The horrific shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead and numerous others injured early Sunday morning was the latest tragedy in a trying past few months for the LGBT community. This election year has sparked a rise in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, and states are legislating away the bathroom rights of transgender people, most notably with the passage of North Carolina’s contentious HB2. When Against Me! played in Durham, North Carolina, last month, Laura Jane Grace – the punk band’s venerated frontperson and self-assured transgender advocate – burned her birth certificate from the stage to protest the meaninglessness of an assigned gender.
Last June, Pride parties around the country were celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. One year later, on Tuesday in Oakland, streaming music platform Pandora hosted a “Pride Unplugged” fireside chat with Grace to a standing-room only audience of its employees, and the conversation inevitably started with a somber question about the mass shooting a few days earlier. “There’s no other way you can feel right now than sadness and extreme grief,” Grace said of the hate crime that occurred in her home state.
Grace came out to Rolling Stone as a transgender woman in 2012. Two years later, Against Me! released Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which further exposed Grace’s inner struggles to the public. In between touring, she’s become a vocal ally for others across the gender spectrum, most notably through her Emmy-nominated AOL Web series True Trans and her “Mandatory Happiness” column for Noisey.
Of course, being such an outspoken activist and punk hero doesn’t exclude Grace from the everyday insults transgender people endure. She tells the gathered crowd that the vast disparity in education about and attitudes towards transgender people is part of the problem. “One of the last times I flew out of SFO, I was going through the body scanner machines, and the TSA agent on the other side said, ‘How would you like to be identified as?’ and ‘Who would you like to pat you down?'” Grace contrasts that level of sensitivity with a recent interaction with a TSA agent at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “Someone was patting me down and looked at me and said, ‘This is the reason why I hate my job so fucking much.'”
After years of self reflection, Grace says the gender confusion she sees in strangers’ reactions to her is no longer her issue to resolve. “I’m totally fine with myself. It’s the other people I run into out there who are so hung up on gender,” she says. “The way it trips them up is their problem, not mine.”
After receiving a genuine standing ovation from the crowd and grabbing a bag of free trail mix from Pandora’s plentiful snack wall (“Trail mix is so expensive at the airport!”), Grace sat down with Rolling Stone to talk about Against Me!’s new record, her new memoir and the deeper issues beneath this year’s big transgender headlines.