I Was Bullied for Being Arab. Nine Inch Nails Threw Me a Lifeline.

I Was Bullied for Being Arab. Nine Inch Nails Threw Me a Lifeline.

The music — a kind of mechanical cacophony I’d never heard before — landed in my life with no context, a meteor from the sky. But instead of it creating a crater in my life, it slipped perfectly into the one already there.

On the surface, a bleak concept album about a man spiraling toward suicide, packed with explicitly sexual and violent lyrics — even if it’s regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time — might seem like an unlikely, even dangerous, salve for a sad girl paralyzed with anxiety. But instead, it threw me a line. Its themes of religious alienation, loss, loneliness, fear, anger and maybe most important, NIN’s signature theme, control — which I was desperate for — resonated deeply. To break free, I had to see my pain reflected and swim across that dark pool. That grinding, banging, cranking scream of industrial sounds transformed my shame to rage.

“There are others,” I realized. My people: outcasts, nerds, misfits, loners. And with that, my rebellion was underway. I began slowly shape-shifting from a ghost to a flesh-and-blood human. My choices, even the risky ones, were, for the first time in my life, mine.

We’re taught that risk-taking, thrill-seeking and fearlessness are the domain of boys and men. And that girls are flowers — precious, vulnerable and evanescent, to be protected from perceived forces of destruction. To me at 14, dark industrial music that flouted boundaries was the embodiment of courage and the antithesis of fear. Maybe that was part of the point: This music, and the identity that went along with it, was not intended for me (or so I thought), which only made me want it more. I guess I’m more of a weed, resilient and determined to progress, like so many girls and women.

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