INTERVIEW | Mia Priest
BAND: Nightmare A.D.
PROMOTER: Get in the Penh
As a website steeped in the ethics of hardcore and punk rock, there are times where the following statement for some strange reason becomes controversial:
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/HeartAndPassion.DIY
To us, those who found our way to this underground world full of the marginalized, ridiculed, humiliated, despised simply for being something significantly different then what society expects of us, the above statement IS the foundation and definition. This is where if you are different – the doors are swung wide open for you to a scene/community waiting for you with open arms.
But in recent years with the growth of hardcore and the simultaneous explosion of right wing/conservative sentiment the world over, it seems more and more that intolerance has filtered into our world. It is a strange day when we have to sit and explain how hatred for the LGBTQ community has NO place in hardcore/punk rock.
Today, we give voice to one of many transwoman around the world who have endured a tumultuous life journey through gender dysphoria to finally many many years later arrive at a place where they are happy and comfortable in their own skin. Our friend Mia Priest plays in a hardcore-metal band out of Cambodia called Nightmare A.D. and on the verge of the release of their second full length entitled Phantoms of Our Ruin, she was kind enough to spend some time with a very candid interview talking about her life and transition.
For those of who you who aren’t sure about the LGBTQ community (as if their choices have any impact on you), take a moment to read through this interview and try to begin to understand that the world is only NOW starting to understand our fellow beautiful human beings like Mia.
Hi Mia! Legend has it that you’re actually from Singapore, owned a record store there and only recently moved to Cambodia?
Haha! Yes, the legends are true. I owned a store called Hell’s Labyrinth from 2008 to 2011 and I also played in several bands such as Impiety and Abyssal Vortex and my own bands Absence of the Sacred and Blood Division.
Mia in Impiety
I moved to Cambodia 4 years ago now actually! I formed my newest band Nightmare A.D. here while living and working as a freelance print production designer for bands, record labels and entertainment companies but now back to working full-time in the academic field.
Mia’s current band Nightmare A.D.
You are indeed quite the legend especially with that list of stellar bands that you were a part of. Nightmare A.D. is also easily the best thing we’ve heard out of Cambodia as well – something that has a cohesive sound and doesn’t sound like a bunch of musicians only just getting into heavy music. Was it easy to find members in Cambodia? Having been there with my last band King Ly Chee – I know the scene is relatively small.
I’m just doing what I love: playing music! Thank you for the compliment! Nightmare A.D. did practice hard and we are seasoned in our own way; Ned used to be heavily involved in the 90’s/early 2000’s hardcore scene in Minneapolis, Todd played in some Rock and Metal bands in New Zealand and Australia and Genesis played in a few Rock bands here in Cambodia prior to being part of Nightmare A.D. I think it’s easy to find members here but it’s hard to find the ones that click with you and stand by you (for better or worse). I was actually at your show at Showbox when you guys played here, but I didn’t make it in time to see you guys as I didn’t know the show started early! I only arrived when the entire gig was over and I was quite bummed out.
Yes the scene here is very small but it’s getting bigger now. I do events here under the name Get In The Penh (with the support of the community and great venues like Oscar Bar) and it’s been getting bigger each time we do it! We’ve just finished our fourth instalment with Warmouth from Indonesia, Dieu A Quitte from the UK and local legends Doch Chkae as well as roaring newcomers As The Heart Betrays. I see more and more new faces at each show and it’s been encouraging to say the least.
Indonesia’s Warmouth playing in Cambodia at Oscar’s Bar.
If you don’t mind, I would love to get into your gender identity. People in Singapore who may be reading this interview would know you better as Mike correct?
Sure, I was known as Mike Priest back then, but it’s a name I definitely no longer go by.
As I teach in a school and have seen a few young children who better identify as the opposite gender then their birth gender, how soon were you aware?
Well I liked “masculine” toys like toy guns and swords when I was a child, but had a strong feminine side. I actually gave my first childhood kiss to a boy my age. I always felt disconnected from my body and I didn’t know why for a long time. I grew to loathe myself and it was difficult to understand why at the time as I was going through other things like being subjected to verbal and physical abuse at home and sexual harassment from grown men at times when I slept on the streets or ran away from home.
