January 01, 2015

#RealLiveTransAdult and the Trans Culture of Death

First, let me say that the recent trans suicide has affected me more deeply than most, enough to break radio silence and contribute a few tweets to hashtag . It's been moving reading these tweets over the past few days.

But to follow up, I have been for many years, and remain, very concerned about how the trans community embraces and promotes these tragic losses. In 2010, over on Helen Boyd's My Husband Betty message board, I posted (in response to a call to action about a recent trans suicide):
So no, I will not blog or post to facebook or increase the media footprint of this sort of event. Because there is another GLBT youth sitting out there right now feeling unloved and unimportant, and that young person might just decide that, like this young man, he or she is worth more to the cause as a beloved martyr than as an obscure, lonely youth 
And Leelah Alcorn's suicide note posted on tumbler points exactly in this direction:

My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
Following that formula to it's logical conclusion, the more trans suicides the better. Get the numbers up...

This is not a new idea, back in 2011, David McFarland, of The Trevor Project, wrote an Advocate editorial entitled Our Role in Stopping a Suicide Crisis
But there are ways of talking about suicide that could increase the likelihood of other at-risk people attempting to take their own lives.  This is because suicide is closely tied to psychological well-being.

When we draw direct lines from sexual orientation or bullying to suicide, it can influence someone who is at-risk to assume that taking your own life is what you’re supposed to do next if you are LGBT or bullied. This may not seem rational, but attempting to take your own life is an irrational act.

As a caring community, we can help avoid making suicide appear like a logical choice by putting distance between statements or stories describing instances of bullying and instances of suicide.
I'm not sure what the answer is, not even sure there is an answer. The only thing I can come up with is visibility for those who choose life - but even that has its downside. Knowing how fraught a transgender life can be and the personal costs of visibility and outness, I wonder how many suicides by out and proud transfolk (and there are many, all of the suicide victims I have known personally have been post-transition, supposedly "over the mountain" in terms of this difficult path) could have been avoided by a little more turning inward, a little less flying the flag.

There are probably two dozen reasons why I have chosen a less public life, post-transition. Some of those are self serving, no doubt, aware of my own acquired cisgender privilege and ability to move through the world with my trans history below the surface. Some are based on my own awareness of the need to "affix my oxygen mask before helping others". Some come from watching transfolk ripped to shreds by others in the community for espousing other than the company line; my attitudes and beliefs are more nuanced and less politically correct and have drawn fire in the past. And some are based on an awareness of how transfolk like me have dominated the discourse over the decades, how perhaps the best way to permit other voices to be heard is to self-silence, to step off the stage.

Perhaps there are no good answers. There is another dead trans youth. Her image and name are already making their way onto the wall of beloved martyrs. And there is a lost and lonely trans kid sitting at a keyboard somewhere, balancing a difficult and seemingly intractable life with the fame and glory that a public death would bring.  

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