True Trans with Laura Jane Grace
I hardly ever watch television, but when I do, I go all in. Recently on the Twitterverse, I heard about True Trans, a multi-part web series produced by AOL. The series follows Laura Jane Grace, a trans woman and the frontwoman of the band Against Me! Grace explains that at age 31, she had a house, a wife, a kid, and a successful career with her band. Yet she still felt that something was missing and needed to be addressed; no matter how hard she tried, she could not eliminate the crushing weight of gender dysphoria. She remembers, as a child, seeing Madonna on television and thinking, “I want to be exactly like that, not only in gender, but that was what I wanted to do. I remember vividly experiencing that and seconds later realizing the misalignment in my body.”
Laura Jane Grace, photo courtesy of Stereogum
Growing up in a military family, Grace’s mother, Bonnie, explained that there was a lot of pressure to fit in. Looking back, Bonnie reflected, “I knew that this was a great kid, that she had a fantastic heart and spirit, that there was not anything bad about her. But I knew if she got sucked into that system, I would never be able to get her out.” As a punk kid in suburban Florida, Grace got picked on, thrown out of school, and arrested. Later on, she connected with other punks like her band mate James Bowman and channeled her energy into music.
While the first episode centers around Grace’s own experience, the following episodes document her speaking to other members of the trans community. According to True Trans, 1 in 11,000 men and 1 in 30,000 women seek help with gender dysphoria, “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.” There are an estimated 700,000 transgender people living in the United States.
Fallon Fox, photo courtesy of Huffington Post
Many of the people Grace interviews express initial feelings of isolation, of not having the language to describe their inklings, of having no one to talk to and of not knowing these views were valid. “I remember hearing about these men who dressed like women, but I didn’t know what transgender was,” explains writer and musician OurLadyJ. “I knew there were alternatives, and I was just holding on until something was revealed.” Without representation in the media, she explained that as a teenager, she never saw someone who looked like her. Many of the interviewees echoed her sentiments; through Internet research, they were able to build a vocabulary and give their feelings a name.
Like any sample of the population, childhood experiences varied widely. Some people felt that their parents were always supportive of them and that they struggled more with social expectations. Others felt that their parents would not accept them if they shared their true thoughts; they felt a crushing pressure to conform to their parents’ expectations. In extreme cases, religious families hospitalized their children and took them to therapy in an attempt to “fix” them.
Puberty, in particular, was an especially confusing time, when many people felt their bodies no longer belonged to them. During this period, themes of depression, drug use and suicide were common ways to blank out the feelings. Discovering the language to label these feelings and make decisions about next steps felt liberating. Whether people chose hormone replacement therapy, surgeries, or other options, they are finally able to live their truths.
Our Lady J, courtesy of Time Out: New York
Needless to say, I binge-watched the whole season. I was honored to listen to their stories and so impressed with each interviewee’s ability to be true to themselves at any cost; every person’s story exuded such clarity, honesty, and a clear sense of self. It’s too easy for people to lie to themselves about minute details in their lives, to not seek help when they need it, to not take risks when the stakes are not nearly as high. Asserting one’s truth takes an incredible amount of fortitude and I was awed by their collective strength.
While I would’ve liked to see more trans people of color featured in the series (see: this flawless cover of Candy Magazine), I was grateful to watch a series where trans people speak for themselves. There’s a wealth of misinformation surrounding trans culture: for too long, mainstream media coverage was nonexistent, with sensationalist stories confined to the tabloids as a taboo. And, as we’ve seen so frequently with issues of racism, sexism, or homophobia, people are so quick to condemn or rationalize away experiences that they have not themselves. Yet most people will likely experience depression, self-loathing, insecurity, self-acceptance and love in their lifetimes; these feelings are not foreign concepts. Ultimately, every person is in the process of becoming who they are, both internally and externally; as Grace points out, “Life’s just a transition, everyone’s in transition; that’s just the way it is.”
Check out the first episode here and subscribe to the rest of the series on AOL.
Originally published at ladycollective.com on December 17, 2014. For updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr @ladycollective.