About That Title

Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace explains why she decided to title her memoir 'TRANNY.'

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Mar 28 2016, 5:29pm

I’ve been lying awake at night lately, far past my bedtime, gripped in existential terror over the thought that there is absolutely no way I can possibly stop my mother from reading my soon-to-be released memoir, and no way she could not find out about its title, which is printed in huge letters across the cover, right above my face: TRANNY.

I debated whether or not to tell her the title in advance of the announcement but ultimately decided not to. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone besides Dan Ozzi, who wrote the book with me, my bandmates, management, and of course, the publisher, when asking for their approval. I wasn’t sure a major publishing house like Hachette would go along with a title as generally unmarketable as TRANNY, but I’m thankful for their support and vision to agree to it. What a strange concept, I thought, to have to ask permission from non-trans or gender-queer people to essentially call myself, a trans person, “tranny.”

But the title fits the book. After we had been working on it for months, and had poured several thousand words into it, I told Dan what I wanted to call it. “Now that I’ve heard it, I can’t imagine it being called anything else,” he said. There is a certain element of expletive present behind the title, sure, but in no way did I arrive at it for the purpose of sensationalism. I’m not attempting to publish a self-aggrandizing piece of writing here. TRANNY is an incredibly scathing look back at my life. There are themes of hatred and aggression, directed at me from other people, but mostly inwardly, from myself. I’ve been called horrible insults and slurs over my career, my reactions to some have even famously landed me in jail. But I’ve learned to adapt by embracing them, and using them as armor, which should be apparent from the subtitle: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout.

Let me put it like this: My arm is tattooed all black. If you see someone with an appendage that is all blacked out, that person has made some seriously questionable decisions in life. I am honest and open about my shortcomings, literally wearing them on my skin. So when writing about them, it seemed appropriate to wear them within the pages beneath the cover bearing this incendiary title.

The word has power, a lot of power. It’s a word most certainly used during murders of transgender people all over the world. It is a universal word of hate. It makes my skin crawl to hear it. I despise the fucking word, just as much as I despise the person I used to be. But I love art and I love free speech and I love words. In art, freedom of speech and expression must be complete and total.

When I came out as transgender in 2012, I was fully prepared for the word to be shouted at me in animosity. I even planned out in advance what my exact response would be when I finally did encounter it. I was just going to be super cool and calm about it, and let it slide right off my fucking shoulders and move on living. But, oddly enough, the first person to call me a “tranny” was not a raging transphobe, but another transgender person. The slur wasn’t said in hate, they weren’t angry with me, they were saying it conversationally. They were speaking “tranny to tranny,” they told me.

Last week’s public announcement of the title has been divisive in the trans community. Every move I’ve made over my career has brought some degree of controversy from both fans and critics, so I’m accustomed to it, and even expected it. For the most part, the response was positive and people were understanding, lending support to my choice to reclaim a word meant to dehumanize me. But some voiced their displeasure over my use of it, arguing that I was hurting the trans community’s years of work to eradicate the word. I listened to and respected all voices on the issue.

The most extreme criticisms claimed that my choice of title would “directly lead to harm of trans people.” A couple of irate fans told me they could never respect me again. While I understand the visceral reaction, much of it was based on misguided assumptions about me or my reasoning for the title. This is a book, after all, that no one has read yet.

On my last album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I used the word “faggot” in a song. No one seemed to have a problem with this because people heard it in context, and realized that it wasn’t said to be homophobic, but to call out homophobia. In the same way, I am using “tranny” not to be transphobic, but to call out transphobia. But a book is less immediate than a song, so its context cannot be felt right away.

I’ve thought a lot about what my six-year-old daughter’s relationship with the word will be. I often wonder when and how she will first hear it. Who is going to say it to her? Another kid at school? No, fuck that. I’m going to be the one to say it. I want to be the one who sits down with her and lets her hear it.

Evelyn, there is this word, “tranny,” and it’s worse than any curse word you can say to some people, worse than “fuck” or “shit.” But darling, you also have to understand that some people—people I am even friends with and whom I love dearlysay the world freely and even in reference to themselves and they don’t have any problem with it, and that’s totally okay for them to do and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

I’ll then tell her that I personally don’t ever want to be called a tranny, that it would hurt my feelings. I’ll also have to explain to her that I wrote a book, and that I called that book TRANNY, and that inside that book are a lot of things about me that may be hard to understand. They may be sad or ugly, but I can’t change the past, I can only try and be the best version of myself today. After that, it will be up to her to decide her relationship to the word and how she would feel about using it and how she will react when she hears other people use it.

When another parent at Evelyn’s school asks me what I do, I’ll tell them I’m a musician and an author. When they follow up by asking me what the name of my book is, I’ll tell them proudly, TRANNY. My daughter will hear moments like that too, and she will have to understand the difference in its usage in this context. She will hear it used many ways over the course of her life: in reference to me as used by friends, used as a word of hate directed at me by strangers, and hell, she’ll even hear it if she’s ever with me while I talk shop in an auto garage (I used to be an auto mechanic before I started doing all this touring stuff, which is detailed in the book too!). I hope all the usage of the word helps her to develop that ice-cool sunglasses emoji reaction to it, where it just rolls right of her fucking shoulders and she moves along living her life.

Ultimately, this word presents a choice to everyone on how to use or not use it. It’s my daughter’s choice, and your choice, and my choice. As for me, I don’t want the word to have any power. I don’t want to ask permission to use it. I don’t want to be afraid of it. Fuck it.

While writing the book, I thought a lot about Dick Gregory, a black civil rights activist, who gave his autobiography a similarly provocative title. So I’m borrowing from his rationale a bit here when I say this, but when my daughter and I are walking down the street together and someone yells “Tranny!” at us, I can kneel down to her, smile, and say, “See, they read my book!”

Laura Jane Grace is the frontwoman of Against Me! and author of the forthcoming book, TRANNY.