Laura Jane Grace: A Gainesville Local’s Look at the Artist Formerly Known as Tom Gabel

Laura Jane Grace
Laura Jane Grace

Tom Gabel/Laura Jane Grace at her St. Augustine home. (Image by Rolling Stone)

Gainesville lost an icon last night—and simulataneously gained a new one.

Goodbye Tom Gabel. Hello Laura Jane Grace.

The 31-year-old frontman of the band Against Me! announced to Rolling Stone magazine he has always felt more like a she.  The singer identifies as transsexual and is undergoing treatment that could eventually lead to a sex change operation. She said she’s not attracted to men and will remain married to her wife.

Gainesville is my home, as well as it was to Gabel at the group’s inception. I was born here. I grew up away from the University, tucked into the suburbs on a side of Gainesville very few college kids ever wander to.

As someone who grew up playing music—and eventually started a punk band of my own in high school (we were terrible), I grew up knowing Against Me! as local heroes to nearly every one of my friends. And though I, myself, never stood among a crowd of sweaty people screaming at the top of my lungs with my fist raised high in the air at an Against Me! concert, I know many who have.

The first time I heard of Against Me! was in 2004, two years after the release of their seminal album, Is Reinventing Axl Rose. I was sitting in my ninth grade World History class at Gainesville High School when my friend David walked in with one of their jackets on. I was still in my Metallica phase and didn’t pay much attention to Gabel and co. then. Don’t judge me.

The first time I ever heard Against Me! was in 2006, when finally my musical taste blossomed to where I would be able to truly declare that oft-said answer, “I listen to everything.” When I did, Against Me! became local heroes of mine. I loved the band’s unique folk-punk sound, not performed with mandolins and stand up bass guitars, but with the instrumentation of any four-piece punk band. I also loved the way Tom Gabel put every last bit of himself into every single line he sang.

Perhaps most of all, I loved that they were from Gainesville. That band gave me hope that one day, I could be on stage, pounding away on the drums while a crowd of people screamed along with the frontman in my band for our own Gainesville homecomings.

Forgive me if the news strikes me as a bit surreal. Though many Gainesville punks have long since turned their backs on Against Me! as they signed record contracts and moved away from their roots-punk sound, Gabel is still a local icon. He was the voice of every ounce of teenage male aggression that rested inside of us.

Now, in a move that perhaps takes more balls than the collective Gainesville community has on it, Gabel has come out and said he feels as though he has always been a woman.

I applaud the courage it takes for someone with even a moderate level of fame to come out and embrace their own transexualism and disclose plans for a possible sex-change operation.

Let’s face it: Society hasn’t embraced this yet. Coming out as gay looks tame in comparison.

As Gabel said in the article, “Growing up, my experience with transexualism was nothing but shame.”

If there’s any audience who should embrace this, it’s the punks who sang along as he screamed at the top of their lungs about anarchy, those who decry social norms and the government that breeds them. Gainesville punk shouldn’t be ashamed of Gabel, but instead recrown her as their champion.

Tom GabelGabel hinted at it once in the lyrics to the song “The Ocean,” off of their 2007 album New Wave.

[box] “And if I could have chosen, I’d have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her”[/box]

Let’s face it: you didn’t think that meant what we now know it meant. But that’s O.K.

Tom Gabel, now Laura Jane Grace, has gone from embodying teenage male aggression and faux-anarchy to embodying something new— something more positive within all of us: bravery.

“I’m going to have embarrassing moments,” Gabel said to Rolling Stone. “And that won’t be fun. But that’s part of what talking to you is about — is hoping people will understand, and hoping they’ll be fairly kind.”

1 Comment

  1. [...] person who’d grown up with Against Me!—was shocked. I’m not going to delve too deep into that because you can read those here. I think one of my biggest questions was: What will the music sound like now? The answer: We at [...]

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