Laura Jane Grace: Secret Life of Transgender Rocker Tom Gabel - Rolling Stone
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The Secret Life of Transgender Rocker Laura Jane Grace

The frontman of the aggro-political punk crew Against Me! has always known he was really a woman. Now he’s becoming one.

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Laura Jane Grace in a St. Augustine, Florida recording studio.

Cass Bird

On a warm Friday evening at the end of March, the artist soon to be formerly known as Tommy Gabel is walking through Manhattan on his way to meet one of his biggest fans, a 23-year-old woman named January Hunt. When Hunt was 16, she saw Gabel play a show and wrote him a long, impassioned fan letter about how he’d changed her life.

Right now, Gabel is feeling a little nervous. “It’s probably stupid to talk to a fan like this,” he says. “I don’t really know her – I just sent her a cryptic message on Twitter asking if she could meet up. I just don’t have anyone else to talk to.”

Gabel, 31, is the lead singer for Against Me!, a 15-year-old punk band from Gainesville, Florida, most famous for their radical politics and Gabel’s throat-shredding growl. They’ve sung about economic injustice, dismantling the system and generally fucking shit up on stages from tiny suburban clubs to Giants Stadium, and been praised by Bruce Springsteen and Foo Fighters while shouting about things like “The Politics of Starving” and “Cliché Guevara.”

The song that helped change January’s life is called “Searching for a Former Clarity,” a ballad tucked at the end of the band’s 2005 record. The lyrics are about a man who’s dying of what sounds like AIDS; midway through, Gabel sings:

And in the journal you kept by the side of your bed…  Confessing childhood secrets of dressing up in women’s clothes / Compulsions you never knew the reasons to

The song resonated with January so intensely because it was her story, too. As a transgender teenager in suburban New York, Hunt put on dresses and high heels and painted her nails pink, never daring to tell her friends in the hardcore scene. When she heard Gabel’s song that night, it was the first time a punk band’s lyrics spoke directly to her experience. And when she showed up six years later to another Against Me! show, crowd-surfing like a champ in her red pencil skirt and shoulder-length blond hair, she had Gabel, in whatever small way, to thank.

Gabel remembered her, too. “When I saw her at that show, I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah,'” he says. “I just found it so awesome and empowering. In a way, it showed me what a coward I was being. Because if she had the courage to come out as trans – then why the fuck didn’t I?”

For as long as he can remember, Gabel has lived with a condition known as gender dysphoria. As the textbooks explain it, it’s a feeling of intense dissatisfaction and disconnect from the gender you were assigned at birth. As Gabel explains it, “The cliché is that you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body, but it’s not that simple. It’s a feeling of detachment from your body and from yourself. And it’s shitty, man. It’s really fucking shitty.”

Over the past few months, Gabel has begun the public part of a process that’s been going on privately for years: leaving his male identity behind and living the rest of his life as a woman. He’s been doing research – reading books like Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl, watching transition videos on YouTube. Soon, he’ll start taking hormones and undergoing electrolysis. And down the road – in the next couple of years – he intends to have surgery. “Right now, I’m in this awkward transition period,” he says. “I look like a dude and feel like a dude, and it sucks. But eventually I’ll flip, and I’ll present as female.”

Walking through the streets tonight in a T-shirt and hoodie, Gabel doesn’t look especially feminine. He’s point-guard tall and rock-star skinny, with tattoos covering his arms and chest. But if you look just right at his blue eyes or already­lasered cheeks, or the way he brushes his brown curls out of his face, you can almost catch a glimpse of the woman he’s becoming.

According to Brandon Hill, research associate and resident transgender expert at the Kinsey Institute, about one in 30,000 men is clinically diagnosed as being transgender. Gabel isn’t the first musician to identify that way – the list includes proto-punk singer Jayne County, electronic composer Wendy Carlos and cabaret artist Justin Vivian Bond. But this is definitely the first time someone from such a high-profile band has come out in such a high-profile way. “I’m going to have embarrassing moments,” Gabel says, “and that won’t be fun. But that’s part of what talking to you is about – is hoping people understand, and hoping they’ll be fairly kind.”

