Sunday, August 11, 2019

I Was a Red Flag Kid

Middle school sucks for everybody. But its harder for some people than others. After nearly a decade at a small, conservative, K-8 Catholic school, I was beginning to chafe beneath the cross of my mental illness. I had suffered from depression and anxiety since early childhood but as I entered the maelstrom of my teens, these issues became too turbulent to conceal. I didn't feel like the other kids and my awkward individuality felt far from welcome among the pious adults. Even beyond my ability to cope with the basic everyday stress of being an active human being, I felt strange and detached from what passed as normal in this stifling environment. My body felt like a mistake and I couldn't shake the fear that these feelings were evil. I had never heard of words like transgender or genderfluid. This was the Nineties and the only people who looked the way I felt were Dennis Rodman and Marilyn Manson, and the generally excepted wisdom at my church was that these freaks were going to hell, and so was I.

I was terrified. Terrified of myself. Terrified that if I ever let people in, that if people ever really truly saw me, they would either burn me at the stake or run screaming for the hills. So I retreated and found ways to cope. I lost most of my friends but I found shards of myself through the awesome power of punk rock music and radical politics. George W. Bush dropped bombs on Baghdad when I was in 8th grade and the very next day I came to school with a peace sign strapped to my arm. In early post-9/11 middle America, this mild gesture of resistance was tantamount to burning a pentagram in your forehead and declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

I spent the proceeding weeks and months engaging in all out verbal combat with nearly every student and teacher I crossed. It was exhausting, but for the first time in a very long time, I wasn't scared, I was proud. I had declared my independence from "normal" and stood my ground and it felt empowering. So I dressed in all black, stopped standing for the pledge of allegiance and gave up on trying to please the normal people who occupied my life. I decorated my backpack with badges emblazoned with the portraits of my new saints; Kurt Cobain, Che Guevara and Joey Ramone. Then the wolves came in and normal bit back.

My poorly trained principle called me to her office and informed me that the whole school; students, parents and teachers, had been talking behind my back and they all agreed that my worst fears were true. I was a monster. I was accused of a litany of fictional offenses, from dressing like a criminal to plotting another Columbine. My hysterical principle had even gone so far as to contact the archdiocese for advice. All of this lunacy, the entire witch hunt, built on little more than small town rumors and soccer-mom hearsay to back it up. The only facts these adults needed to know to demonize a frightened child was that I was different and I was mentally ill. Up to that point, I had never even considered violence of any kind, I was a goddamn pacifist for Christ's sake. But after being ostracized the way I was by "concerned adults", I felt like burning that school to the fucking ground. I held high hopes that a secular public school would be different. But the very next year, the same thing happened all over again, this time over a graphic short story I wrote as a nonviolent alternative to arson. I've been broken ever since.

I was a red flag kid, dearest motherfuckers. The kind our truly psychotic president has been demonizing on social media, like some self-loathing preteen troll. The result of these experiences continue to haunt me. No one should ever be made to feel like monster when they're only 14 years old, especially not someone who was very clearly emotionally fragile. But as traumatizing as these experiences were, they would have been ten times worse in today's police state climate. After a seemingly endless string of mass shootings in the heartlands of the most violent empire the world has ever trembled beneath, everyone seems desperate for a quick and easy government solution to a very complicated socio-cultural problem. If I had been 14 in 2019 or, even worse, 2020, the predatory adult authority figures in my life would have been empowered to use police resources to restrain me.

With frantic calls from war-mongering politicians and alarmist talking heads to crack down on the mentally ill like a human virus with the revocation of our constitutional rights and even draconian measures like involuntary confinement, what we're talking about here isn't addressing the very real problem of mental illness, it's weaponizing it. We are talking about giving the state the downright Stalinesque ability to police an entire class of people numbering in the millions, not on their actions but on certain authority figure's fear of crimes that have not yet been committed, gutting due process like a fucking trout in the process. Well, this is one crazy person who won't fucking stand for it.

I do not own a gun, but as a mentally ill person, I am far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. And as a trans person, I do not nor will I ever trust the police to keep me safe. I should have every right to both my Zoloft and my revolver. The Constitution doesn't come with asterisks. But with today's rapidly expanding red flag laws, all the state would have to do to disarm me of my Second Amendment rights is point to my online activity as a radical anarchist with connections to both the far-left and the far-right and tell the public that my mental illness and social media extremism makes me a threat to myself and others. And if I resisted this blatant violation of my basic human rights, it would only give them the moral green light to throw me a Ruby Ridge Chivaree.

I honestly don't have all the answers to America's epidemic of mass shootings and though I think our countries war addiction is a much more likely culprit, I don't deny that mental illness and gun culture are part of the problem. But turning this country into a giant goddamn gulag is not the solution. As I mentioned above, millions of Americans suffer from mental illness and even more millions of Americans are discontent with the derelict state of our dying empire, I honestly suspect the latter informs the prior rather than the other way around. Vilifying these people, especially when they're young, will only push them deeper into the shadows where they can fall prey to violent parasites like ISIS, the Alt-right and the US Army and maybe that's the point. My point is that the problem isn't the mentally ill, it's the society that alienates and stigmatizes us for not fitting their tight definition of normal in these pathologically abnormal times.

