Tom Gabel of Against Me! (a punk band that formed in Florida in the late 90s, when punk was starting to kind of maybe think about being relevant again) announced recently that she is transgender and will be transitioning.
Amid the hue and cry -- because there is always hue and cry at these sorts of announcements -- two refrains rang out among the fans:
“But what’s going to happen to your sound, man?”
“But he was so hot!”
Now, it’s actually factually true that Laura Jane Grace is going to sound different from Tom Gabel. But, you know, the existing Against Me! albums sound different anyway. Because musicians do this thing where they change their sound.
Against Me! has been pretty constantly accused of selling out at every turn, anyway. Maybe they’ll make a new album and maybe Laura Jane (I like using both names because of Reasons that are probably Southern in nature) will actually be amazing. Punk is kind of a boys club -- we need some new voices. (And, yeah, I think some of the response is about a popular punk being a woman after all.)
But it probably won’t matter to half the fans because they’ll be pissed off that the album isn’t exactly the same as “Reinventing Axl Rose.” Or the same as “New Wave.”
You cannot freeze a band in amber. Well, you could try. But they’d probably be very sticky and not make many more albums. Because it’s hard to make an album when you are frozen in tree sap.
The other half of the fans will, perhaps, remember that people’s voices change over time anyway. Unless they’ve never heard recordings of Wayne Newton when he was 15 years old versus Wayne Newton now.
Listen, I love Wayne Newton, but he’s not hitting those high notes the way he used to.
It’s the other one that gets me, though. Like, we’re really going to tell a person not to transition because they were hot?
You know who else was hot?
Seriously. (See also: Vladimir Putin, Action President.)
Fascinatingly, his relative hotness didn’t prevent him from turning into a dictator with a lolrus mustache.
Hot people do a lot of things. Sometimes they just hang out and get hotter with age. In America, the opinion seems to be that this usually only happens to men. Unless you’re Helen Mirren.
Sometimes, they puff up and stop obsessively working out and America turns on them. And sometimes they go back to their natural hair color -- I’m sorry, Benedict Cumberbatch, but this one is for you.
On the other hand, sometimes hot people change their look and remain hot. Laura Jane might be smokin’ hot. You don’t even know! None of us do!
Both of these responses are predicated on the idea that the fans are the true owners of a musician’s identity and aesthetic appeal trumps musical talent. Which is pretty fucked up, right? Am I the only person who thinks that is fucked up?
Musicians don’t owe us anything in particular -- they especially don’t owe us static identity just because we get off on their image at any given moment. Especially punk musicians. I mean, how unpunk is it to be upset that someone is potentially not as attractive as they once were?
Spoiler alert: That is not at all hardcore.
Yes, Laura Jane is going to sound different and she might not do it for the folks who thought Tom was hot. I think she’s pretty fucking amazing for telling people about it in the first place. And THAT is hot.