Gina Tron is an author and a frequent contributing writer for Vice, Ladygunn and Psychic Gloss Magazine. In her newest non-fiction book, “You’re Fine” Gina details her true battles with depression, addiction, becoming a rape survivor and her experiences in a mental institution all while maintaining a wonderful honesty and (as much as one can) a sense of humor about it all .
Interview by Emma Kathan
“T’was the night before Christmas when all my life was a mess. I knew I needed help, so I committed myself.” Photo of Gina Tron by Chad Howard
Writing this book took a lot of courage Gina. Maybe not even so much writing it and letting all of that shit out but the real courage, I think, came from the willingness on your part to share it with the world in all of it’s honesty and vulnerability. That’s not an easy thing for most people. How did you feel when writing this book?
I felt mostly anger when writing it. The only thing I felt like I could do was to write about it. It’s the only way I know how to express myself really is through my writing. So, it wasn’t hard at all to write about it at the time. I had basically lost the will to live and so I thought at that point it doesn’t really matter what I say or do so, fuck it, I’m just going to be as brutally honest as I can, which included being honest about all my flaws. So it did feel good to get to that point where I just didn’t care anymore. You know, when you’re younger you’re so insecure about everything and you’re just trying to get people to like you so much. That’s one of the benefits of getting older and gaining experience is that you overcome a lot of those insecurities you used to have because you see it’s a just a waste of your time.
I think it’s very brave and evolved to come to that conclusion and to be able to talk about all of the things that have made you insecure in the past. In the same way, I think it’s very brave and evolved to show such honesty in your writing about your cocaine use, the rape you endured and escaped from and the depression you suffered from. It was just so fearlessly honest and vulnerable, real.
I’m always surprised that more writers aren’t doing that actually; that they aren’t writing about what some people consider to be “taboo” subjects because there is a fear there. It has always been my experience that whenever I have written something personal about a taboo subject, as long as I’m telling my story honestly and admitting where I think I went wrong, nobody has ever gotten mad at me or treated me differently. With honesty, there’s really nothing to fear.
You also relay your experiences, no matter how dark, with a sense of humor. Humor along with honesty is another great way of breaking down someone’s defensive attitude. Basically, beating the trolls to the punch before they start.
I agree. I think humor is definitely necessary in the darkest times. For instance, some people think it’s bad taste to joke about tragedies but I think that at least it gets people talking about the uncomfortableness whereas they might not have been able to bring it up in a more serious way. Basically, I think it’s better to joke about a topic and have people talk about it then to not have people talk about it at all. When I watch most comedians, I see them just pointing out how terrible or absurd life can be and everyone can sincerely laugh at it all. Somehow just the act of pointing out how disturbing things really are can be really funny.
Definitely. So in your book, one of the topics you speak about with humor and honesty was your dealing with an addiction to cocaine. You describe a time when you would be doing coke by yourself in your room, staying up all night and trying to be quiet so your roommates wouldn’t know you were high and just kind of going crazy in your room. That really felt like that feeling of cocaine to me, this desperate awake feeling. In the book you checked yourself into an institution because you thought it would be the only way you could truly stop using. I was wondering if after being released, were you able to stay sober and if so, what helped you to do so in the real world?
Well, after I left the institution I went into an inpatient program for about a month and a half where I had to take drug tests every week. But they wanted me to be on so many pharmaceuticals that I eventually left the program but I was clean for awhile and I was going to AA and NA meetings and I actually felt those two programs to be the most helpful, more so than the inpatient therapy. I did start to drink again so I left AA and I never got into coke again like I did in my book but I did have some slip ups and every time I did slip up I would feel so horrible and guilty about having done it that it just took away any fun associated with it. So that helped me.
One of the other things that really helped me not do it anymore was that I remember being at a party with my roommate at the time and it was being offered and I was about to do some and he said, “If you do that, you’re not going to be living here anymore and we can’t be friends anymore.” And that just really hit me. I needed that structure, that ultimatum and it just made me think about what I was doing and what was more important for me: to be doing a line or losing him as a friend and it just kind of jolted me into realization. Before that, I just felt like nobody really cared if I did it or not and so I didn’t care. And I now I don’t do it anymore.
It’s crazy how many of our stories run parallel but I also had a similar story regarding addiction. I was doing speed (crystal meth) and lying about it (I’m sure unsuccessfully) to my friends and I remember one of my very dear friends said to me, “Emma, I just can’t trust you anymore and we just can’t be friends if this is who you want to be.” And it hit me so hard like, whoa, I’m going to choose crystal meth over someone that I love and respect? No way! And I honestly never did meth again nor would I. So I agree, that is really good advice for someone to remember if they have a friend or family member who is addicted to something harmful, that giving them an ultimatum: it’s our friendship or the drugs can really make someone see how ridiculous it is to choose some stupid harmful substance over true friendship.
