This Is a Story About Coming Out (This Is a Story About Canadian Rock Outfit Nickelback)

When I came out as trans, the time that it stuck, it was 8 p.m. on a Thursday in a two-bedroom apartment I lived in alone above a haunted electrical supply store. Over an open box of yesterday’s Domino’s pizza, I told my then-partner I had “I guess gender dysphoria” in my most eloquent manner. We went to Wal-Mart and bought yoga pants and Nair hair-removing strips that don’t really work, and I started a new road that would be long and winding and beautiful and painful in equal measure.

This is not, however, the story of that moment. This is a story about the Canadian rock band Nickelback.

On September 10, 2001, I packed most of what I owned into the trunk and recesses of my midnight blue 1995 Mazda Protege, loaded a CaseLogic CD wallet with 256 of my ride-or-die favorite CDs, and prepared myself for the most ominous of life’s greatest milestones: I was leaving town to move in with my girlfriend. She had left to attend school in Red Deer, Alberta, and so I had decided to follow and find what my life would look like in a new city with an old relationship that already wasn’t working well.

You know what they say though, nothing fixes a bad relationship like moving in together!

On September 11, 2001, I awoke to the news of the day, a thermos of fresh coffee and a desire for the open road. Where I lived and was leaving for the first of many times, the Yukon, panic and fear had set in there as well. And in the middle of the chaotic fear of the unknown was me, getting gas and loading up on bulk corn nuts at the grocery store where I used to work and where every now and then they still gave me my old 10% staff discount.

This is not a story about 9/11; it just happens to start on that day. It is still about the Canadian rock band Nickelback.

My girlfriend and I hadn’t been working for a while as a couple when we both lived in Whitehorse, and while she eventually left for college a year earlier, I stayed and worked to build up the working hours I needed to accrue in order to start attending trade school. I was an apprentice Glazier, which means I worked with glass. The cutting and shaping and installation of it in buildings and cars and your kitchen cabinets. Not glassblowing, although everyone would ask if that’s what I did, and sometimes I just said yes because it’s fun when people think your job is thrilling and exciting in a style that it rarely achieves. Yes, I am a writer.

The drive from Whitehorse to Red Deer is 18 or so hours, depending on how fast you think a midnight blue 1995 Mazda Protege can go. It was also the first time I had done this drive on my own — or at all. I had done trips to visit her before by Greyhound bus, which takes a lifetime until you discover that you can microdose Gravol the entire time and sleep through damn near anything.

My 18 hours on the road was the first time I had been alone in a way that rendered me unable to communicate with the outside world. We forget, as it is easy to forget, that 9/11 changed many things about our world, not the least of which is the strengthening of the surveillance state and the immense push toward total cell coverage and cell phones and being always on because if you are always on than you are a blip on some distant radar and to be a blip means you can be found and tracked and heard and perceived.

This drive though, this drive I was just someone driving a midnight blue 1995 Mazda Protege down the Alaska Highway with a two pound bag of original flavor corn nuts and a CaseLogic CD wallet that had the access point for a lot of my feelings. It didn’t have Canadian rock band Nickelback in it, because I didn’t yet know that they existed. They were just a landmark on a horizon I hadn’t seen, a landmark not placed on the fold-out map I bought from the gas station that never folded back together the way that it was when I purchased it.

Being alone on the road with my CD case full of feelings, I developed a knowledge with myself and the implicit trust that everything said in the interior of my car was private and safe and that I could share myself aloud for the first time because I didn’t live at home anymore and there was no one else here and no one listening.

That stretch of road in mid-September 2001 is the first time I admitted I was trans to myself, using the clunky language I understood in the early aughts. I think I said transsexual, Rocky Horror Picture Show being my best reference and my guide. Through the speakers — the ones I had installed myself because the stock speakers “just weren’t good enough” even though I only listened to punk rock and punk rock traditionally sounds like shit anyway — NOFX played the first time I ever admitted I was trans to myself. So in a way, “Linoleum” is tied to my transness as well.

Saying it out loud, in the freedom of a divided highway somewhere in the northeastern pocket of British Columbia, I had liberated myself of all my earthly burdens. I had been so afraid of myself, but in the removal of all outside forces there is nothing left to fear. And so why not know to say the truth aloud even just for a second? Let the words out of your mouth to test their strength and their power. It felt nice, it felt like I was saying the words of home for the first time.

The rest of my 18 hour drive, during which I did not sleep even once, I would say it again and again to myself and feel the rush entering my feet and circulating through my body and out my fingertips in explosive fury. I could have leapt over the moon if I wasn’t behind the wheel.

My partner and I had been fighting for so long and trying so desperately to make everything work in our lives, and now, here in the driver’s seat of a midnight blue 1995 Mazda Protege, I felt like I had unlocked the answer to a riddle that had plagued us all this time. Maybe if I told her this word that I had discovered meant so much to me it would fix it. Maybe this was the thread that would bind together the wound in our relationship.

I arrived exhausted after 18 hours of nonstop driving and corn nuts and telling truths aloud, and I slept for an entire day on a mattress on the floor of the small dark room of someone attending a very expensive college. When I awoke, I thought about sharing my news, sharing this secret word that could fix it. But I thought first it was best to survey the damage now that I could see it again with my own eyes.

