Writing poetry and music to me means survival: An interview with Rachel Mesic
Rachel Mesic is a talented artist, musician and poet currently residing in Mississauga. In this candid interview, Rachel opens up to WIMA about her ongoing battle with mental health issues, where her powerful and moving lyrics comes from and her experiences as a Non Binary Trans Woman.
How do you define yourself?
This is a hard question to answer without describing my gender, sexuality and mental state. There is a huge dialogue going on about how someone’s gender, sexuality or mental illness does not define them (and for some people that I can’t speak for, I’m sure it does!) but for me I find that my gender and mental illness affect literally aspect of my life, and so they do in a way define who I am.
With that being said, I first and foremost define myself as an artist, musician and poet. Without art I wouldn’t exist. Art is woven into my very being.
In terms of gender I define myself as a Non Binary Trans Woman. I use the word “non-binary” as a descriptor because while I feel fully female and not male in any way, I also am a third gender. I feel like my gender is not the same as a cis or binary female. Personally, my body plays a huge part in the way I perceive my own gender. I was assigned male at birth, but none of my organs or DNA are “male”, My body in itself does not fit a sex or gender binary. I have boobs and a penis, things that are typically coded “female” and “male”, respectively. Sometimes I wonder if I identify as a third gender simply because I have not been accepted by cis society as a woman. A “normal” woman. Maybe I have not been able to accept myself as a binary female because of the dysphoria I experience toward my body parts that are coded “male” by society. Maybe I’m just not exactly sure who I am and I think that’s okay.
I deal with many mental health issues, however I don’t think I fit one descriptor perfectly. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, general anxiety and depression. Dealing with mental health issues is a huge part of who I am and they have shaped the way I deal with life. Many times my mother has told me “you are not like your friends, you can’t stay out late and wake up early, you have to take your medication everyday”. She is so right, and that’s why my mental illness defines how I act and who I am.
SHORT ANSWER: I AM A MANIC TRANNY WHO MAKES MUSIC AND STUFF
You’ve mentioned being from Southern Ontario. What were you like growing up?
I was born and grew up in Mississauga, Ontario; a bedroom community just west of Toronto. I am really lucky to have been born into a family that has always had enough. My parents bought the house I grew up in (and am currently living in) before it was built, when all of the community I live in was basically forest and farmland. Over the years the area became more populated, and the prices of the houses went way way up. The community I grew up in is called Meadowvale.
As a young child I think I was really happy. Obviously I don’t remember many experiences, but my mother told me I was a very thankful child. She always tells me the story of how she brought me and my friends to McDonalds for my fourth birthday and I just kept thanking her. I remember that birthday. I remember being so happy that she bought me both the blueberry AND the apple pie. I am really lucky!
In grade 5, I first remember experiencing thoughts about suicide. I was an “emo” kid and I had long hair that covered my eyes and it had red dyed in it and I’d wear coloured skinny jeans. Sometimes I’d paint my nails and wear eyeliner, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I’d put on eyeliner when she wasn’t home and then try to wash it off. I’ve come to terms that my mom just didn’t understand. She’s supportive now. I was so trans and I didn’t realize it. I think I used dressing “emo” as a way of wearing feminine coded clothing and accessories without being overtly ridiculed by society.
I remember telling a girl that I was bi when I was in grade 7 and she was like “omg are u gonna change your facebook” and I was like “no, I’m just joking” cause I KNEW it would become a huge thing.
I dated a girl when I still thought I was a guy and she’d say she was a lesbian and that’s really trippy to me.
Once I got to highschool I completely regressed. I honestly became a zombie and I’d just smoke weed every day, zone out and beat myself up in my head. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I had no safe way of exploring my sexual identity as a bisexual trans woman safely so I got into a lot of trouble exploring it in unsafe ways. I got into the kind of trouble that causes a lot of trauma. I didn’t know I was transgender. I thought I was a perverted crossdresser or something because that’s what was pounded into my brain from birth. My mom knew something was wrong with me in highschool. She kept asking me and I didn’t even know myself. I hung out with the people who smoked weed and the people who smoked a lot of weed were mostly macho cis men who really fucked with me for being like “beta”. I remember fighting this really huge guy because he stole my chain and I got the shit beat out of me but everyone respected me for fighting him. I thought that was some really weird male ego thing but maybe I got some satisfaction out of it? I wanted to be accepted.
It wasn’t until I left highschool that I began to actually come to terms with who I am. I saw other trans women on facebook and I realized I’m not a pervert, I am transgender, (although in this very moment I am cringing with dysphoria). The internet literally saved my life.
When were you first exposed to music and poetry?
My earliest memories of playing music were with my dad’s electric guitar. He had it from when he was a kid but never played it and I wasn’t supposed to touch it but I would. I remember it had like 3 broken strings for most of early childhood. I would pretend to strum the guitar and fantasize that I was Avril Lavigne (I was such an egg). My friend Chris who lived across the street from me wanted to start a band. His brother played guitar and my brother played guitar and he played bass so I chose to be the drummer because we needed a drummer I guess. I remember chris and I making a guitar out of a shoe box and making a drumset by using the mailbox attached to the wall by my front door as a cymbal and a recycling bin as some kind of drum. I remember playing a song for my neighbours and it was called Living on Rock and I was just going like “I’m livin on roooock” and strumming this shoebox guitar that made no musical sound.
