Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a moment to reflect on the lives lost among transgender women and men, no matter their specific gender identities or expressions. So I would like to expand the category of “transgender” even as I believe firmly that people along the trans spectrum are all too often ignored, even in the face of the at long last media attention on LGB/t suicide.
In speaking with close to 100 other transgender-identified people over these last six years, I’ve been struck by how many of them contemplated suicide, and I’ll note that every single person I’ve talked with has said that there came a point when all of their worries, fears, and hesitations about transitioning simply weren’t enough anymore to delay doing it any longer. Think about how high that bar is. It’s not a hurdle, it’s a three-story tall wall. To come out as trans means to turn every single facet of one’s life upside-down. It simply is not shocking to me that in a world as conservative as ours, that opting out entirely from life looks like the easier strategy.
When I have been asked to mentor others who are questioning their gender identity or contemplating transition, I try to make sure I give them my mantra: you are a beautiful person, you are loved, you are doing this because you love yourself. It may sound trite, but when a person feels wrenched between wanting something that feels so impossible, and hating themselves for their constant stream of daydreaming, focusing on love goes a long way. The trans women I’ve known are afraid to show their hands; the trans men ashamed they don’t have adam’s apples. We can focus solely on what we’re sure are shortcomings, and therein the cycle of self-hatred grows stronger. Love reminds us that there are other forces in the world to latch onto.
In this context, it saddens me again and again to see my own trans comrades being mean and judgmental of each other. How long do we have to have this fight over the “tranny” word? If one trans woman finds strength in using it with her friends, would we really shun her from our community? If one trans man says something misogynistic, do we have to slap a “bad” badge on him as we call out the limitations of his language? I have seen people coalesce into cool kids clubs and others relegated to the fringes of the fringe. Every time I’ve gone to the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, for example, I witness middle-aged trans women alone, and cliques of 20-something transfolk milling only with each other. It’s great to see friends, yes, but let’s think about who we’re including in our worlds. Our lived experiences vary, and those of us who have been entitled enough to receive a college education and several gender studies classes need to stop using the logic and language acquired there against people who have not.
It is altogether too easy to pick apart someone else for not being edgy enough, careful enough, radical enough, and so forth, and that easiness ought to tell us something. When we look at the suicide rate of trans people, let’s remember that they thought nobody cared about them, that they didn’t matter, or would never be accepted and loved. We need to love our own in a real way. I keep calling on all of us to volunteer, to reach out to people who are struggling, to see past a person’s words of anger or bitterness. What lies past that will likely remind us of ourselves.
I see my scar line across my chest every morning and night, and where it used to remind me of how I was different or deficient, I now understand it for what it is: a marker that I have been certain, that I should trust myself and my decisions, and that I was once very fearful. It helps me remember that this process of transition breaks some people, and then we require healing in a big way. I want to be part of that healing, that invitation to the rest of our days, because in the final analysis, I want there to be more days ahead for us than I could ever count.