Suicide is something that most, if not all, transgender people think about
By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—
I just was informed that a transgender friend of mine has taken her life. She was young, smart, and pretty, but I guess you never know what people carry inside them. Something must have bothered her terribly.
I met her at my Springfield, Massachusetts transgender support group, UniTy, and she seemed happy that night. I didn’t pick up on any sadness from her that night, just pleasantness with a bit of cheer. I wouldn’t have guessed that she would end up this way. She is not the first member of my support group to pass away at their own hands. I can’t say for sure, but I think this makes at least 10 the number of members who, I believe, have taken their lives. It’s very tough when people you know end their own life.
Suicide is a big problem in the transgender community. Studies show that 41% of all transgender people attempt to take their life.
What percent of transgender people think about suicide? I don’t have an exact answer but I can tell you something Keri Stebbins, the executive director of UniTy told me. She told me that at one meeting a discussion of the issue of suicide within the transgender community arose.
At one point Keri asked for a show of hands of anyone who had ever thought of committing suicide. Keri told me that every single person raised their hand. Yes, suicide is and has been on the minds of trans people.
Why do transgender people think of suicide and why do they attempt it? I can’t speak for everyone but I believe, and it’s been backed up by the medical profession, that one reason that members of this community commit suicide is because of how other people treat us. Other people who do not support us and who make life a living hell for us by bullying us can drive us to this extreme measure. How do they make our life a living hell?
First, there is name-calling. Sometimes, people call us derogatory names. I’ve personally been called f*ggot, an abomination, a sicko, a weirdo, and a pervert. I’m sure that other trans folk have heard similar slurs used against them too.
Second, there are various attempts to deny and erase us. I have personally been told that I am not trans, that I am not a woman, and that I will never be one. I’ve been laughed at too. Again, other trans people without a doubt most likely have encountered similar or other denials and erasures.
Third, sometimes we get threatened. I’ve heard a couple of trans women say that their bosses threatened to fire them if they transitioned on the job. This was a while back, but I don’t doubt it may still happen today. I’ve heard that some trans men and trans women have been threatened by their adult children who say that the trans parent will never see their grandchildren again if they transitioned to their true gender. I’ve known sons and daughters who refused to accept their trans parents and who tell their transgender parent to never come to their house presenting in their true gender. Lastly, I’ve heard that close family members told some trans people that no one would ever love them if they transitioned and that they would die alone. I’m certain that there are a lot more awful things some trans people may have heard in their dealings with work/friends/family etc.
So that’s a lot to think about and process and understand why we, as transgender people, may think of suicide now and then. I’m sure there are lots of other reasons, but these are the ones that I’ve known from my circles.
What can we do to stop transgender people from taking their own life? I think that number one is for everyone to accept the transgender person. When the transgender person tells you their identity, accept it, or somehow affirm it. Number two is to continue loving them unconditionally. Number three is to support them in their lives. Let me tell you, being a trans person is not easy, but with acceptance, love, and support from others it gets easier.
As I stated earlier, I’m sure that there are other reasons why a trans person tries to take their life. I don’t have all the reasons and I don’t have all the answers but please, please try acceptance, love, and support for a start.
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is retired from 3M and has 3 children and two grandchildren. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.