Laura Jane Grace Talks with Fan About Transphobic Assault in the Punk Community

Stephanie McCarthy says she was assaulted while watching the Against Me! frontwoman play "Transgender Dysphoria Blues," of all things.

12 June 2015, 9:00am

Welcome to Mandatory Happiness, where resident advice-giver and Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace answers some questions from readers. Laura's doing something a bit different for this week's column. She interviewed Stephanie McCarthy, a friend, fan, and fellow musician about a recent incident she says she encountered at an Against Me! show in Australia.

You can still email your own questions to Laura. Submit to and she will answer some on Noisey. All questions are confidential and your name will not be included. Okay, take it away, Laura...

Where the fuck have I been? What the fuck have I missed? While touring overseas in Europe and Australia for the past two months, a solid internet connection has been sometimes hard to come by. I missed out on watching the Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer. I saw pictures from it though and I for sure read the chatter online.

Though our experiences and circumstances are different I can relate on some levels to what they’ve been through and to what they’re going through, how intense it is to come out in the public eye. I don’t need to watch the interview to understand the back-story or to send my support and love.

I was on tour in Germany when the Sawyer interview did air though, a country where you have to first be certified as mentally ill before you’re allowed access to gender affirming things like hormone therapy and surgeries. It stunned me when I first heard this and realized the implications. In Germany, the average person views me as mentally ill. Wow.

It’s different everywhere you go and I’ve met trans people from all over the world. It always fascinates me to hear what it’s like to exist as a trans person in their city. It’s also usually kind of depressing. Because on average, trans people don’t have shit as far as legal rights and protection go concerning things like access to healthcare, housing, and jobs, and they experience constant general overall shittiness and discrimination, harassment, and violence.

In the past couple of years, there has been a rise in trans visibility in the media, in the US in particular (though I see it outside of the US too), which is important and the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover is definitely one of the bigger moments. Sometimes I’m skeptical though, and I wonder how much of that visibility translates into the general public’s actual education and understanding concerning trans issues and experiences and what the real needs are.

This applies directly to me, I’m up on stage singing songs about my dysphoric experiences but in their everyday lives, how many people in the audience at a punk show still view or treat transgender people with discrimination? I hope for the best but I still wonder and worry.

I was on tour in Australia when the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover came out, a country where most states still require sterilization before legal recognition of one’s preferred gender on things like driver’s licenses and passports.

My friend Stephanie McCarthy lives in Sydney and plays bass in a band called Love Maul and she came to hang at a couple of shows. We had both started our transition around the same time. Having been in touch prior to the tour via social media, it was good to meet her in person.

This was our first headlining tour of Australia since I came out as trans and I wasn’t sure what the shows would be like. For the most part people were very welcoming, as they always are in Australia and I met a lot of amazing people from the Australian trans community doing important activist work.

Just as the tour was ending, I heard about a truly awful situation Stephanie said she encountered at one of her own shows just days after I had seen her. I was left feeling disheartened and realizing just how small of an impact this perceived tipping point of trans visibility has had on the world and on the average trans persons everyday experience and that there is still so much work to do before real progress can be equated.

I asked Stephanie if she’d have a conversation about what happened and she agreed. Here’s what we talked about.

Laura Jane Grace: So what the fuck happened?
Stephanie McCarthy:
We were playing a show on Friday night. We were on last and we got there at 10 o’clock, we were supposed to play at one, and a bunch of guys kept following me around, calling me faggot and the usual stuff. We told the security, we told the bar staff, they didn’t really do anything about it and about a half hour before we played, I was upstairs at the venue looking for our drummer and I just got hit and just jumped on by these guys, struck me from behind and they all just jumped on me.

So there wasn’t even an argument before, it was targeted? They just waited until you were alone?
Yeah, I mean they’d been following me around for about an hour and a half and several of my friends had complained. I walked past one of them and I had my hair tied back and he grabbed my pony tail and he just yanked it really hard and said, “Fuck you, faggot” As you know, I’m not the smallest person in the world, so I stood my ground, just said, “What the fuck is this all about?” Then the bigger of the guys just got right up in my face and you know, I made a rookie mistake. I just kept my eyes on him and the whole time. He’s got my shirt and I’ve got his. And then just bang and then they all jumped on me.

The worst part about it, the most damaging part is the security then escorted this guy out and just let him go before the police got there. The police station was only five minutes away. They lied to me. They lied to my friends, saying the police had him at the front and when we got out the front, I went up to the police station to give a statement and the police hadn’t even seen the guy, they hadn’t interview him. Something very sharky is going on, someone at the pub knew this guy or was related to this guy or something. They made sure he got out of there really quick.

And the pub is called The Townie?
Town Hall Hotel, yeah, in Newtown, right next door to the train station. It’s been there forever, it used to be really good, I used to play there 20 years ago.

So they do punk shows often?
Not super often, they sort of do a lot of mixed bills these days, but really in terms of the punk scene no one really plays there. For whatever better words it’s a cash grab gig. They pay relatively well but the bill we were on was, you know, not exactly bands I’d like go and see.

Were the people who attacked you there for the show or did they just happen to be there? Were they punks, is basically what I’m asking.
No. There was a big Frenzal Rhomb show down the road. It finished at about 11:30. So it may have been that they’d come from it. But no, they didn’t look punk to me. Maybe they were from out of town. They didn’t look like they were from Sydney.

