interview / Koko Ntuen
photos / Chad Howard
Gina Tron has plenty of stories to write about. From being an accused high school shooter, the fucked up New York law system allowing her rapist to walk free, being mistaken for Lady Gaga, to living in a mental institution, this blonde fireball isn’t afraid to put it all on the table. She has chronicled her life in publications, in addition to LADYGUNN, such as Vice, Wall Street Journal and Slate Magazine. In all her pieces she has her readers entranced by the charisma she puts into even the most mundane circumstances. Like being her friend, reading her book is easy. Her honesty and charm are like warm blanket and getting to know her will me your heart cozy.
The amount of time Gina and I have spent giggling in bars, speaking in gibberish and crying about boys, frenemies and life tribulations is enough to fill a book. However, her memoir is not about that, but about the day she decided to commit herself to a mental institution to deal with her overwhelming cocaine habit. We talk to Gina about her debut memoir, You’re Fine, out now on Papercut Press.
What made you want to write a book?
It was a lifelong dream of mine to become an author, to write books. However, the concept of actually writing one was so daunting to me. After I left the psych ward, I was so fueled with rage that I thought that writing about my personal experiences would be the only way for me to get my voice, and to fight back against my personal demons and external factors. It wasn’t as hard to do as I once envisioned. Not only did I want to take my power back, but I wanted to write a piece that would show people just how flawed the mental health system can be and how difficult it is to get proper help. I think there needs to be more discussion about mental health, addiction, and how the issues are treated. A lot of my experiences are not special at all. They are all too common, but nobody talks about them. People are scared to talk about addiction, even to their loved ones who are suffering from it. When I seeked out help, I was told to suck it up, that I’m fine. When I did eventually check into a place to get help, it was extremely disappointing. That psych ward was horrible. I know there are other places that are just as bad, if not worse, who only make the patients sicker.
Is there anything you left out because you were so freaked out?
I went back and forth on a lot of things. Some things I took out, and then put back in. It was really hard when it comes to writing about family and friends who are still in my life. If it wasn’t important or relevant to the story, but only shamed or embarrassed them, I would take it out. Some parts, I refuse to take out. Because if I did, it wouldn’t paint the proper picture of what it is like to be an addict, and all the horrible interactions and treatment you get before and during addiction time. Some people are just selfish junkies, which a role people love to put on anybody that does drugs. But some people are just trying to cope with their life and they don’t know any other way.
Why do you think drugs and mental health are portrayed as so taboo in the media?
We really are still in the dark ages when it comes to understanding mental health and drug addiction. I think our society, media included, isn’t educated or open minded enough to approach the issues properly yet.
What was the hardest part about getting back into the real world?
It was the second time I was an inpatient within about a month, and I didn’t get any results. If anything, I felt more alone and dissapointed than ever before. The hardest thing was finding the strength within myself to not give up, and to find purpose, support, and structure in my life.
Do you ever feel like you are going crazy?
Not anymore. I have cut people out of my life that invalidate me or treat me poorly. Everyone is crazy in their own way, and I realize this now. I don’t ever question my sanity anymore. I’m a weirdo, always have been, but I’m not crazy.
What is it like at Christmas at your house?
More about presence. Less about presents. Not a big fan of the holiday, for both consumer and personal reasons.
We all know you as sort of a rebel indie writer sharing your most personal stories with the world, secrets you will take with you to your grave? Tell us!
I’m not sure I have any secrets left. I’m an open book.
When did you feel the most free when you are writing?
I like when it doesn’t feel forced. When it feels like I’m just telling a story to a friend through my writing, then it feels the most free.
Do you just start writing or do you make guidelines?
It really depends. Sometimes, I will just free flow and edit it later if I want to do anything with it. Other times, I will give myself guidelines and go by it.
When is the You’re Fine movie coming out?
Haha. We will see about that. Scott Putesky (Daisy Berkowitz of Marilyn Manson) read the book and told me he could imagine it as a movie. He also said if it’s ever made into a film he would want to make music for it, which would be killer. There is a movie about another part of my life in the works right now. Screen Australia is in the screenplay process of a film about my high school experience, about when I was accused of being a potential school shooter (which I talked about a bit in You’re Fine.) That is scheduled to go into production around fall of next year.
Do you ever cry when reliving your experiences?
Not saying it can’t happen but I’m pretty detached from my experiences. I don’t view them as anything emotional anymore. Writing has been a healing process. When it others can relate to my feelings and experiences, it validates them, and it does make me feel better.
Whats the craziest thing that happened to you recently?
I like laughing at how much “craziness” and absurdity is in the everyday experience. People are petty and pretty stupid as a whole. Last week, I was on the bus, and there were two men near me who were well into their late fifties. One was chewing and popping his gum loudly, and the other was getting aggravated with him. The non-gum chewer called the gum chewer an an asshole, who responded by saying it’s his American right to chew his gum as loud as he likes. Then they started calling each other homophobic slurs, and threatening to kill each other. Soon, there was a threatening fist in the gum chewer’s face. The bus driver told them to separate and they both whined at the driver, as if they were in middle school, “but he started it!” The gum chewer moved to the front of the bus and chewed his gum loudly while smirking at the other guy.
Lastly are you fine now?
