Today’s upsurge in fictional and nonfictional transgender narratives represents the demographic in myriad ways. Some works are intelligent, some thoughtless. Some good, some troubled. Through both the good and the bad, there is a remarkable tendency to simplify what it means to feel gender dysphoria. The syrupy, optimistic tale of a transboy’s coming out in Ellen Wittlinger’s novel Parrotfish, for example, simplifies (despite its good intentions) the messiness and mixed feelings of transitioning by co-opting the feel-good trappings of a high school romantic comedy. Even Janet Mock’s memoir Redefining Realness, with its unflinching portrayal of family dysfunction, childhood sexual violence and poverty, deals little with the inner machinations of dysphoria. Mock, unlike many of her peers, had the certainty and the drive to transition at a young age.
These stories are important to tell, but they are disingenuously treated as representative of a whole. In fairness the art of the trans narrative is still very much in its infancy, but more works emphasizing the how no transgender experience is the same as another are needed. Arguably many narratives lack a nuanced treatment of the messiness of being transgender. Laura Jane Grace’s Tranny is one attempt to muddy the waters, to disillusion readers from the very concept of a linear coming out story.
Grace, the frontwoman of the anarchist punk rock band Against Me!, worked with music journalist Dan Ozzi to condense her journals into a more straightforward, readable memoir. Tranny isn’t much of a manifesto on Against Me!’s development or the band’s philosophy, but it traces the narrative of Laura Jane Grace’s life in a brief, fluid 320 pages. From her teen years presenting as a boy in small town Florida, to getting the band together, falling into obscene levels of debauchery on tour and in punk cohousing, to her getting married and having a kid, to her losing and gaining greatly in the process of finally coming to terms with her dysphoria and coming out as a trans woman.
The final section dealing with her transition is relatively brief compared to the rest of the book, yet it overshadows the rest of the book in one’s impression. Grace’s telling of the transition process isn’t easy, isn’t a flip from misery to where the grass is greener. It is certainly described as necessary, not quite a relief but still a step to becoming her truer self. She addresses the doubts and anxieties she has over transitioning: The people she might lose or has already lost, the people who try to understand and simply fail to, whether or not she’ll even end up looking the way she wants to. Even the option of de-transitioning is brought up, which is an almost blasphemous proposition in many of these narratives.
To be certain there’s still hope and beauty in Tranny. But Grace isn’t here to lie to you about it getting easier, about it being a decision that will fill you with love and personal satisfaction. Grace makes it painfully, gorgeously clear that life doesn’t stop being hard after you come out and decide to transition. She doesn’t shy away from how complex the process can be, and this is a much needed reminder in a genre so apt find reassurance and sweet, simple words the responsible way to go.