As of this night in New York, he’s only shared his news with a handful of people. Even his parents and little brother don’t know. “Even now,” he says, “there’s a part of me that’s not convinced I know what the fuck I’m doing. But there’s another part of me that’s completely, 100 percent sure.”

Soon, Gabel arrives at the cafe where he and January are planning to meet. She’s waiting for him out front. And for a second, he just stands across the street, working up the nerve. “She seems really cool,” he says. “And I don’t have any trans friends, and I feel like I need one. Basically,” he says, “I’m just going to ask her to be my friend.”

One week later, Ggabel is at home in St. Augustine, Florida, in his cozy bungalow on a well-manicured block in one of the unpunkest neighborhoods imaginable. There’s a Prius in the driveway and a purple tricycle on the lawn. The only hint of anything rock & roll is the big white Chevy tour van parked out front.

“Hey!” Gabel says when he answers the door, “come in. We’re just finishing lunch.” He leads the way down the hall and into the kitchen, where, sitting at the table, are a pretty, dark-haired woman in a black tank top and an impossibly cute two-year-old in a blue dress and braids – Gabel’s wife, Heather, 35, and their daughter, Evelyn. “Evelyn’s about to take a nap,” Heather says, smiling. She stands to clear the table, and Gabel grabs his keys. “Should we go talk?”

Gabel says he and Heather are staying together. “For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news,” he says. “But she’s been super­amazing and understanding.” According to Hill, this is rare but not unheard of. Roughly a third of transgender women are attracted to women, and some of them try to maintain the relationships they’re in pre-transition. “There are people who start off staying together and, after the full transition, start to trickle out,” Hill says. “But just by being willing, they stand a much higher chance.”

Gabel gets in their 1964 Mercury Comet and we drive to his favorite fish-taco stand, where, at a picnic table under a palm tree, he starts telling his story. “Growing up, my experience with transsexualism was nothing but shame,” he says. “It was something very hidden, and dealt with very privately.” The first time he remembers feeling that way was when he was four or five, and he saw Madonna on TV and fantasized about being her. He also remembers playing with Barbies – his mom says he was really into the hot-pink Corvette – as well as his father not being happy about it. “For me, that was a moment when I remember, ‘OK, I’m obviously doing something that’s not OK in my dad’s eyes,'” he says. “But even when I would play G.I. Joes, I wouldn’t play war – I would make up stories.”

Gabel’s dad, Major Thomas Gabel, is a West Point grad who served 20 years in the Army, and Tommy grew up hopping from base to base: Fort Benning, Fort Hood, an Italian NATO post during the first Iraq War. Then when Tommy was 11, his parents got divorced, and he and his mom moved to Florida to live with his grandmother.

“It was a bad divorce,” Gabel says. “A nasty divorce. I don’t know what the failure of the marriage was – I never asked.” But whatever it was, it was bad enough for his mom to never speak to his dad again. Sometimes Gabel would go stay with him during the summer, but it was never fun. His mom says, “I think Tommy became the catchall for the anger of the split.”

Florida is the first time Gabel remembers being severely depressed. “It probably had a lot to do with where I was puberty­wise, and hormones,” he says, “but that was a period of extreme dysphoria – of just not wanting to be male.” Some days, he would pray to God: “Dear God, please, when I wake up, I want a female body.” Other times he’d try the devil: “I promise to spend the rest of my life as a serial killer if you turn me into a woman.” He thought he was a pervert, or had some kind of fetish. There was no Internet back then, so all he knew was what he’d seen in movies, which basically meant The Crying Game and The Silence of the Lambs – or, as Gabel puts it, “the sad tranny and the fucking scary tranny.”