When I was 19, I was on experimental depression medication prescribed to me by psychiatrists after some deep personal loss and family problems and actually helped me to break down my mental barriers and reservations and started to understand and rely on myself better as my reality was muddled from the medication and I had only myself to cling onto in this insanity. I started seeing guys as I thought maybe I was gay, but it still didn’t feel right. I had several boyfriends (one of which I recently got in touch with) but in the end I decided that I was bisexual as I still was, at the time, attracted to women as well. However sexuality and gender are two separate issues and I wasn’t aware of the difference at the time. I only was fully aware of who I am 2 years ago after almost killing myself (due to many factors including a failed business and general depression) and giving up all the alcohol, tobacco, meat and harmful substances in general for several months. It was then that I realized who I was and it all made sense. Before that I was a severe alcoholic and hadn’t been properly sober in over 10 years. Everything clicked inside me and I felt this gigantic weight off my chest, a weight that I thought I would carry to the grave. I never felt so happy and never felt so much like myself in my entire life.
Also I definitely identify as a woman, a proud transwoman at that. I would say that sexuality wise I’m straight (as in I like guys) and I think it’s the hormones that have shifted my bisexuality more towards men in general.
Gosh…a lot to unpack there especially with the tumultuous life that you have led and I hope you find yourself in a much happier place. You mentioned that as a child you had to endure some abuse from your parents (which I think will probably click with most Asians), was it at all due to their confusion about you or was it regarding something else?
Haha…yes it was a crazy childhood and adolescence for sure. I’m definitely in a much happier place now!
Yes, the abuse was quite bad especially from my father. It was a mix of things, especially when my parents got divorced. My father took out all his rage on me as I was the only person he’d see when he got home from work. It got to the point where he pinned me to the wall and was strangling me that I thought enough was enough and that was the first time I ran away from home. He also always accused me of being gay even before I had boyfriends. Maybe that had an effect on his rage as well but that doesn’t matter in the totality of what he did to me.
“Just before starting hormone therapy and then after half a year on Estradiol Valerate then almost half a year on spiro + estradiol. Face is doing great but still need to work on reducing upper body mass and tone abs.”
How old were you when you first ran away? I’m assuming this is in Singapore? You mentioned that old men would actually approach you on the streets for sex?
I was 14 when I first ran away and yes this was in Singapore. Well men (strangers) would assault me and try to kiss me in quiet areas and some would make very sexual comments to me, highly inappropriate considering I was 14-16 years old at the time!
Many people who turn to extreme music do it for personal reasons, some of it may be due to abuse or anger or confusion and view it as a catharsis for their emotions.
Yes – that’s exactly why I turned to heavy music as well. I was dealing with a physically abusive dad and general confusion of my identity, not due to gender but due to be Pakistani living in a Chinese city going to an American international school. That’s why to this day at 42 in a few months, this music/culture/world still means so much to me.
Oh definitely. Having an abusive parent or abusive parents are a catalyst towards anger and hate. Also the confusion on where you belong definitely does not help matters any. I’m glad we found music to vent out our anger, otherwise I think you and I might have ended up in a really negative life situation.
At 19 when you were going through a period of depression and you started seeing psychiatrists, do you remember the moment that a light went off in your head based on something that they said that helped you understand yourself?
Unfortunately, nothing the psychologists said (they’re the ones who talk or counsel) helped and one even told me that he had no idea how to help me. The psychiatrists mainly just prescribe medication after you tell them what you’ve been through. I had to rely on myself and my very small circle of close friends in order to keep my sanity and myself intact.
You mentioned that it wasn’t until only 2 years ago that you finally reached a comfortable place. Was their anything that took place that helped you come to terms and be happy with who you are?
Yes, stopping alcohol and substances in general and eating meat helped me a lot in terms of having a clear mind and seeing life in a perspective where I left off. I had to deal with family loss at 19, and two weeks after I was drafted into the army. That was my deep personal loss that made me spiral into heavy alcoholism and substance abuse for over 10 years.
So when I got clean and vegetarian, my life became better and I started seeing things more positively and my body started losing weight and I was finally seeing myself like how I was before my mother died and started to recognize and relearn who I was before the depression took its final lasting grip on me. This helped me to finally realize who I am and come to terms with myself.