Yeah, it was really a feeling of, wow finally someone is sticking up for me because I can’t. Most people don’t know how to deal with addiction because they aren’t addicts and they might not see that there is a problem with your doing a line of coke or speed every now and then or having a drink every now and then but if you are an addict, there is something wrong with it, because it never stays being a now and then thing, it becomes an obsession.
Exactly. I was reading about addictive personalities which I never really believed was a real thing because I thought everyone had the tendency to become addicted to something but, that isn’t always true and there are certain things either inherited or learned that do make some people more prone to addiction. One of the things is that people with naturally lower dopamine are at a greater risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol and also more prone to doing things that are considered dangerous or involve risk. It doesn’t mean the addict is always the type of person who likes bungee jumping and extreme sports but that they are generally more so the type of person who likes to see how intensely they can push their minds and bodies before it snaps. Addictive personality traits can also show up in the way addicts put themselves in dangerous situations to test themselves, or see how cleverly they’re going to get out of it. This of course gets intensified by our taking drugs or drinking to excess, in that we’ll do things or be in places or be with people that we wouldn’t be if we were sober but we want to seek out these thrills and then take more drugs or drinks to intensify the effect and we just never feel satiated, this can be alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, etc. Also being creative is being a thrill seeker because we want to find things that inspire us and most addicts are generally very creative people as well. But we want to feel things and we do feel things more strongly than someone who isn’t prone to addiction.
I have noticed that. When I first took ecstasy for instance I loved it and felt like I was so much higher than the rest of my friends, like I was experiencing it so much more than they were and I guess I’ve always felt drugs that intensely and the next day I was like, I want more. I need to do that again, feel that intensity again. Whereas other people weren’t thinking that at all. So yeah, I think there are some people who are definitely more predisposed to addiction.
What I find strange is that when you checked yourself into the institution for drug addiction, the first thing they did was to give you Seroquel, a strong sedative that is highly addictive! It’s sad that people who are coming in for addiction problems are basically just given drugs to sedate them and keep them quiet instead of having therapy sessions and trying to get to the root of their addiction problems. Describe how this medicine made you feel.
Totally. Seroquel just made me groggy, disoriented and tired the whole time. I also started to actually start craving my next dose before I would get it which was horrible because I was trying to get away from that craving feeling which is why I wanted to get off of cocaine. I couldn’t concentrate and I knew that I definitely couldn’t better myself if I was on that constantly. I feel like there are even certain people who check in to those clinics under the guise of getting better but they just want to take more drugs and they know that they can get an alternative to their heroin addiction for example and it will be something similar but because it’s legal their friends and family will accept them being on it. But these pharmaceutical drugs can be just as addictive and it’s not teaching that person how to cope with life soberly. It’s just giving them a different kind of drug that really isn’t that different from the street drug they were addicted to.
Also, going back to taboos, I think there’s still a lot of shame and taboo related to being an addict. People who have an addiction don’t want to talk about it because they’re afraid it will make them look weak or crazy and other people usually don’t want to hear about it because it makes them uncomfortable. A lot of people get addicted to drugs and just keep it in the closet and I think that if we can be more open about drug addiction and mental illness (which usually goes along with it), people won’t feel so alone with it. But addiction really is so common and something that so many people struggle with. It’s just comforting to know that most of the population is going through the same thing you are right now and that you’re not alone.
I think this same sentiment holds for being a victim of rape as well. There’s a lot of shame that the victim feels, they feel weak, violated, not the same person as they used to be and then to top it off they are usually ridiculed and looked down upon by the general public if and when they do try to talk about it. In your book you tell your story of surviving a terrible attack by a serial rapist and it’s so sad that when you tried to talk to people about it, you had the worst reactions no matter how “professional” the person you were talking to was supposed to be. So in this way, the rape victim basically gets attacked over and over.
It’s such a problem, this whole sexist bullshit backlash that happens when a woman comes forward. Once you’ve experienced sexual assault you see how backwards people’s responses can be and you just can’t believe it’s really happening. I just couldn’t believe that if someone came to you with a horrible story of being attacked your first response would be to say something terrible to them and not want to try to help them. I do feel overall that we are seeing more women speak out about rape and not being as afraid to talk about it. So there’s definitely some progression being made for women’s rights which is absolutely wonderful but I’m still so surprised that there is still this outdated model of how to talk to or help a woman who has been raped.