The one thing that is really heartening about it all is just how people in the trans community and in the music community as well have stood up for me. I’ve had heaps of support. People have been really good.

Good. Fuck. What was your experience with the police? Did you feel like they were motivated to do anything or were they flippant?
This is the eleventh time since I’ve been assaulted since I transitioned and it’s easily the worst.

Hold on. The eleventh time?
Yeah. Eleven times and no one has ever been charged or arrested ever. There were individual officers who you could tell weren’t too concerned. They were really rude. They mis-gendered me. One even asked, “What’s your real name?” I was like “Uh, excuse me?” and whipped out my license, “That is my real name!”

The police… I’ve got to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I expected but as usual, when I got to the station to give a statement, they wheeled out the junior officer and she was very nice but from past experiences I’ve had with the police, I don’t think it will be top priority.

That’s fucking insane. Eleven times. Did some shit happen at our show the other night?
Yeah, Newcastle, a bunch of guys. I was right in front of you, I was about two rows back, and I came with a bunch of women I know from Newcastle. This one guy just kept shoving. I mean, I’ve been in a million mosh pits. I know that rough stuff happens. Because I’m so tall, when people crowd surf, I’ll get kicked in the head and stuff but this guy kept deliberately shoving me and he was pushing me into the young women I was with so I said, “Look, enough of this shit. Please stop it.” He was pushing me on the chest. Just grabbing my chest as hard as he could. He pushed me down and I stood up and said, “Look, if you do that again I’m going to hit you.” And nothing happened for about another 45 seconds. It was right in the middle of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” too, which is beautifully ironic. But I got sucker punched, I turned around and justwham! He hit me. It wasn’t much of a punch. The left side of my face is all metal plates anyways so I probably hurt his hand. But the fact that he yelled out “Fucking tranny!” That’s what I cannot believe, when you’re playing like, two meters away. Everyone was just dumbfounded like. “You fucking serious?”

That blows my mind. I’m so sorry, first off, I didn’t see anything happening or I would have stopped the show and had your back. But, what the fuck? Why would you come to our show if you’re a transphobic piece of shit?
Yeah, Newcastle really surprised me. I’ve spent three quarters of my life there, it is a notoriously violent town, very blue collar place, but there was a really good vibe there that night. Everyone was super friendly. I was just stunned. I ended up having to hold back my girlfriends from going after him.

The worst part, what really got to me, was his friends, like five guys started following me around the rest of the night afterwards telling me “He didn’t do it. He didn’t do it.” Yeah he did. Thirty of us saw him do it. Thirty of us heard him do it. But they’re like, “Not my bro!” So yeah… bros before hos is still alive and well in Newcastle. It’s sad.

That is fucking sad. I’m really sorry. That’s just fucked up.
You’ve got nothing to apologize for. That’s one thing I’ve learned over the last three years. The only person responsible is the person who does it. I’m certainly no stranger to violence. But yeah, every incidence of violence I’ve had in the last three years has been totally unprovoked and it’s always young men in groups. It’s always one guy trying to show off in front of his mates. Like, “Look how straight I am! Look how much of a straight guy I am!” I was just dumbfounded by it though. Though from what I heard, him and his mates had to be escorted from the venue.

So in thinking about the bigger picture… I’m not sure the impact it’s had here in Australia but I know you’re aware of the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover that it’s sparked a lot of conversation in the US, even though in the past couple years there’s been a lot of trans visibility, but did the Caitlyn Jenner thing have an impact here in Australia?
It’s a double-edged sword, really. I’ve heard from lots of people that I haven’t heard form in ages that actually want to discuss trans stuff. Which is great, you know? These are cis/hetero people who have never been near anything queer in their life. So that’s a really good thing, but at the same time she is such an unrealistic representation of what the average trans person is. Don’t get me wrong, she’s fabulously wealthy, good luck to her, she’s earned it but… I have a really hard time praising anyone who donates money to the Republican party. I can’t rationalize in my head how she does it. But hopefully good things will come of it. But as you just said, I’ve been around trans people for 25 years, I’ve had long term trans partners and the visibility increase in the media happened well before she came along, this has been like, four or five years that it’s been happening. It’s a slow climb. It will help the average person, especially in the United States. We don’t have the crazy religious right that you folks do over there, so I’m hopeful, but at the same time, I’m still skeptical.

For your average trans person, it’s still discrimination, violence, and not much changes. I think that’s why we need governments to step in as opposed to public opinion. There needs to be legislation protecting trans people. What happened to me, I hate to say, I don’t think there’ll be a great outcome. I’ve been to the police. Out of the eleven times I’ve been assaulted, this is the sixth time I’ve been to the police and no one’s ever been arrested. It’s definitely not a priority for them. And it’s the same with, like, I’ve been to job interviews were I’m super qualified, and the moment I walk in the door they take a look at me and they’re like, “I’m sorry, the position’s filled.” That kind of stuff happens every day for trans people. So until that stuff starts changing, I’m a little bit skeptical but I’d rather she had the publicity than not. Put it that way. I mean, it can’t be a bad thing.

Laura Jane Grace is on Twitter.