For most of his teenage years, Gabel was “miserable.” Because he’d moved around so much, he’d never had many friends. He got picked on at school, called a “faggot” because of the way he dressed. By 13, he’d started experimenting pretty seriously with hard drugs, graduating from alcohol and pot to acid and cocaine. He’d go on to struggle with addiction well into his twenties; in retrospect, he thinks, he was doing whatever he could to numb the pain.

Even today, Gabel can’t look at his reflection in the mirror without being disgusted by the parts that look male: his Adam’s apple, his square jaw, his shoulders, his hips. Back then, the only way he knew how to cope was to cross-dress: “Just the act of looking in the mirror while presenting femme is immediately calming,” he says. Sometimes he’d skip school and watch TV all day, dressed in his mom’s clothes. (He tried to be sneaky about it, but suspects she may have known; “I had no idea,” she says.) Other times he’d shoplift from stores or swipe clothes from his female friends. “Anytime you thought you could get away with taking something,” he says, “you’d take it.”

For a while, Gabel wondered if he might be gay. “I definitely asked myself, ‘Am I attracted to men?'” He says he made out with a couple of guys when he was younger, but never anything more than that. He just always found it easier to be with women – both in a physical sense and an emotional one. “I’ve never had trouble talking and expressing my feelings,” he says. Adds his mom, “He was always just so gentle.”

Well, maybe not always. When he was in junior high, Gabel fell in love with punk rock. He was attracted to the nihilism, and the idea of fighting back. Against Me!’s guitarist, James Bowman, has been Gabel’s best friend since they met on their first day of high school; he gave Gabel his first tattoo, they raided Gabel’s mom’s liquor cabinet together and played “machete avocado baseball” in the backyard. “I don’t think Tom gives a fuck about much,” Bowman says. “I’ve known him for a long time, and that seems to be his general attitude about life.”

Against Me! started as a bedroom project, Gabel playing alone and acoustically. (In hindsight, the name seems like a nod to his conflicted identity.) When he was 18, he moved to Gainesville and turned Against Me! into a full band, playing dive bars and laundromats, sometimes to an audience of zero. For a few years, Gabel lived a life of unimpeachable punk cred: volunteering for socialist groups like Food Not Bombs; paying 100 bucks to live in a house with 12 roommates across the street from an experimental waste dump; and making ends meet by dumpster-diving and selling his plasma. (“They didn’t give you a snack – but it cost less to get drunk that night.”) Meanwhile, Against Me! began touring the world, playing some epically grungy shit holes, like an anarchist squat in Poland where the tenants kept rotten eggs on the roof to fight off the junkies, and Nazi skinheads robbed people at gunpoint. (“Touring Eastern Europe is fucking hardcore, man.”)

Being in such a male-centric scene forced Gabel to confront his own masculinity. “With the band especially,” he says, “I felt more and more like I was putting on an act – like I was being shoved into this role of ‘angry white man in a punk band.'” He started realizing punk was just a glorified boys’ club, one that he felt increasingly alienated from. Recently, he’s been going through old journal entries from that time, looking for hints of who he’d become: He found one entry where he described stealing his roommate’s birth-control pills to see what they would do to him (“Word to the wise: Don’t do that”), and a lot of days where he just wandered the streets of Gainesville, gazing at dresses in shop windows and imagining how he’d look in them.

It was around this time that Gabel started sprinkling his lyrics with oblique confessions. There was the song “Violence” (“Oh, you’ve been keeping secrets… nothing but shame and paranoia”) and “The Disco Before the Breakdown” (“I know they’re going to laugh at us/When they see us out together holding hands like this”). For Against Me!’s biggest hit, the song “Thrash Unreal,” he even tried to convince their A&R guy to let him cross-dress in the video. (“They shot me down.”) But the most blatant reference came in a song called “The Ocean,” off their 2007 album, New Wave.