In 2001, the Canadian rock band Nickelback appeared on the airwaves of our lives with the runaway smash success of their first single “How You Remind Me”, a song about a guy in a dysfunctional relationship with someone who continues to remind the protagonist who he really is. The song has long become the sort of joke we use to describe a certain genre and era of male-dominated gauche songwriting full of overwrought emotions and singing voices that sound like they’re both holding in a sneeze and trying to yell. It is easy to think of these bands and these songs as a joke, and just as we have forgotten so much of the way the early 2000s changed everything, it is easy to forget that when “How You Remind Me” landed it was an exciting new thing that a lot of people loved. A lot of people still do.

My girlfriend loved this new Nickelback song, and it was the defining feature of the shitty blue Wal-Mart stereo in her living room that was a CD/radio combination with built-in speakers and took six AA batteries if you wanted to take it on the go. “How You Remind Me” played in the morning as we drank coffee and ate toast wordlessly with each other. It played in the afternoon, when I slept on the couch with a book on my chest hoping to avoid a fight. And it played at night when she prepared to go out dancing at a club that sold a drink called a Vodka Slime by the jug.

Tired of livin’ like a blind man
I’m sick of sight without a sense of feeling
And this is how you remind me

The day I told my partner I think actually I wanted to be a woman, some night in late September in 2001 in Red Deer Alberta, “How You Remind Me” played on the shitty Wal-Mart stereo in the back of the room, and I watched her face fall to ruins as each syllable of the word that had come to mean so much to me escaped my lips. She stood there for a moment and then turned the volume up slightly and let Chad Kroeger’s voice fill in the space where our fight was soon to take residence. She let the sound of his sneeze-singing announce ironically:

It’s not like you to say sorry
Tired of waiting on a different story

Before, she launched into the fight I had been dreading. When she told me it wasn’t okay to lie about being a queer just to get out of moving in with her, when she told me what I was proposing was disgusting, and when the rest of the fight became drowned out in “How You Remind Me” by Canadian rock band Nickleback.

I left that night with all of my belongings back in my car and drove away from the apartment with the dark room and the shitty stereo that I’m sure was playing “How You Remind Me” on an infinite loop still, haunting the void I had left behind.

Like all bad relationships, we eventually tried to make ours work, and it did not, despite the fights we learned to avoid having and the feelings we learned to stop sharing. “How You Remind Me” continued to dominate the radio, and everywhere I went I could hear it and remember the moment I had learned what I thought was a powerful message of where I truly belonged became a beacon of despair.

I have referred to this idea of tipping a Coke machine over before, and here I am again reminding you of it. This wasn’t the last time I tried to come out as trans. A few years later, when I was in a new relationship that also wasn’t working because everything about me was a lie, I texted the woman I was dating using my t9 flip phone from an Arby’s drive-thru that I was a transsexual when we were having a difficult period and she wanted to try a new approach to our relationship. I thought this was my opening. To this day, I have never heard back from her, but I think I get the message. That kind of fight is hard to have with t9 texting.

When I hear “How You Remind Me” now, it’s almost wistful, a recovered memory of a difficult and sad time that is largely funny to me now. It was of course going to go badly because I wasn’t really ready, and I wasn’t telling the right person and, in fact, I needed to learn to become much more comfortable saying it to myself first. That would all come later, but that first time, in a shitty apartment in Alberta in 2001 while Canadian rock band Nickelback played angrily in the background, I said my truth for the first time, and it was rejected. The road was still long in front of me, I just couldn’t see it all quite yet.

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Niko Stratis

Niko Stratis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like SPIN, Bitch, Xtra, Catapult and more. Her work primarily focuses on culture, the 1990s, queer/trans topics and as often as possible where all those ideas intersect. 

She wrote that piece about Jackass that you liked and also the Gin Blossoms one. 

She is also the creator and host of V/A Club, a podcast about movie soundtracks.

Niko lives in downtown Toronto with her fiancé and their dog and 2 cats. She is a cancer.

Niko has written 30 articles for us.


  1. I really never got the hate about Nickelback. Like they’re not a good band, but they also are not terrible? Not a band to love but also not hate? Completely mediocre and yes, that certain brand of masculinity that is problematic but damn if ‘I like your pants around your feet… I like the way you still say please when you’re looking up at me’ wasn’t sexy to late high school me.

  2. THIS is so good Niko. Thank you for this piece. There is something, even still, about long drives, a lot like long periods alone in nature, any kind of isolation, that forces you to reckon with yourself, and that part, especially, I was hanging on every word. Thank you for capturing such a specific time period and for sharing this part of your life.

    • Nico! Thank you for this. And it’s true, I think there is an internal poetry to a long drive that morphs and molds the longer you’re on the road. Does the distance change us or the time? Do we arrive the same? I have questions! (road trip week?)

  3. “Like all bad relationships, we eventually tried to make ours work, and it did not, despite the fights we learned to avoid having and the feelings we learned to stop sharing.”
    This line absolutely cut me to the bone, know this feeling 100%…
    Amazing essay, thank you so much!

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