Internet, people have cast their judgment upon Gabel with every profanity and vulgarity possible.
I’ll be honest: I was very confused when I read the preview article. I haven’t had any close conversations or relationships with someone who is transgender (at least that I know of). I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding gender identity disorder, debating how normative gender identities and roles actually are and whether cross-gender feelings and behaviors should be considered a disorder. But most importantly, I didn’t understand the severity of the issue on a very personal level.
“The cliche is that you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not that simple,” Gabel says of gender dysphoria in the article. “It’s a feeling of detachment from your body and from yourself. And it’s shitty, man. It’s really [freakin] shitty.”
What may be more telling of the struggle is the final song “Full Clarity” on the band’s album “Searching for a Former Clarity,” in which Gabel sings, “Confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women’s clothes/ compulsions you never knew the reasons to/ Will everyone you ever meet or love/ be just a relationship based on a false presumption?” That album was released in 2005. It is now 2012. That’s seven whole years to live in torment and anguish while the secrets that keep others from truly knowing you tear you up inside. Gabel reveals in the interview that the fear and misery of the situation caused him to develop an addiction to alcohol and hard drugs at the age of 13. That sounds like hell.
I think, given how political the conversation has become in the last couple years, it’s easy for those disconnected from the LGBT community to drown in the stats and figures and forget how truly personal and individual the difficulties are. And given that everyone I’ve met who has identified with LGBT has, to some degree, begun addressing the internal tension and pain of secrecy, it’s easy to forget how severe that pain can be.
I have a friend I’ve known for years and spent a great deal of time with who recently revealed some secrets relevant to this topic. And after hearing everything they went through over the last few years to get to a point where they could admit it to themselves and to others — the denial and disbelief, the fear and frustration — my only wish is that I could have been there with them through it all. That they wouldn’t have had to go through it alone.
I know that, for many, this issue is a moral issue, and I don’t expect anything I write here to be able to change your moral views, as I understand they are grounded in a very personal part of your life. I’m not asking that you change these views but that you hold them in perspective. Because the opinions you casually throw out without a second thought can have lasting effects on another person in a very deep way. Those words can be the keys that lock a person into self-isolation and the belief that he or she can never be his or herself because it is wrong.
You may believe a person’s lifestyle is wrong according to your God, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But what else do your choice of words and actions say about your god? That he wants to lock people in their silent despair? That his hatred justifies their outcast and mistreatment from society? I am a Christian, and that is not my God. My God desires freedom and restoration for all, independent of “right” and “wrong.” My God is love.
Show Chase some love with an email to ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.