In retrospect, the lines are almost shockingly direct: If I could have chosen I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her / One day I’d find an honest man to make my husband

Gabel says he thought he was “completely outing himself” with a lyric like that. He expected to be confronted – a part of him even craved it. But if anyone suspected anything, no one brought it up. “When we did that song, I was like, ‘What is that about?'” says Butch Vig, who produced Against Me!’s last two albums. “He just kind of laughed it off. He said, ‘I was stoned and dreaming about what life can be.'”

“I must have listened to him sing that song 500 times,” adds the band’s manager, Jordan Kleeman. “And I never thought twice.”

Then in 2006, after the band signed to Warner Bros. and its career took off, Gabel swore off cross-dressing for good. “You go through periods of binging and purging,” he explains. “I was 25, we were about to go on a long period of touring, and I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m getting rid of all this. I’m male, and that’s it.'” He says it wasn’t that hard: “You’re living with four or five other guys constantly, on a bus or in hotels. You don’t have any personal time. You’re just distracted.”

It was on that tour that he met Heather Hannoura, a punk-rock chick from Detroit who designed merch for bands like My Chemical Romance and Green Day, as well as making art of her own. She and Tommy first met in Nevada in 2006 – fittingly, in a town called Sparks – when Heather was on tour with the band Alkaline Trio and Against Me! were their openers. She’d seen him in magazines, and somehow, she just knew they’d end up together. “He seemed really shy, which I thought was cute because he doesn’t come across that way in his band at all,” she says. “In the context of what’s happening now, it seems cliché to say that he lacked machismo or bravado, but that’s part of what I liked.”

The two of them spent the summer together on Warped Tour, then moved in together later that fall. Gabel got Heather’s name tattooed on his chest, and she got his tattooed on her hip. In December, Gabel proposed. A year later, they were married.

According to Gabel, this all came at a time when “the dysphoria wasn’t completely overwhelming.” He says he’d firmly committed to living as a man, he was attracted to Heather and had fallen in love. “There wasn’t any malice in terms of withholding anything,” he says. “Our relationship completely consumed my thoughts.” He assumed if he tried hard enough, he could go on suppressing it forever. As it turned out, that lasted about three years.

Right around the time Heather got pregnant, in February 2009, the feelings “started coming back really strong.” For about a year, he vowed not to act on them, to make sure it wasn’t some passing thing. But then in 2010, around when Against Me! got dropped from their label, the feelings became unavoidable. He started taking weeklong writing trips by himself, checking into hotels dressed as a woman. Finally, in September of that year, he realized he couldn’t write about anything else. That’s when he knew: He needed to transition.

In hindsight, Gabel says, those songs may have been his subconscious’s way of forcing him to do what he wouldn’t, or couldn’t. They started pouring out of him: He told the band he was writing a concept album about a transsexual prostitute, called Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Then one day this February, they were in the studio together, and Gabel decided to stop beating around the bush. “I’m transgender,” he told them, “and I’m transitioning.” They were shocked. “I was like, ‘Wait, are you fucking with me right now?'” says Kleeman. “‘Or are you telling me some crazy-deep personal thing?'”

“I felt like I drop-kicked them in the face,” says Gabel. “You could kind of see this look – like, hold it together, hold it together, hold it together…” The guys asked him a few questions: Did he plan to have surgery? (He didn’t know.) Would he perform as a woman? (He hadn’t decided.) Then for a while, they all just sat there, until somebody suggested they go smoke a bowl.

Afterward, says Gabel, “we had the most awkward hug ever, and then they left. And the second I shut the door, I was like, ‘What the fuck did I just do?'”

Driving back to Gainesville in Kleeman’s Jetta, Kleeman, Bowman and bassist Andrew Seward were just as confused. Seward, who doesn’t usually smoke pot, was bugging out: “I’m really high right now – this is real, right?” They all decided they needed to start working out, so that if anyone messed with Gabel they’d be able to throw down. “We gotta take care of Tom!” Kleeman said. “We gotta protect him!” (Later, in a moment of less­highness, he says, “The more I think about it, I don’t know that that’s really necessary.”)

