Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Ignorant And The Damned

There's a new album by a not-new punk rock band with a new lead singer. The album is getting early raves and significant attention.

OK, the lead singer isn't new. It's the same lead singer... except before, the lead singer was known in the public mind as a man, and now he's a gal named Laura Jane Grace. The album is called Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It is, not subtly, a musical window into the soul of a transgendered punk rocker.

If there were a PC Olympics, created to challenge the average writer or critic to avoid all pitfalls for offending a hyper-sensitive liberal, it would include the obstacle course of having to review this album. Getting through it flawlessly would be like winning Gold in an equestrian jumping competition while riding a Shetland Pony.

When NPR posted this album on their "First Listen," I saw @unbornwhiskey's promotion of it and went to check it out. It was his positive review that got me to listen. It's powerful and compelling music on a topic about which I am admittedly quite ignorant and, as a by-product, somewhat uncomfortable.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when @unbornwhiskey commenced unloading on one writer after another for what were, basically, positive reviews about the album:
Here's the beginning of a conversation @unbornwhiskey started with a writer at Grantland (I encourage you to read the whole back-and-forth):
If you follow the second “conversation” to its conclusion, it's clear Steve Hyden isn’t The Enemy of Transgendered People. Maybe Mr. Nelson thinks he's defending the honor of this woman, Laura Jane Grace. Maybe he thinks he's sticking up for the admittedly-maligned T part of the LGBT community. Hell, maybe he is. I wouldn't know because there's not a single person in my first degree of separation who even can speak with authority on transgendered issues. But I know what my reaction is to his Tweets: He's not helping anyone.

I’m have little interest in being excoriated simply because I’m completely clueless about The Transgendered Existence. I don’t hate it or them. I don’t think it or they are evil. “Transgendered” as a concept makes me admittedly uncomfortable, but so does “climbing Everest,” and “skinning a gator,” because I have very little genuine knowledge or understanding of any of these concepts.

My writing inaccurately about The Transgendered would be of no more malicious intent than my writing inaccurately about albinos, people born with perfect recall, or women post-mastectomy.

Reading his voracious judgmental comments and that of others in the Boat of Outrage with him, mostly it comes across as a leftist equivalent of Westboro Baptists, extremism that cannot be reasoned with.

In my region of the country, politicians lobby for bills to force these people to go to the restroom of their birth gender, and more than half my fellow citizens believe gay people are hellspawn. I’m not even sure 3/4 of Tennessee could properly tell you what the “BT” in “LGBT” stands for.

Jack Bauer can dismantle nuclear time bombs more easily than writing something like this without some smug person yearning to feel superior finding a reason to criticize.

I’ve listened to Transgendered Dysphoria Blues three times now. It's pissed off and frustrated and powerfully compelling power pop-laced punk. TDB seems to want to open a door of conversation between the transgendered and the clueless, people like me -- uncomfortable and ignorant, who want to understand better but just don’t (yet.... maybe never can or will...). What better, more perfect venue for an angry and frustrated conversation than punk?

No one deserves congratulations or sympathy for failing to understand the transgendered experience or for not knowing how to write about it properly. I can even live with a certain degree of disappointment and judgment for my ignorance. But I’m guessing Laura Jane Grace doesn't hate me and isn’t demanding self-flagellation. I’m hoping she just wants me to listen to Against Me!, appreciate and enjoy how frikkin' hard they rock, and hopefully, just maybe, expand my mind and understanding a little bit along the way.

Today, vital organs can be transplanted and removed, entire body parts replaced or substituted. From hysterectomies and mastectomies to sexual reassignment to cleft palettes and massive surgeries on small children with birth defects. People can have face transplants! We are slowly entering a world where the physical body is less and less capable of defining us, but we're not there quite yet.

“We want to be subversive like that, especially knowing that a good portion of our audience aren’t trans or haven’t ever been exposed to those issues, or it might make them uncomfortable,” Grace explains to Grantland's lambasted Steve Hyden. And seriously, if you are like me, if you are remotely capable of opening up to the possibility of accepting and loving people along the LGBT spectrum, and if you love music, I couldn't more heartily recommend reading Hyden's interview with Laura Jane Grace.

It is human nature for alien matters to create discomfort. It is the better part of human nature to seek to bridge these gaps whenever possible. And it's annoying that those who are already in the club and "get it" are so intolerant when intolerance is exactly what they so smugly claim to stand against.

Their response?
Touche, and have a nice smug life for yourself.


Robert Berman said...

If the internets teach us anything, it is that very few people are well-rehearsed in objecting graciously to the thoughts of others. IRL, we so rarely have the opportunity to interact substantively with people that we don't know well, and who don't know us well. Those RL relationships couch conversations in a benefit of the doubt, a willingness to assume that the Other is not a jerk, a prude, a snob. Most of RL conversation is between the words. When all we have are the words without the relationship (and, also importantly, without the cadence of verbal tone), every observation gets magnified, caricatured into an affront. How dare you think differently than me? I have to constantly talk myself down from this ledge.

Bob said...

I agree with mr. Berman. Fortuitously, I'm reading Gandhi this week, whom I hope is teaching me nonviolence with words as well. We shall see.

Bob said...

And, by the way, a great post.

G. B. Miller said...

Question: nowhere in the entire post, which I re-read at least to three times, do you identify the following:

1) name of the band;

2) former name of the lead singer.

So...for those of us who aren't up on the music scene like you are, could you be so kind as to answer those two questions?

Billy said...

@GB - I mentioned the band's name near the end and included the album cover: "Against Me!" is the band. The lead singer was named Tom Gabel when he was a man. But I suspect that the way I phrased that last sentence is incorrect and going to unintentionally outrage someone.

stowstepp said...

Great post.

G. B. Miller said...

Hmmmm...all I see is the name "Grantland" which if I remember correctly, is an e-zine published by ESPN.

At least you answered question #2 for me.

Still looking for answer to #1 though, and you'll have to pardon me for asking again, but after working for a few state government entities for the past 17 year, I've learned that asking a question point blank is the fastest way to 1) get answer and 2) annoy someone because they actually have to tell the truth.

Billy said...

@G.B. - I'm confused by your reply, because I did answer the question. "Against Me!" is the band's name.