So this was the process/journey of you realizing that you identified more with being female then male?
I mean I was suffering from major depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, had a very bad trip one day and locked myself in my apartment for four days, thinking that a drug cult was waiting outside my house to abduct me. In those four days I sobered up, threw away all my cigarettes and alcohol, stopped the substance abuse. I then became vegetarian and quit eating meat. This went on for a few months and my body started changing. It was then one day I looked into the mirror and I saw myself change closer to how I was when I was 19, which brought back memories of my sexual confusion and self-loathing. It then hit me all of the sudden as I noticed the femininity of myself and it struck me: Am I a woman? Holy shit. And then it all made sense. Everything about my history, the confusion and the self-loathing all clicked together and made sense. That was when I realised and identified that I am a female.
Wow! And what steps have you taken since then to help with the transition? Until this moment what was your wardrobe like?
Well I started on estradiol valerate, a bioidentical hormone to estrogen a year ago and started on testosterone-blockers for about 8 months now. The effects have been progressively noticeable and I am happy with the results so far.
I think clothing is just fabric on the skin, so it doesn’t really matter if I wear a blouse and skirt or a t-shirt and jeans. A man can wear a skirt and still be a man and a woman wearing a tuxedo can still be a woman. It really doesn’t matter.
How receptive/supportive have your family and friends been towards your transition?
Well my mother is gone and I haven’t spoken to my father for 5 years due to other reasons. I have no brothers or sisters. I still am in contact with my mom’s side and my godbrothers, and they have been really supportive and are just happy that I am happy. My father moved to the Philippines over 12 years ago so I don’t really see him.
As you transition with the hormone supplements have you found any side effects? As you used to be a vocalist for a death metal band – have you noticed any impact vocally?
Hormones don’t affect the voice for male to female transpeople. Testosterone does affect the voice for female to male transpeople though, estrogen does not, so no change for me! haha…
I have to either go for voice training or voice feminisation surgery which is available in Thailand and Korea.
Wow! And are you considering that? Are you considering any other type of surgery as well?
Yup I’m actually saving up for my surgeries. I’ve had facial laser hair removal done, braces done, next will be lasik for my eyes and hopefully voice feminisation surgery. I do want the whole SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) done, as in genital surgery as well as facial feminisation surgery and maybe breast augmentation that will take awhile though.
Do you have a ballpark figure in how much total you think you’ll be spending? Is this something incredibly important to you to fully feel like a woman?
Well the surgeries will cost around a total of around $50 to 80k. It’s alot but I’m really saving up and doing bit by bit except for the major ones.
Yes it is important to me because biologically I am born of the male sex (sex and gender are two different things), but I want to bring that as close to my gender as it is currently medically possible in order to live my life the way I see myself.
As you’ve transitioned, and clearly become more confident/open about it in the process, have you had to face any awkward reactions/prejudice?
Oh yes, almost every day but most of the time it’s minor things. I’m almost “passable” (I hate that term as it is a very ableist term) in public except when I talk it becomes very obvious as I have quite a low voice so I have faced some transphobic incidents but I do not let such assholes dictate what I do and how to live my life.
This really is quite the story Mia and I really thank you for taking the time to share this with us. As you open up about your life and the journey you’ve taken, is their anything you’d like to mention people out there who are experiencing things that you have experienced? Whether it be a general confusion in identity, sexuality, etc?
Well I would to like to say that people who experience dysphoria with their bodies and/or have gender/sexuality issues, do not be ashamed of it. Do your research and talk to professionals who are able to assist you and counsel you on these issues. You are not crazy and do not let so-called friends or family belittle you or mock you. You are so much better than that. In the end of the day, you are responsible for your own journey in life. Take it in your hands and don’t let others do it for you. Your happiness is your own and it doesn’t belong to anyone else.
Real friends and family will support you and stick by you. I’ve lost many in my social circle since I came out publicly, and I don’t really care about them or what they have to say, especially those who are religious or hold conservative views. In the end of the day, people come and people go. Nothing is forever and change is the only constant in this world. We live, we grow, we learn. Just be who you are, do what you love and do it well.
This morning Nightmare A.D. debuted a track off their album – check out the madness below and get stoked to hear the full album soon!