Laura Jane Grace of the punk rock band Against Me! has tried on several Chicago neighborhoods to get a feel for the city.
Her favorite: Logan Square.
“I immediately regretted it after I moved,” she said.
She moved to Irving Park from Florida four years ago, then on to Logan Square, a hip in-between. After that, she jumped to Oak Park for the kid-friendly atmosphere (she has a 7-year-old daughter) and solitude — ideal for book writing.
In Oak Park, the transgender advocate and front-woman for Against Me! went into peak productive mode for “TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout.” She sorted through mountains of dog-eared journals, crafting a veracious, gritty memoir that details her previous life as Tom Gabel leading up to coming out as transsexual in 2012.
The memoir, which hit stands last August, will come out in paperback Tuesday.
It features appearances by musicians including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson and Joan Jett, and offers insight into the life of a rock star — complete with exhausting tours, a little bit of romance and a lot of drugs. With journal entries interspersed, it also narrates the struggles Grace faced with gender dysphoria, a condition where a person feels their identity to be opposite of their biological sex.
“It’s almost like letter writing,” Grace said. “I approached it as both having the desire to be a writer, and also taking it as a real opportunity to learn about myself and to reflect on what I’ve done with my life. From what I’ve seen, it’s been a positive reception. … I kind of keep myself somewhat detached. ”
The journal entries offer poignant realizations that Gabel comes to as he gets closer to transitioning, such as a moment on tour in Italy when his band comes across a group of transgender women, calling them “brostitutes,” as he stands by. He writes: “I’ve been called a ‘sellout’ many times in life for the choices I’ve made in my musical career. But this experience, that moment — that’s what it feels like to truly sell out.”
Grace moved to Chicago soon after her transition, and Lincoln Square just happens to be the neighborhood she lives in now. Before she embarks on a tour with Against Me! in September, Grace said she’s been scoping out Chicago’s extensive park system with her daughter.
“Going to parks and taking off your shoes and having an ice cream from one of the vendors, and hanging out on the coast, is awesome,” she said, specifying her favorite frozen confection. “It’s all about the Two-Ball Screwballs.”
As a full-time parent in the city, Grace said she does not focus on her social life much. Yet the Chicago transgender community has been a welcoming place. She has attended several events, including the annual Trans 100, which honors 100 transgender, genderqueer and gender-non-conforming individuals making a difference in their communities.
“So far it’s been amazing and really open,” she said. “There have been a lot of really great people. That was part of why moving here made a lot of sense — because of the resources here.”
As for writing, she hasn’t quite given up on that yet, even though after the book’s release she said she felt “like I never want to do this again.” She writes a column called Mandatory Happiness for Vice’s Noisey and said she wants to write another book in the future.
The journals she used to craft the memoir, filled with details of her past life, no longer exist.
She torched them.
“I don’t have to worry about those anymore,” Grace said. “I don’t have to physically carry them with me anymore, and metaphorically too.”