Definitely, and what’s so sad is that response is why a lot of women and men don’t go to the police in the first place or try to press charges because they assume that the police will just start blaming them the victim, and not do anything to truly help them so they just say, “why bother?” It would be as ridiculous as finding a person who likes to torture puppies and telling them, “It’s alright, those animals were asking for it for being so damn cute and weaker than us! Go ahead, they’re totally asking for it!” It’s just insanity that law enforcement wouldn’t be on the side of the victim of a crime because, you know, I kinda think that’s the reason the police force and the judicial system were brought together in the first place was to protect the innocent and accuse the guilty.
Yep, I don’t know what was worse the actual rape or going to trial and just being constantly disappointed by the way humans can treat you. At least I knew that the rapist was crazy and vicious but it’s just really hard to then see all of these people who you would expect to be on your side: police, doctors, therapists, friends, family not be at all, it just really destroys all of your faith in humanity. I really just needed to talk about it also with friends and they just couldn’t and I really needed to vent. I know that it was difficult for them to hear but hey it was difficult for me too! I just really needed support after that and I’m sure a lot of other people who go through that, really need it too. My advice for someone who has a friend or family member who has suffered some sort of sexual abuse is to just listen to them and don’t judge them. I just personally felt so betrayed by everyone. It was as if I could lie down and die right in front of them and no one would care. It really makes you feel abandoned and like nobody cares about you which is just doubly traumatizing. So I just think that’s another major problem is that people just don’t know how to handle rape victims. I think everybody agrees that it is a horrible thing but then when a victim speaks up and says that it happened to them, they then immediately get attacked with accusatory statements or silence and changing the subject. I wasn’t just bringing it up to get sympathy from people. I was bringing it up because I wanted justice and I wanted this guy to be arrested.
Right. And one of the things that is so bad about victim blaming is that the victims are already blaming themselves, they’re already thinking of things they “should” have done or why did I get myself in this situation, how could I have been so weak and didn’t fight back, why did I “let” that happen to me. It’s like if your best friend or one of your parents committed suicide and you’re just shocked and you keep thinking to yourself, this is all my fault. I should have been there for them. If I had done x, y and z, this might not have happened. But the thing you have to realize is that the person who did it, did it and sure there might have been things you could have done differently that possibly could have helped the situation but that isn’t going to stop the person who is mentally unstable from doing what they are going to do and it’s not going to change the past of what has already happened to you. The thing is, we shouldn’t have to walk around not trusting anyone and being afraid of every possible person and situation. That’s not on us. The person who consciously preys on victims and abuses them or kills for their own pleasure is the one that should be blamed.
I know that you went to trial and tried to prosecute him. What was the outcome of the trial. Was he ever arrested?
Well, it was me and two other girls who he attacked and we testified against him and it went to trial and dragged on for two years because he had a really good lawyer and came from money. So they kept postponing it and postponing it and two years later his lawyer said he was rushed into the grand jury and wasn’t able to answer the questions right so they wanted to bring it back to the grand jury and have us re-testify. At that point the two other girls didn’t want to do it again because it was so stressful. So it was only me and it wasn’t a strong enough case and they just asked me the most ridiculous questions like, why wasn’t I as bruised as I could have been! Also, his lawyer brought up all of these pictures of me that he found on my social media pages, you know me in a bathing suit or looking sexy, to try and show that I was a slut and all of these writings I had from my online blog or any kind of violent drawings I had ever made to make the argument that I liked violent sex. Just ridiculous stuff like that to try and make me look like I wanted to be raped and beaten and possibly killed by someone! I was also being advised to wear a wig because I have platinum blonde hair and they thought it would be too distracting and it was just all so ridiculous and it shouldn’t matter, because it really doesn’t matter. I could have a tattoo on my face and that’s still not an excuse for someone to rape me. They also brought up a picture I had where I was joking around with a gun to my head and so they were trying to make the argument that I liked to have sex with a gun to my head. So anyways, I testified and they decided it wasn’t going to go to trial and he walked free. There were some guys on the jury and their argument was, maybe if she was punched more, had more bruises than she did… or why didn’t she just leave? Because he was much stronger than me but I did try and eventually did escape! I showed them all of the text messages I was trying to send to my friends for help. Also, when the rape occurred, I was just in shock. When it happens to you, you just can’t believe it’s really happening. You have a break from reality and I was just waiting for it to end. He was much stronger than me and I just had to wait because I just really didn’t know what to do and how to get out of this situation safely. You know, everyone knows the right thing to do or say until they themselves are in the middle of a crisis situation like that.
Then later I was hearing in the news about a Park Slope (area in Brooklyn) serial rapist and I feel in my heart it was the same man from the descriptions and it just is really infuriating and heartbreaking. It’s one of the reasons I wrote that article for Vice about the rape, so that other girls might have the strength to come forward too.
That’s so good that you did that. That just makes me so sick and angry that they attacked you that way and that they let men like that go right back out to society. Because it just always escalates and the next step for him will be to murder someone if he hasn’t already.
