The web is all abuzz -- rightly -- about the bravery of Against Me! singer Tom Gabel "coming out" to Rolling Stone as transgender and beginning to live her life as Laura Jane Grace (while remaining legally married to her wife and raising their child. Take that, North Carolina!). 'Tis a wonderful thing indeed, and most of the commentary on the high school hearthrob band's website has been positive.
As much as it pains me to call any band that came after Fugazi "punk," Against Me! wasn't half bad to soundtrack your 2000s teenage mall rebellion, carrying on the legacy of punks through the ages. And Grace's transformation carries on another legacy as well -- that of famous transgender rockers.
I've lately been rereading one of my favorite books, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk -- if ever there was a book to make your life seem utterly boring shite, that's it. It's full of hyperenergetic boys donning frocks, from punk founders the Dead Boys and the New York Dolls to the glam heroes that punk was meant to take down, like David Bowie and Gary Glitter. And of course many fierce women of the early scene were shaving their heads and kitting out in "mens' clothes." (There was actually a time when Robert Mapplethorpe's cover shot for Patti Smith's Horses was a scandal, really.)
But all that was mere transgression, welcome as it may have been to the oppressed queers of the day -- and now for that matter. Being transgender is something different, having the courage to reconcile your physicality with the mental and emotional image you carry of yourself inside. And then to rock the fuck out? Cool. Here are some of my transgender punk heroes:
She became famous in the late '70s, kicking against the pricks in London as Wayne County (with band the Electric Chairs) -- but was an NYC underground mainstay before then, taking part in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, hanging with the Warhol crew, and starting one of the first punk-like bands Queen Elizabeth in 1972. ("God Save the Queen" indeed.). She soon rechristened herself Jayne County, performing unabashedly before punk audiences as a transgender woman. As an actress, she starred in seminal underground queer films like Derek Jarman's Jubilee and Rosa von Praunheim's City of Lost Souls. She's still raging.
The outrageous and outrageously talented founder of '70s experimental industrial-noise-punk-electronic outifts Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle, Genesis approaches gender in an experimental vein as well. Already well into his own gender recalibration, he and his wife Lady Jayne Breyer P-Orridge began an odyssey of physical transformation in the 2000s to become a single pandrogynous entity to be called "Breyer P-Orridge." Sadly, Lady Jayne died in 2007 of stomach cancer, but Genesis continues to challenge gender expectations, as the recent release of lauded doc The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye attests to.
The indispensable local trans man was instrumental in the punk revival of the '90s with his insane dyke outfit Tribe 8, and now helps keep queers safe on the streets of SF with his Homobiles on-call transportion service. He's also an accomplished author and performer in his own right. Queers fight (and write) back!!
UPDATE: In the comments below, readers below have pointed out two very important transgender punks: Sarah Kirsch, formerly Mike Kirsch, guitarist and vocalist seminal East Bay outfit Pinhead Gunpowder, Fuel, and a ton more including Fuel and Sawhorse (and who is currently recovering from cancer). I couldn't find a good vid of Sarah in her current incarnation, but here's a recent one of Pinhead Gunpowder at 924 Gilman.
PLUS the incredible Ginger Coyote of the White Trash Debutantes, who was pretty essential to the Mabuhay Gardens punk scene here.
And of course, there is a thriving, vibrant, now-decades-old underground of scrappy queer and transgender punk rock bands -- and wonderful local trans musicians like Christine Beatty and Justin Bond and even lounge singer Veronica Klaus who keep the proud and outspoken transgender musical flame alight. In the immortal words of Jayne County, "If you don't want a piece of the action, take a walk!"
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