Over the next few weeks, Gabel came out to a few more people. He sent an e-mail to the band’s drummer, Jay Weinberg, the son of E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, who lives in New Jersey. (Weinberg – who only joined the band in 2010 – says that on a scale of one to 10, his surprise level was “about a six.”) The next person he told was January Hunt. The first question he asked her was, “Will you be my friend?” The second was, “What kind of conditioner do you use?”

For most of the band’s history, Gabel has been officially credited as “Tom.” But he’s always been “Tommy” to his family and friends, and he prefers it right now because it sounds less masculine. Once he starts fully presenting as a female, though, he’ll go by a new name that he picked out. The last name, Grace, is his mom’s maiden name. The middle name, Jane, he just thinks is pretty. And his first name is the one his mother would have chosen. “It’s Laura,” he says. “Laura Jane Grace.”

The next day, Heather is sitting on the patio of her favorite Mexican restaurant downtown, in a sea of, as Gabel sings in the song “White Crosses,” “beach-blond college girls” and “tourist-filled bars.”

The Gabels moved here in 2010, when Evelyn was about one, because the house was cheap and they wanted to be by the beach. But Heather doesn’t like it much. It’s too Southern, too Christian, not very tolerant. She also doesn’t have many friends here, and she gets lonely when Tommy’s on the road. They argue about it sometimes. In fact, they were arguing about it the day Tommy told her his news.

That morning, they’d gone to the farmers’ market to pick up some groceries. They’re not sure how the fight started, but it was the same old issue. Fuck it, Gabel thought. We’re unhappy here, and you think I’m a guy. So if we’re gonna be unhappy, I might as well be a woman. They went back home and put Evelyn down for a nap. And then he said, “Come here.”

“We got in bed,” Heather recalls, “and we just started hugging. He was hugging me really close. And then he just said, ‘I have to tell you something.'”

He told her he was transsexual, and her response was, “Of all the things you could have told me, that is the least worst.” But it took a couple of tries for the news to ­really sink in. (“At first she thought I wanted to cross-dress at home,” Gabel says, grinning, “and that’s not what I meant.”) When it did, she had one major concern: She wondered if he would leave her.

“He wants to be a woman,” she remembers thinking. “What’s going to make him feel more like a woman than a man?” When Gabel said he was scared she would leave him, her response was, “That’s nuts!”

Afterward, Heather says, “I was like, ‘If you have some master plan, just hit me with it now.’ And he’s like, ‘I have no idea – I just want to explore this.’ And I was like, ‘OK. Let’s do it.'” They took a shower, woke Evelyn up, went to dinner. Then, they talked some more and had sex. (“Like normal,” she says, “but better.”) “I kept waiting to get mad,” Heather says. “Like, ‘Tomorrow I’ll be really upset.'” But even two months later, the only thing she was pissed about was the fact that Gabel had gone through it all by himself. “That did kind of hurt a little. I was like, ‘You could have talked to me.'”

Gabel says he tried. He remembers one night when they were messing around, and Heather “took off her shirt and she was wearing a bra and matching panties. And I was like, ‘That’s from Victoria’s Secret – this collection, this year.'” Heather didn’t pick up on it, he says. “But I knew, because I fucking had it.”

Looking back, Heather does remember some other funny clothes-related things – like the black Burberry belt he was always stealing, or the way he liked to help pick out her shoes. (“I just thought he had good taste.”) Sometimes they’d trade tops or jeans, and Heather would joke about it – like, “If you ever started cross-dressing, you would have the best wardrobe!” Gabel would laugh and change the subject. But in his head, he was thinking, “I know.”

Basically, she’s been about as cool as anyone could possibly be. “I’m not really a think-about-the-future kind of person,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Let’s see what happens, and we’ll just roll with it.’ My friends have been like, ‘What about you?’ But I’m fine. I just want him to be who he is, and for us to get on with phase two. You know. Just… charge!