When I was 12 my parents signed me up for drum lessons (again, I am so lucky) and bought me a practice pad and eventually a used drumkit of craigslist. I made a band with two people who were my best friends at the time and we called our band “Communist Party of America” even though we had no clue what communism was. We just thought it was funny. I lost those friends (at least one of them) because I’m trans.
I think the first person who introduced me to poetry was a teacher in grade 5 who was really cool and into art and not doing homework and she praised my poems a lot. It made me feel like I was good at it and I guess I wanted to keep doing it.
What does writing poetry and music mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Writing poetry and music to me means survival. The only thing positive thing that comes from the negative emotions is art, so when I make art when I am feeling bad (even suicidal) it creates some kind of positive outcome. Making art when feeling suicidal also creates a feeling of permanence, a feeling of being present in the world, a feeling of creating something larger than myself, a feeling of progress and a feeling of safety. Sometimes the thought that keeps me going through life is “I can’t die, I haven’t created my magnum opus”.
Where does your emotional drive derive from?
My emotional drive derives from my will to overcome the mental anguish I experience: wanting to die but wanting to not want to die; transmisogyny and how it makes me so angry. My emotional drive derives from friends who love me and friends who I love; friends who are fucking themselves up doing drugs; friends who I am worried about. My emotional drive comes from wanting to succeed even though my mind is telling me to give up. My emotional drive derives from chemicals in my brain. My emotional drive derives from wanting to beat the ups and downs. My emotional drive comes from the random people who view my art. My emotional drive comes from anxiety, drug abuse and things I don’t need. My emotional drive derives from overcoming, being empowered. My emotional drive comes from love. My emotional drive derives from me wanting to be me.
Is it harder to write a happy song or a sad one? Is it therapeutic for you?
It’s much easier to write a sad song because sadness is probably the emotion I feel most intensely. Maybe sadness is the wrong word for it, but sometimes I feel so bad, evil. I’m feeling that way as I write this. Beyond songwriting, it is definitely therapeutic to create when you are feeling bad. You can focus on something else other than your negative thoughts. Writing this right now is helping me avoid negative thoughts in fact. When you have something to finish you have a purpose. Writing sad or bad music or whatever also allows me to say my deepest feelings toward people who I am close to. It allows me to say things I could never speak to someone. It allows me to pour feelings out of my head. Writing music is also therapeutic because it allows me to find others who relate through the internet and concerts. Playing music in real life with other people is one of the most fun things ever and I feel so content when I am jamming. I need more of that in my life.
As an artist with mental health issues, how do you maintain your mental health? How do you practice self-care?
Maintaining my mental health is one of the hardest things in my life. I’m still learning to figure it out but personally the most important things for me to maintain good mental health are: maintaining a creative flow, avoiding drugs/ junk food, taking my medication every day and at the same time every day (I’ve been on a mood stabilizer called Seroquel for about 6 months now. It literally saved my life), getting enough sleep, having a consistent schedule and surrounding myself with positive people that I love. I can’t say I do all these things 100% because mental illness an addictive all-or- nothing personality, is what makes it hard to do those things in the first place, but I am getting better.
I think it’s important to have “self care days” where I can just focus on my mental health and getting better. I find it’s really hard to give myself a break because when I’m not busy I get down on myself and I just keep going and going and my body crashes. Sometimes I need a few days to recharge.
It’s also important for me to have days where I can just be alone and record music. I need to be alone so I can scream and sing and shred and just let everything out. I feel more motivated toward working a normal job and doing normal people things when I know I’ve made a song or some piece of art that I am proud of.
It is very important for me to talk about my feelings. My struggle with that is that I feel like I am always venting to my friends and they find it annoying. I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve sort of been trying avoid talking about my ‘ mental illness’ too much. Sometimes it makes me feel worse because it’s like picking at a scab. When I feel like I can’t talk to someone about my problems I tend to write poems or just write in general. To be honest writing all these words in this interview and venting to this page are helping me so much right now.
What kind of work do you want to create, and what work are you inspired by?
I want my art and Transient Girl to be something all encompassing in terms of art. I want it to be more than music and poetry. I want Transient Girl to be a feeling. An identity. Something larger than myself.
Recently I’ve been getting inspiration from listening to music made by other trans girls. There is some special connection I feel when I listen to music made by people who I know have experienced transmisogyny.
When I was younger I listened to a lot of math rock and midwest emo music. I feel like that style will always be sort of engrained in me because of the nostalgia.
I usually go on jazz binges where I will become obsessed with becoming an amazing jazz drummer. I think what I really want to do is incorporate jazz styles with what I’ve been doing now. Like, imagine swung emo. I wanna swing and be a trans girl sad emo post rock experimental jazz whatever person!
Maybe I don’t want to confine myself to a genre though. I like a lot of different styles of music and as I make music I want it to be ever changing, transient. I’m sure I’ll get tired of the sound I’m making now soon enough.
I want to express love.
WIMA will be premiering your video for “What kind of girl are you?” Can you talk a little bit about the vision for that?
I am so honoured that WIMA will be premiering my video because it is such a great organization and I love them.
I don’t want to say too much about the video yet except that it will have a lo fi candid vibe and deal with the concept of transience/ impermanence.
What projects are you currently working on right now?
I’m currently mixing and finishing vocals for a Transient Girl album and soon I will also be releasing a collab with noise artist Goth Girl. My real life friends and I have made a collective called Bird Block and they have been making hip hop songs and they are honestly amazing and it’s gonna be so great when they release them. I’ve also been jamming with my friends Matt and Mike and were making a band called Internet Girlfriend. Things to look out for.