When I was a scared, lonely, confused adolescent, all I really needed was for someone to fucking listen to me, and that's the one thing I do have in common with these shooters. We're all too goddamn busy with our fears and hang-ups to just sit the fuck down and fucking listen to one another. We need to fight the stigma. We need to put down the fucking phones, turn off the fucking news and stop turning to the police state to raise our fucking children for us. The violence doesn't stop until we shut the fuck up and start listening to these kids before they have to start a fire just get our attention.

Peace, Love & Empathy- Nicky/CH

Soundtrack; songs that influenced this post

*  Toy Soldiers by Martika
*  Kerosene by Big Black
*  Everybody Does by Julien Baker
*  Sin by Nine Inch Nail
*  Old Friends by Pinegrove
*  I Wanna Be Sedated by the Ramones
*  Heart Attack by Slaughter Beach, Dog
*  Policy of Truth by Depeche Mode
*  Get Your Gunn by Marilyn Manson
*  I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats
*  Everything Is Embarrassing by Sky Ferreira
*  Blank Generation by Richard Hell & the Voidoids


  1. "I think our countries war addiction is a much more likely culprit"

    You've hit the nail on the head, considering that a large proportion of these shooters are veterans, some of them veterans of Armageddon like battles such as Fallujah. This is also the theory put forth by Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

    As you allude to, however, it's more than the specific violence of warfare. It's the culture of violence in general reinforced by the State, by the acceptance of violence as "justified" when the State commits it. Even the so-called anti-gun movement has to have a little cognitive dissonance to endorse the gun violence inherent in enforcement of gun-control laws. Those who wish to ban guns would not be eliminating guns, they would simply be monopolizing them it the hands of the brutal State.

    I suffered from a form of depression early on in life, although not as severely, and in a different form, than after I officially became "mentally ill" at the age of 24. I didn't fit in and didn't really know why. I wasn't gay or trans, I just thought differently than most of my peers. While I was horrified by the violence of warfare, I generally accepted the notion that it was necessary to defend our freedoms. While some of my compatriots were marching against the war and the draft, I was lost in my own little world, and did not see the relevance of political action to my life. To this day I still marvel at the fact that the public-school authorities didn't see there was something wrong with me for many years. I guess it's just that my depression manifested itself simply as withdrawal rather than becoming a "problem" child.

    About the absurdity of "Red Flag" laws: Isn't it a little bit scary that George III would have considered every rebel colonist to be "mentally ill" and a danger to themselves and others? While I would not trust myself with a gun and probably will never own one, I can see many reasons why some people officially designated as "mentally ill" might find one useful for defensive purposes. It is not too much of a stretch to believe that dragging a trans person a mile from your pickup truck could easily morph into dragging a mental "weirdo" the same way.

    Hey, Comrade, if I ever do make the clean break to New Hampshire I would love to stop by your place on the way and meet you. I don’t know if you drink at all, but maybe we could go to a bar and have a drink.

    1. I'm a bit of a teetotal, but if you ever pass through Central PA, you better stop by. You're practically family at this point. The whole New Hampshire migration project fascinates me, but I doubt I could leave this place even if I wanted to. For better or worse, Happy Valley owns my soul.

    2. Is "Happy Valley" actually an official name of a town or region? I always thought that the name of your blog was strictly metaphoric, and kind of sarcastic, as in "Not So Happy Valley."

    3. It's kind of an unofficial nickname for Centre County. I always found it pretty ironic, so it does have a sarcastic bend to it.

  2. Do hope you're not serious about the Zoloft. No better than a placebo. Clinical trials 10-12 weeks. You trust that? The DSM is another load of prime US bullshit. It pretends it's there to describe pathology, when everyone who works in the field knows it's primary purpose is as a billing device. Mentally ill? Bull's coach Phil Jackson - a devotee of the Lakota - recognized Dennis Rodman for what he is, Heyoka, the contrarian, often a medicine person, and said so. Schizophrenics are incipient shamans in a culture utterly blind to their calling. Think HR from Bad Brains. Keep up the good work.

    1. I remember the Heyoka comment. It was weird to see someone so straight laced be so uncompromisingly supportive. Jackson was the definition of an ally. Zoloft is way over prescribed, but it has saved a few lives, mine included. I like to say, there is no such thing as a bad drugs, just wrong drugs for the wrong users. I'm totally with you on the DSM. It's total horseshit. They still have Ray Blanchard writing for them, one of the countries foremost transphobic hacks. I have had the good fortune of having several friends throughout my life who are registered schizos and they do have a tendency for being hyper-woke individuals, people on the spectrum too. Thanks for reading.