Gabel’s friends say they’re not surprised but still impressed. Bowman says, “If I dropped that on someone and they freaked out and took off, I would completely understand. But Heather’s not like most people.”

“As long as I’ve known her she’s been strong and super down-to-earth,” says Kleeman, “so it’s no surprise that she’s standing by him. But, I mean… hats off to her.”

Heather admits that if she’d first met Tommy when he was a woman, she probably wouldn’t have been interested. But lately she’s been noticing his more feminine qualities, and she likes them. She helped him pluck his eyebrows and pick out stage shoes. She’s even beginning to get jealous of his figure. “When he starts taking hormones, he’s gonna get these cute little boobs,” she says. “I’ve always wanted that svelte body with little tits. I’ve never been attracted to girls, but when he has that cute little boob sticking out of the side of his tank top… hi-ya!” (Says Gabel, “That’s awesome.”)

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.”

But of all the scary things she’s facing, one of the scariest is talking to her parents. She still hasn’t told them. “I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. With my mom, I just don’t want to deal with crying. And I don’t even know how to deal with my dad. I’ll probably just write him an e-mail. I predict it’ll be a relationship-killer.”

Laura says she and her dad aren’t close. They only speak every few months, and even then, it’s usually about family or the weather. Heather thinks that if it weren’t for Evelyn, they probably would never see him. (During one visit, she says, “Tommy had to ask him for a hug.”) Laura says she’s more worried about Heather’s parents than about her own: They’re somewhat conservative too, and she’s afraid they’ll think she’s letting their daughter and granddaughter down.

When it comes to her own dad, Laura says she already knows how the e-mail will go: “I’m basically gonna say that I’m coming out as a transsexual, and gender dysphoria is something I’ve dealt with my entire life. That he doesn’t really know me, and he’s never really known me. And that if he can’t respect this, I see no reason why we should have a relationship.” She seems sad about the prospect of possibly never speaking to him again, but also firm. “I really hope I’m wrong,” she says. “But, fuck – it’s not a conversation I’m looking forward to.”

By the end of the month, she’s made a lot of progress. She got “ma’amed” for the first time, while out shopping with Heather. (“It felt great.”) She had her first appointment with her endocrinologist: Assuming everything goes according to plan, she’ll be on hormones by the time the band goes on tour at the end of May. She also finally called her mom, who reacted with such warmth and support and unconditional love that she felt silly for not telling her sooner. She still hasn’t told her dad.

Laura says that apart from the physical stuff, not much will change. “It’s not going to be this big reveal,” she says. “I’m still the same person I’ve always been.” She’s not worried about the fans: “I’m sure there will be some people who are repelled by it. But I have faith.” Mostly, she can’t wait to be onstage as a female for the first time. “However fierce our band was in the past,” she says, “imagine me, six foot two, in heels, fucking screaming in someone’s face.”

She is, however, a little worried about Evelyn. Not about her ability to cope – even at two, she says, Evelyn is tough and independent and knows her daddy loves her. “I’m just worried about how people will treat her.” She’s thought about it for hours and hours, even days. “And the thing I keep coming back to is that there’s no better example I can set as a parent than being true to myself. I hope, I fucking pray, that’s what she learns from me.”

Laura knows that at some point they’ll need to leave St. Augustine. She’s thinking Los Angeles, maybe New York – someplace where she can find a community. (“It would be awesome to move somewhere where they don’t have AIDS KILLS FAGS DEAD stickers on the trucks,” Heather says.) “There’s already a group of people who think Heather’s a Satan worshipper,” Laura says. “They held hands and prayed for her soul at a Chick-fil-A. And that’s just because she wears black! Just wait,” she says, “till they get a load of me.”

This story is from the May 24th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.


Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the singer’s chosen name in the headline.


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