The Secret Life of Transgender Rocker Tom Gabel

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Heather is still endearingly uncertain about a lot of things. The pronouns. ("Is it 'she' or 'him'?") The surgery. ("If that's what she decides to do, she's fuckin' bad­ass.") The implications for her own sexuality. ("I mean, does this mean I'm a lesbian now?") Even the practical matter of sex with another woman. ("I have no vagina experience.") She's learning new things every day: like the term "full femme" is preferable to "drag," and Laura wants to be her "wife," not her "husband." At one point, I mention something about Laura's new middle name. "Oh!" she says. "I don't even know it."

It's Jane, I tell her.

"Laura Jane," she says, smiling. "That's cute. That's a nice name."

The next morning, I get an e-mail from Gabel: "Thought a lot about our conversations yesterday. Was wondering if you'd be willing to try an experiment today. We could meet at my studio. Let me know when you're ready to meet up."

His studio, Total Treble, is a squat, tan-brick shoebox about 10 miles outside St. Augustine. It used to be an abandoned post office before Gabel refurbished it last year. Now it's a vibey little spot with vintage lamps and cool artwork on the walls. Later that afternoon, a familiar-looking woman answers the door. "Hi," she says, smiling and extending her hand. "I'm Laura."

Laura Jane Grace looks like Tommy Gabel, only prettier. She's a towering six-four in her high-heeled leather boots, and her jet-black wig is cut in a rock & roll shag. She's wearing glossy lipstick and pale-blue eyeliner, and sparkly silver nail polish that she bought at Target. Clothing­wise, she's in all black, model­skinny jeans and one of Heather's cardigans. Underneath it is a loose-fitting tank top that says fuck off. She looks, to be honest, pretty badass.

Laura puts an Echo & the Bunnymen record on and curls up in a chair. "I feel good," she says. "Really good." This afternoon was the first time she'd been full femme in front of the girls. Heather helped do her makeup in their bathroom. "It felt totally natural," she says. "Not weird at all." Laura and Evelyn painted their fingernails together ("She put a little blue in hers"). Afterward, they all took turns trying on Laura's wig. Evelyn thought Daddy looked like her Joan Jett Barbie.

Laura says it's nice to be sitting here feeling more like a woman. At the same time, she says, "it's not schizophrenia. I know I'm playing dress-up. If I were to go out right now in this makeup and cheap wig, I would feel like someone in makeup and a cheap wig. I don't want to feel like a tranny. I want to feel like a woman."

Laura says there's not some "ta-da" moment where she'll flip a switch and magically turn into a female. It's a long and carefully prescribed process. The first step is to live as a woman fully and publicly, which she plans to be doing by the time you read this. After that, she'll start taking hormones, which will hopefully make her hair grow and increase her breast size. ("Thirty-one years old," she says with a laugh, "and I'm about to enter puberty again.") She's already planning electrolysis. As for clothes, she says, "I'm not going to be this ultrafeminine girl with pink nails and a pretty pink dress. I'm going to be fucking fierce." (Essentially, Kleeman says, "She's gonna look just like Heather.")

Over the longer term, obviously, bigger changes will occur. She's willing to consider breast implants if the hormones don't work. She's considering having plastic surgery done on her face, although the prospect of getting rid of her Adam's apple – a procedure known, terrifyingly, as a "tracheal shave" – scares her a lot, especially in terms of what it might do to her voice. And then there's the issue of bottom surgery. "I think about what it would be like to have sex with female anatomy, of course." On the other hand, "I'm not psychotic. It's absolutely terrifying." She's already had her penis pierced, so it's not the pain that worries her, nor does she feel any particular attachment to it. "I don't give a fuck if I lose my penis. It's just fucking scary because of the surgery. I've needed to have my wisdom teeth removed for five years, and I still haven't."

(In addition, she says, "To be totally blunt – I never masturbated like a boy masturbates, I masturbated like a girl would masturbate – rubbing myself. So I don't necessarily need to have sex in a male way to get myself off.")

Realistically, she says, all these things are a long way off. "I have every intention of continuing down this road full steam ahead. But in order to undergo full sexual-reassignment surgery, I'd have to live fully as a woman for a year, and have something like a year of therapy. So I don't want to get too excited about this potentially life-fulfilling thing, when all these hurdles are still up."

In the meantime, she's got other business to take care of. There's the tattoo she's having removed from her wrist, which she got with a buddy one drunken night in Dallas, and which has been "the bane of my existence ever since." (It says RAMBLIN' BOYS OF PLEASURE.) She also stopped drinking, because she wants to be totally present for the transition process. "I don't want to feel like, 'This is an uncomfortable situation, I'll have a couple drinks,'" she says. "I want to meet it head-on."

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