By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit
Exile in Happy Valley
In case you haven’t noticed, the news has been pretty fucked up lately and frankly so have I. This isn’t exactly a new development for me or the world. In fact, for as long as I can remember, it feels like the planet has been burning behind an unblinking lens while I bawl my eyes out in the corner but lately, I’ve been getting a little exhausted by all the carnage. Just when I thought that nothing could be more infuriating than watching wave after wave of conscripted slaves being blown to bits for NATO in Ukraine, Israel decides to respond to a completely avoidable terrorist attack by declaring total war on the children of one of the most impoverished places on earth.
Every day is body parts and rubble and screaming babies and I’m starting to break. I turn off the BBC every night and cry myself to sleep only to get up the next day and lose my shit in line at the drug store. It feels like I’m drowning in death. I can’t get their faces out of my head. Broken, smeared with blood, eyes screaming ‘why?’ They all look so familiar and it’s burning holes through my heart like a lit cigarette.
So why not just turn it off? According to every other asshole, it’s apparently that goddamn easy. Just pull the fucking plug, get offline, or better yet get a grip. “The world isn’t all about you, Nicky. You have to learn to take these things a little less personally.” I’ve been hearing that advice, often unsolicited, for most of my life and maybe, for the sake of my increasingly brittle mental health, I should finally suck it up and take it. Everyone from my elementary school teachers to my own editors have told me in so many words to settle down and get objective. So, why can’t I just behave like a good little journalist and stop crying into my keyboard?
Because people have been telling me to shut the fuck up and behave for my entire life and my writing, for better or worse, is the result of a childhood spent being abused, ignored and punished for speaking out about it. This is my voice, and this is what I have to say.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Agoraphobia. Gender Dysphoria. Repressed Memory Syndrome. Fancy words that come with the torture of getting to know myself over the last decade in order to figure out why I spent the better part of the decade before it too terrified to even leave my house. It all started with me realizing that my gender identity had become a prison cell but the moment that I picked that lock I began plummeting perilously down the dark abyss of a bottomless black rabbit hole of things that I had purposely forgotten and things that I dearly wish that I could forget.
These things seemed to go from harrowing to downright horrifying about six months ago when I bumped up my estrogen dosage from six to eight milligrams. That one extra blue pill seemed to come crashing through me like a stone through a stained-glass window. This was the dose that finally put my hormone levels within the normal female range and the moment I got there a whole lot of really scary shit began making way too much sense and this includes my apparently pathological inability to get the screaming children of the Middle East out of my head.
You see, once upon a time, I didn’t know that I was supposed to be a boy. I was very small and perfectly content with not being saddled with the expectations of a concrete gender identity. I was a fragile, dreamy little creature who adored Madeline books and Tim Burton movies. I wanted to be Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. A girl stitched together by her own hand from all sorts of different things that other people didn’t want. But at some point, it became painfully clear to me that my parents and seemingly everybody else expected me to be like my older brother.
As far as I was concerned, this wasn’t fair. They had it all wrong. So, I tried to tell them in the only language that a three-year-old child is fluent in, the tantrum. Thousands of them. Each one more epically obnoxious than the last. I screamed. I shouted. I broke things. I refused to eat. I refused to use the bathroom. I refused to behave at all as long as I was expected to behave like a boy. My parents wouldn’t listen. They just got mad and told me to settle down and shut the fuck up.
My Catholic preschool seemed to agree and when the adults at that fine institution began pushing their great big hands all over my tiny scary body, I assumed that it was all part of the same punishment for my misbehavior. I learned my lesson. My body did not belong to me. It belonged to everyone but me. It belonged to my parents, my teachers, the Church, the Pope, and Jesus Christ and in these people’s hands, it clearly wasn’t safe for me to be a little girl anymore. So, I made that little girl disappear. I buried her deep beneath the floorboards of my subconscious and became the only kind of boy that I was capable of being, a silent automaton drifting through the grades in a numbed-out daze with the fires of hell roaring at my back. That is until 2003.
I reached puberty the year that George W. Bush invaded Iraq on the basis of a lie that was obvious to a fourteen-year-old zombie in a fugue state but somehow seemed to fool everyone else. Suddenly, all those pious adults who taught me to turn the other cheek while they groped me were ready to blow up the world on some cheap revenge kick after being caught off-guard by 9/11.
Soon, Bagdad was burning, bloody broken little girls were being dragged out from under the smoldering rubble, and I couldn’t be silent anymore. A thousand childhoods were being smashed a minute by grown-ups who I finally realized were nothing but hypocrites and liars. So, I screamed, I shouted, I dressed in all black, I wrote Black Flag lyrics in the margins of my textbooks, and I refused to stand for their Pledge of Allegiance or bow to their false idols. I finally found a voice that felt like my own and the adults crucified me for it.
They called me a monster. They accused me of dressing like a gang member and supporting the terrorists. They told me that they were afraid to leave me alone with the younger students. They accused me of plotting to shoot my classmates and burn down the school. I tried to tell them that I was just a pacifist who was appalled by their war against children, but once again, they didn’t fucking listen. That’s when I finally learned that adults hear only what they want to hear so that’s precisely what I told them from that point on.
I burned my peace flag and became their monster. It seemed like a better option than returning to my vow of silence, but the goal was still the same. Keep the prying hands of the world off of that little girl inside the boy. I stopped smiling. I watched Taxi Driver twice a week. I shaved my head into a mohawk and dressed in an old army jacket and combat boots. I became an adolescent terrorist and relished in my newfound ability to horrify people who still thought they were in charge of me.