There’s a bit of irony in North Carolina voting to ban gay marriage, hours after the news regarding Tom Gabel’s transgender lifestyle broke. The whole process appeared a bit backwards; it seemed it would be more fitting for Gabel’s news would come after the vote, as a loud, blaring, punk rock statement against a bigoted and ugly ruling. Gabel’s decision however, has nothing to do with punk rock or politics. It’s not something done deliberately to make a statement; it’s simply a personal choice. It’s unfortunate, then, that it has already become something intensely public, when it’s an incredibly private matter.
I was first introduced to Tom Gabel and the band Against Me! when I saw them twice open for Alkaline Trio in 2006. They arrived all clad in black and ripped through a 30 minute set, pausing only for the briefest moments between songs. They were led by Gabel, a powerfully voiced front man, who knew how to work seamlessly within the band. The music was the star of the show and he was no more important that it or his fellow band mates.
A few years and several Against Me! shows later, I was fortunate enough to meet Gabel and found his attitude to match the one he had on stage. He was polite, soft spoken and very down to Earth. He showed little interest in the fame he had, and certainly didn’t try to court more. He was pleased people enjoyed the music his band was putting out, but appeared to have no interest in the rock star lifestyle that could so easily go along with that adoration. He was content to let the music be in the spotlight, and avoid it himself when possible.
It’s that same attitude that makes Gabel’s announcement so bittersweet. I’m thrilled with her decision. I offer my unequivocal support to the choice she’s made, I wish her nothing but the best and I hope she finds peace in her transition. I find it unfortunate however, that her private decision had to be made public, and that it was ultimately unavoidable. It would have been impossible for Gabel to keep this transition quiet, while still going through with it in a manner that actually made her comfortable, as she is a public figure, whether she truly wants to be or not. Even if it had been kept quiet and private, the questions would have inevitably come up, and any statement Against Me made through music would be ignored as a result. So, a private and difficult choice had to be made in the public forum, to address a personal issue that is ultimately no one else’s business.
I commend Gabel for choosing to be so public with her decision. It takes a kind of bravery we rarely see from public figures. The story should start and end there, but it won’t. Gabel’s unavoidable public announcement has opened the floodgates of hate and bigotry. People who have never heard of Against Me prior to this will now sound off about how immoral or wrong, or disgusting this is. They’ll thump their bibles and spout hate because that’s easier than trying to understand a complex issue. As a result, a reluctant front man will have to become a spokeswoman for an entire community, while still adjusting to the major changes in her life. One person’s private decision will spark a very public debate, and it couldn’t happen any other way.
While it is tragic that Gabel will be thrust into the national spotlight over this, the transgender community really couldn’t have asked for a better advocate, reluctant or not. If I’ve learned anything from watching Against Me! over the years, it’s that Tom Gabel had no fear when it came to speaking his mind. He was polite and soft spoken by nature, but strap a guitar to him and he’d roar like a lion. Something tells me Laura Jane Grace will have no problem doing the exact same thing. So pass your judgments and throw your dirty glances. Bring on all your hate and misunderstanding. She didn’t ask for any of the public scrutiny she’s sure to face, but I doubt she’s going to back down from it. Neither will her supporters, new or old. We’ll stand with her through this and beyond. And when she makes a statement, not through a press release or at a podium, but on a stage backed by pounding drums and thundering guitars, we’ll be there to listen. Just like we always have been, happy to let the music speak not just for itself, but for us as well.
On a personal note, I’m honored to say I got to experience one of Tom Gabel’s last shows and look forward to seeing one of Laura’s first shows this summer. Earlier this Spring Tom was on the Revival Tour, playing acoustic sets, so while we wait to see what Laura Jane Grace has in store for us, feel free to look back on what she’s already offered us:
Anna is a Stool Pidgeon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hisi-zs73cs
Because of the Shame: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3MktCyyBE0
Pints of Guiness Make You Strong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRtpw_bFKxM
Greenback Dollar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiotPAnxSCU