As I mentioned in my last blog post, I expected to learn a lot about what it means to be trans and its relation to suicide when I began this project. However, I have been surprised with how much I also identify with the issues that were discussed.
Essentially, I am a bleeding heart and I believe in supporting anyone that might be considered an underdog. I am passionate about understanding suicide and suicide prevention because my brother took his own life when I was eight years old (see picture with eight-year-old me and Eric, my brother). I expected to be able to get on board with suicide in the trans community because I do not want more people to have to go through what I went through losing a brother to suicide.
However, I found that the issues these transgender youth talked about are things I too have experienced.
1. If you have ever felt like family members just don’t get you or support you, you can understand. Most any person that has ever had family can understand what it’s like for a family member to not believe you or question a decision you’ve made. This might have been really frustrating when your parents didn’t approve of your boyfriend, or of your college major. It was annoying when you came home and they asked when you’re going to get a real job or finally settle down and have kids. Now imagine those experiences are about something much more integral to who you are inside.
2. If you have ever felt not man enough or not woman enough, you can understand. These stories are full of experiences in which they are made to feel, both explicitly and implicitly, not man enough or not woman enough. These stories are full of lifelong struggles to find a way to be man enough or woman enough – to be enough to get their parents off their backs; to be enough for a romantic partner; to be enough to finally feel okay.
3. If you have ever felt like your body did not portray how you feel inside, you can understand. I have never felt like my male body did not portray how I feel inside, but I very much know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not see a reflection that feels like me. Whether it’s the 40 pounds I’ve gained in graduate school, the ever receding hairline, or the wrinkles I’m beginning to see—none of these are how I see myself. I remember being completely unable to grow a beard in college, and how disappointed I was—it’s likely why I always have one now. These experiences, relatively minor for me, are also experienced by trans youth and much more intensely. As one of the participants said, “Being trans is about negotiating your body… it’s very much about your relationship with your body.”
4. If you have ever been frustrated by other people making decisions about you without your consent, you can understand. Whether it be how you dress or cut your hair, people are constantly commenting on our bodies. Take this up a level and this relates to people making comments or judgements about reproductive rights, the way a person’s body looks, or sexual practices and preferences. One of my father’s main lessons about life was the importance of agency each person has in their life. This means that I am the one that knows my life best and can make decisions about it. It also means I am the one that knows my body best and I am the one that can make decisions about it. I cannot understand the experience of what it’s like to be inside another person’s body; therefore that person is the one that is qualified to make decision about their body. If you really believe in body autonomy, you too can be a trans ally.
5. If you have ever felt uncomfortable or unsafe in a bathroom, you can understand. While this issue is getting a lot of attention now, I think most of it really misses the mark. There is a lot of talk about people wanting to feel safe in a bathroom. This is exactly the issue that transpeople and transadvocates are asking for. When these youth are talking about wanting to die, they talk about being rejected and made to feel not human. Being told you are not allowed to use a restroom because of the way you look is pretty damn dehumanizing and absolutely related to feelings of not wanting to live. I am not opposed to HB2 for political reasons; I am opposed to it because I believe a human being deserves to use the restroom without being assaulted or kicked out because of the way they look. I am also opposed to it because crisis calls to TransLifeline (a suicide hotline specifically by and for transpeople) have doubled since the passing of HB2.
One of the major themes we found in this project is a hesitance to trust and ask medical and health professionals for help because of a fear of being exploited. There are profound stories of being exploited and victimized when in suicidal crisis. These are absolutely valid reasons to be leery of seeking help. As professionals, advocates, allies, and fellow human beings we need to learn to treat trans* people as people.
Essential to this process is that we all look at ourselves and honestly speak about our purpose for becoming helpers. I am a straight, white, married (with kids), believing Mormon (cis)man, (click here to learn more about what a cis man or cis woman or cisgender is) and I became a helper because of my brother’s death by suicide. I still struggle with my own depression and desires to reconnect with my brother—25 years later. For this reason, I began my journey to be a therapist and help people struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Through sharing our purposes and motivations we can reduce the number of people in need that feel exploited by professionals. Our goal should not be to force people to live but to help them want to live.