The cover of Against Me!'s sixth studio album—the first since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender after spending most of her life as Tom Gabel—features a stark illustration of a human breast. It’s not erotic, and it’s not particularly feminine, but it is brutally clinical: a colorless slab of flesh detached from whatever body it came from, presented like a textbook diagram. When you break everything down into pieces, it seems to suggest, we're all just the same bunch of cells, all doomed to the same fate.
The lean, mean, vicious punk machine that is Transgender Dysphoria Blues, out today, spends much of its 29-minute run time ruminating on a similarly grim idea: that death is an inevitability, and one that, when you’re perpetually at odds with yourself and the world around you, seems like a sensible escape from suffering.
Before Grace came out publicly in a 2012 Rolling Stone article, Against Me! was mostly known as politically radical Florida punks who’d signed with a major label after amassing a big underground following. But as its title suggests, the new record largely addresses Grace's struggles with gender dysphoria, the extreme discomfort with one's body and the gender assigned at birth. Some of the tracks are Grace's own first-person confessionals, but others are remnants of a concept album about a suicidal transgender prostitute—a guise she used to write about her inner turmoil before coming out to her bandmates. Because of that, the album's 10 songs don't make up a gender-transition timeline or some overarching narrative about finding inner peace, but instead represent a struggle from beginning to end. It’s a fuzzy collection of solutions, setbacks, and silver linings that make it a survival guide for any listener.