I would say for the most part, yes. I don’t suffer from any addictions and I am content with life. I’ve accepted life for what it is. But, I have never really had a break to process my experiences. It’s been pretty much non-stop work since I left the psych ward. Ideally, I want to do some sort of intensive and (well researched) therapy with people I can trust in the near future. I plan to do that as soon as I financially can.
EXCERPT FROM YOU’RE FINE BY GINA TRON
“I gotta weigh you in and do your vitals,” he said as he brought me to a room that resembled a doctor’s office. Dead Eyes tried following us in, but Sam The Guard slammed the door in his face.
“Vultures. Beware of them. They see a new girl and they swarm around like vultures.” He got out the utensils required for my vitals test. “Don’t worry though, they’ll sniff you out for a bit, and then leave you be. Just ignore them, and be careful.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s the norm. Are there more guys than girls in here?”
“Yes, by far,” he said while taking my blood pressure. Sam The Guard seemed genuine. I received no creepy vibes from him. You can tell a nice guy by the way they touch you, and I liked the way he held my arm to take my blood pressure. With creepy guys, you could be having the most innocent of interactions, a handshake for example, and they’ll go and rub your hand in a way that will make your skin crawl. But with a nice guy, you could be doing the most obscene of acts and it will never feel wrong. You could be giving them head and it would feel less gross than a handshake with a creep.
“You’re all set,” he said as he gently took the Velcro off my upper arm. “You can make snack time. It’s gonna start in a little bit.”
“Cool, thanks. It was nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m sorry that it’s under these circumstances,” he paused and smiled, adding, “I hope you like snoring.”
Sam The Guard left to bring my stuff to the lockbox or wherever they store cell phones, makeup and other types of contraband. I went back to my room and saw that he had forgotten my phone and the lone Benadryl pill on my night table. I wondered if it was a test. I immediately opened the drawer of the night table and shoved them both inside. A lot of people go to great measures to smuggle in phones and cigarettes. Cigarettes, I didn’t even try, and I wasn’t going to try to smuggle in the phone, but here it was.
I sat on my bed and noticed that my roommate was looking at me with glazed-over eyes and an open mouth.
Please don’t be violent. Please don’t be violent.
Not that I would have any legitimate reason to think that she would be. Even if she had any mildly violent tendencies, she was so sedated that the act of breathing seemed to drain her energy.
“Hi. I’m Gina,” I introduced myself.
“Shelby,” she said softly with a subdued smile. She was wearing a baby blue hospital gown of sorts: a tank top and skirt set. There was a bald spot at the top of her head, I assumed from hair pulling, and the rest of her hair was matted like a street cat’s. Based on her open-mouthed stare, I couldn’t help but assume that her mental health was as bad as her physical.
Sam The Guard came rushing back into the room with a clipboard.
“Do you like it here?”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” she said with indifference. “Where do you live, Manhattan?”
“No. Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy,” I responded. “You?”
“I live in the Lower East Side.”
“Oh, it must be fun to live there. That’s a fun place to live,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be condescending, but it sure sounded that way. I hoped she wouldn’t perceive it like that.
“Yeah, it is,” she sighed. “I just eat too much. I just can’t stop eating. That’s why I’m here.”
“Has this place been helpful?”
“Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of weight. But they give me only vegetables to eat, mostly. Sometimes I get the regular food. It sucks.”
I laughed nervously.
“So the food here’s not good?”
She pinched her face with disgust and shook her head no.
“But if you can get an extra juice box here and there, it’s good to save them.” She pointed to a stack of them on her night table. “There is no water fountain. If you ask, they can get you water from the kitchen, but there isn’t always someone there. I don’t trust drinking the bathroom water.”
I looked around the room. The window had stiff, painted over blinds. There was a little tiny wheel that I assumed would open the blind slits. I began trying to turn it.
“It doesn’t work,” Shelby informed me.
“Really? Then why do they have this wheel?”
I noticed a thick layer of paint over the wheel that essentially glued it shut.
“What drug are you here for, heroin?” she asked me.
“No. Cocaine. And a lot of other stuff, I guess. But cocaine is my problem. The rest, eh.”
“Hmm. Cocaine. That helps you lose weight, right?”
“A little bit, I guess, yeah,” I said. “But sometimes I eat a lot after I come down, so it kind of defeats the purpose.”
“Oh. That’s too bad. I always thought cocaine made people skinny. Well, I should tell you about the showers. You will want to use the middle shower. It’s the best one. The showers here suck. You have to press a button and the water only stays on for thirty seconds. But the middle shower is the best one.”
I felt like she was giving me an audio manual of how to operate here. And she was. It was a friendly warning of the hell that was trying to maintain decent hygiene at Gracie
Square. Decent hygiene was something I had been struggling with in general; I had taken for granted the two decades of my life during which showering and feeling clean were easy. In the last few months, I’d never been certain whether or not I was getting fully clean. I always felt dirty and sweaty, and I wondered if all of the acid and cocaine had made me hyperaware of the dirt on my body. Or was it simply because I was in my own world? I would catch myself just standing in the shower obsessing about my life instead of actually focusing on cleaning myself. There have been times when I would shave half of one leg and forget to shave the rest. I’d only notice in the unforgiving subway lights, and then I would hate myself for wearing shorts. Sometimes I forget my brain is inside a human body. I just live in the mind, and of the fleshy shell that surrounds it.