So, this came as a bit of a shock: Tom Gabel, lead singer of Florida punk rock outfit Against Me!, comes out as transgender in the new issue of Rolling Stone.
In the magazine, Gabel reveals his plans to go forward living as a woman. He plans to continue fronting Against Me! — his bandmates joke about hitting the gym so they can defend Gabel from any harm at shows — while staying married to his wife Heather, who is from Detroit. (Hang around Detroit long enough, and you’ll learn all good stories have a Detroit connection.) And the name Tom Gabel is kaput; from here on out, Gabel will be known as Laura Jane Grace.
I’ve been a fan of Against Me! for some time — I named “New Wave” my No. 2 album of 2007 and its follow-up, “White Crosses,” the seventh best album of 2010 — and I never saw this one coming. The news walloped me when it came across my Twitter feed Tuesday as I was watching “The Voice,” rendering a dull show even duller by comparison.
I scrambled to make sense of the news. Were there clues I missed out on? Indeed, there were, and they were pretty obvious: In the “New Wave” track “The Ocean,” Gabel sings: “And if I could have chosen, I would 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.” Can’t put it much more plainly than that, though in the Rolling Stone story, even the band’s manger says he’d listened to that song hundreds of times and he’d “never thought twice” about it.
The news recontextualizes a lot of the band’s work; even their name takes on a new meaning. The question now becomes whether the Laura Jane Grace element will overshadow the band’s music. Will they become a curiosity, and can they get back to the business of simply being Against Me?
Reaction from fans seemed to be overwhelmingly positive; a quick comb of Twitter revealed hundreds of messages of support for Gabel and his decision to come forward in such a public manner. In the Rolling Stone story, Gabel says he’s looking forward to hitting the stage as Grace: “However fierce our band was in the past, imagine me, six foot two in heels, (bleeping) screaming in someone’s face.” (The band has a June 2 date at Grand Rapids’ The Orbit Room, which pretty much just became a must-see.)
Here’s the video for the “Thrash Unreal,” which in 2009 I named my No. 33 song of the decade, even though I can’t seem to find a working link to that list anymore. (Hrmph!) Side note: In Rolling Stone, Gabel says he wanted to cross-dress in the video, but their A&R guy at the time shot them down.