Exactly. Things really need to change. Ideas need to change about what this really is and it’s insulting to both men and women this idea that men can’t control themselves and women are asking for it. First of all, of course men can control themselves and most of them do and what are women supposed to do, never leave their house their entire lives, never see friends, never have parties or go out and have a drink with friends, etc? Why does all of the blame typically shift towards women?
Well, we’re usually an easy target because we’re not usually as strong physically and we typically don’t want to start any wars, we typically just want to live life as peacefully, creatively and lovingly as possible. We’re not into claiming territory and claiming people as our territory. It’s a huge difference in thinking. I’m not saying all men are like this and all women are like that, just typically as female earthlings, we look at life differently and aren’t as violent as men usually are. Whether that’s nature or nurture I can’t be sure but I definitely know many beautiful, sweet, and caring men who would never dream of hurting anyone and those are the men who need to be exemplified, not the anomalous rapists and murderers who get all of the press.
I think one of the things I’ve noticed going through this ordeal is that most men don’t want to think of women as people. If a prostitute were to get raped, every man would say something like, “Well, she’s always having sex for money though so how is this any different?” instead of thinking, “This must have really hurt or been damaging to her as a person because it wasn’t her choice.” Because even having sex for money is (usually) your choice but being raped is never, ever your choice. That’s what I don’t think men understand, that it doesn’t matter how many times a person has had sex in their life, being raped is not sex. Having sex with someone is a mutual agreement between people, rape is not. Women are just looked at as a decoration, they are there to be admired, looked at, and touched because that is how the media presents us over and over, it’s dehumanizing.
I agree and I think feminism has helped us so much but still has a long way to go as far as being an accepted civil right. I often think it will be the last of the civil rights to be recognized. If we look at how things have changed since the 1950s-1960s we can see great strides in race relations, the end of segregation for instance in America was huge and I’m not saying race relations are perfect yet either but, for instance, you’re not going to see on your family sitcom night the word nigger being used but you will hear: bitch, slut, you throw like a girl, crying like a little girl (have you really never seen a little boy cry?), not to mention all of the rape jokes, it’s just awful and I don’t see how someone can think that’s ok to keep hashing out these vicious stereotypes without trying to be smart about it and think how it effects both girls and boys.
I have a lot of different theories on the causes of sexism but I think one of the reasons that men fear or dislike the idea of a woman being free and happy, either sexually or otherwise is that men were brought up and taught that they had to repress their feminine side. So anytime they acted emotional or liked to play dress up, or run around happy and singing they were scolded and taught that was wrong and negative behavior so I believe that causes a kind of hatred and resentment when they see women doing what they want to do but feel they can’t. I could be completely wrong here but it is an idea that has seemed to be relevant at times. That’s why I feel so surprised that the new generations aren’t rebelling against these terribly confining ideas set up for them by their elders. I mean come on boys, be punk rock, wear a dress, accept and love yourself and accept and love women! Fight the power!
Yeah, gender roles are incredibly harmful. The old adages of being “lady like” or “boys will be boys” is so constrictive for both of the sexes and really needs to be thrown out and like you were saying there is an idea that to be feminine is to be weak like when men say to another man, “Don’t be a pussy.” Whenever I hear that it just makes me cringe. Women are actually very strong and it just doesn’t make sense to me that men would think women aren’t strong. Physically men are generally bigger than women but one’s physicality does not alone define their strength.
Definitely, and what is so strange to me is that if you are physically bigger or stronger than someone why would it ever be your first instinct to want to beat up that person or force them to do something because you know they can’t fight back physically as well as you can. That would be like me walking down the street and seeing a seven year old boy and just punching him as hard as I could in the face and then just keep walking laughing to myself at how “strong” I was.
Ha! That’s something that is good about being a woman is that we do realize our physical vulnerability but being in touch with your vulnerability allows you to be honest and compassionate with other vulnerable beings.
Beautifully said, and that’s what I really admired about your story is that looking at your pain with honesty, humor and vulnerability, you achieve a new strength and sharing it with the world is an incredibly strong and helpful thing to do for other people who have been raped and or have been an addict and who may still harbor some shame about these things happening to them and so they keep it inside. I think your story can help by inspiring people to speak out more about these topics and to feel they aren’t alone.
Having no shame is the way to go. When I wrote this book and whenever I write the most vulnerable things I’m always a bit scared in the beginning that my friends will read it and just not want to be my friend anymore. But I really feel like it makes people like you more, the more honest and open and vulnerable you are. And it may sound cliché but you really should never feel afraid of expressing yourself because of fear of what other people might think. If other people think of you negatively then they shouldn’t be your friend in the first place. Living through and expressing something like this can really show you who you’re friends are.
Gina Tron’s book “You’re Fine.” is available now through Papercut Press.