Punk Rock Frontman Tom Gabel Comes Out as Transgender

Slate's Culture Blog
May 9 2012 2:17 PM

Against Me! Singer Comes Out as Transgender

Tom Gabel of Against Me!
Tom Gabel performs withAgainst Me! at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in 2010.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Tom Gabel, lead singer and songwriter of the punk band Against Me!, has revealed to Rolling Stone that she plans to begin living as a woman. Gabel will start transitioning by seeking electrolysis treatments and taking hormones, and will remain married to wife Heather, who Gabel says has been “super-amazing and understanding.” Eventually, Gabel plans to change her name to Laura Jane Grace. The origins of that name, as many have pointed out, would seem to be explained in the lyrics to Gabel’s 2007 song “The Ocean”:

And if I could have chosen,
I would have been born a woman.
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura,
I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.
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Gabel is by no means the first entertainer or public figure to transition, but she is one of several transgender people who have lately been increasingly open and forthcoming about the subject. The most well-known is probably Chaz Bono, born Chastity Bono, whose gender transition was documented in the 2011 documentary Becoming Chaz, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Gabel also joins transgender singers like Antony Hegarty of the acclaimed group Antony and the Johnsons, who has strived to educate Americans on the subject “for the sake of other transgender people who have to stay invisible.”

Other public figures have taken a more private approach. The Wachowski sibling who co-directed films like The Matrix as Larry Wachowski is now known as Lana Wachowski, and is widely rumored to be transsexual (something that finds resonance in Lana’s work). Most recently, in the film vs. digital documentary Side by Side, the Wachowski sibling is interviewed and credited as Lana Wachowski. (Over at ThinkProgress, Alyssa Rosenberg points out that when Rolling Stone wrote about Wachowski, it was less sensitive.) Pioneering electronic musician and composer Wendy Carlos waited more than half a decade after undergoing surgery to announce in Playboy that she was no longer Walter Carlos. (Carlos perhaps best known for her electronic album Switched-On Bach, has also scored several notable films, including A Clockwork Orange.)

While punk rock prides itself in raging against the establishment, the scene hasn’t always welcomed every kind of outsider. Various forms of bigotry allegedly bubbled below such punk touchstones as the crowds at CBGBs and the “disco sucks” campaign, though subsequent movements, including queercore and riot grrrl, later made the genre more inclusive.

Gabel has expressed his discomfort with being a man in several songs, and was even confronted about such lyrics in an interview: Spin notes that she was once asked, “Do you put on panties when you’re at home?” Gabel declined to answer the question directly, saying that the “idea of gender confusion is a topic that fascinates me, for sure.” (The interviewer then asked Gabel’s bandmate whether the songwriter was dodging his question.) The moment goes to show that, while the punk scene may be a more tolerant place these days, Gabel’s courage is nonetheless inspiring:

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.