Last year, Against Me! lead singer Tom Gabel made at once an astonishing, brave, and inspiring announcement: The punk rocker revealed he was going to now be living the rest of his life as a woman and changing his name to Laura Jane Grace. The past year has been a challenging journey for Laura. But as she told us backstage during a revealing chat after her band's performance this past weekend at Riot Fest in Chicago, it's been an emotionally liberating and highly necessary one.
How has it been over your first year since announcing you're female? Do you finally feel as if you're completely yourself?
On the stage, in particular, it's what I needed. One hundred percent. I had reached a total brick wall where I would be up there, and I felt like in between songs, I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to talk. I felt like there was this disconnect happening in my head. I felt like, "Well, this is kind of the end of the line for me because I don't know what to do." So having that barrier broken down is completely liberating.
Did you feel like if you didn't make that change, you may not have been able to continue in the band?
Not consciously in the sense of saying it in my head in those words. But in feeling like I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I had no passion when I was playing and I just didn't feel like I could continue to write music.
Take us through your recent solo tour. All accounts of it are that it was a fabulous success and audiences were incredibly receptive.
You have no barrier [during a solo show]. It's really intimate, for lack of a better term. You play the songs, you play the set, and then you talk with [the audience]. People come up, they tell you their story and their transitions. That interaction is something fans want; and for me, it's something I desperately need, too. I need that connection. To know that the people who are singing along at your show actually have something in common with you and can identify with what you've gone through, makes the songs that much more meaningful to sing.
How fun has it been to explore your feminine sense of fashion in the last year?
It's fun, and it's stressful in a sense. Because it's like, there's street-style— like what I wear in everyday life—and then learning what actually works on stage. Fashion before function oftentimes. But sometimes I'll get up there and I'll be like, "I should have gone for function." Last night, I was wearing boots while trying to stomp on my guitar pedals, and I was hitting all the wrong buttons. And I was like, "God dammit. These look really fierce but I'm a wreck up here." For me, my personal style is usually black. So whatever comes in all black and my size [works].