Suicide, Leelah Alcorn, and Living Openly Trans*

I’ve kept quiet much for the last few months because I’ve been mourning a loss, the equal I can only compare losing my father at age 11. I’m not going to share the particulars of this loss because it doesn’t really matter in the context of this post, and secondly because it’s extremely personal. But emotionally I’ve been hampered a bit in just getting by day to day. I’m just trying to work out a plan for my future and try to do all the things people do when they’re mourning a huge loss. Trying to move on when you don’t really want to.

The holidays haven’t made it any easier. My circle of friends in Madison, Wisconsin is small. This is the first Christmas without my partner. I’ve just been putting my head down, going to work, and trying to make it through.

And then I read the suicide note of a trans teen, Leelah Acorn. Her parents tried Jesusing the the trans out of her to the point she killed herself. Some cis-gender (not trans*) people (especially those people that can’t bring themselves to call trans women, women but feel the need to call them “penised individuals“) have suggested that it’s irresponsible to post Leelah’s suicide note.

This is thorny territory for me personally. When I read it, it did trigger me. I’ve been pretty much staying away from social media the last few days because of her suicide. In her suicide note she said:

“I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That part of her note pierced through me like a knife. I understand her pain, because I feel like I am the embodiment of the comments of her future. I’m a visibly trans woman that struggles every day. As I said to a friend after this story broke:

“I’m not clinically depressed or having suicidal ideation. I’m currently mourning a loss and been having dysphoria related issues lately. Basically I’m the person she said she didn’t want to live to be. That was a huge punch to the gut.”

and

“I’m not saying it for hugs or attention (but thanks for the love), but that it’s just hard. Especially what she said about it not getting better. If you don’t have cis-privilege, life is fucking hard being openly trans.”

But I don’t think it’s irresponsible to publish her note. I think it’s wise and compassionate to warn people with “trigger warnings”. But for someone that routinely fights for the right to exclude trans women from “female only” spaces without one shred of evidence that trans women are a threat (regardless of their genital status), I find Ditum’s words to be both disingenuous and oppressive.

Irresponsible? That would be the Philadelphia Gay News publishing a story about an underage child’s genitals. Irresponsible would be the Statesman asking a TERF who openly mocks trans women to write a piece on a trans child’s suicide.

The answer to transphobia that leads to suicide isn’t more transphobia. The answer to transphobia isn’t silence. Not talking about it isn’t going to make it go away. Trans reparative therapy isn’t going to suddenly go away on its own. It needs to be talked about and people need to know how awful and destructive it is.

She says:

“Trans lives matter. We know that transgender people are at particular risk of suicidal thoughts. So why are people endorsing and sharing material that, if it has any effect at all, is likely to be the catalyst for a trans youth to attempt suicide?”

Ditum’s pity feels a lot like the pity trans people get from Focus on the Family. She knows that trans people are at particularly at risk for suicidal thoughts, but never seems to ask why. I’m suffering every day as a visibly trans person, and it’s not because I’m mentally ill or because I’m diagnosed with any sort of depression. It’s because being visibly trans in this world IS A HARD LIFE. It’s because there are people that other us, disrespect us, and objectify us on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.

The answer isn’t silence, it’s education. The answer isn’t fear mongering, mis-gendering, or “gender nerd snark“, it’s treating trans people with respect and human dignity. It boils down to just letting trans people live their lives authentically without being attacked for who they are. Ditum and folks like her aren’t part of the answer, they’re part of the problem.

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Thoughts on Suicide, Living, and Dying

I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I’m alive right now. I acknowledge that though my pain may last, it will lessen over time. That there will be a day sometime in the future where I’ll yearn for today, for more time, for one more chance at living, but tomorrow won’t come. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a choice of deciding when and if enough is enough. When the answer to the question above is that the pain is too much. Personal autonomy/agency is a gift that many people don’t receive.

My mind has been in a million different places today. I read this thoughtful post by a doctor about a patient that committed suicide. I saw this today on dying with dignity:

I come at this from the perspective of a medical professional that has seen death and dying up close and personal for almost thirty years. I come at this from the place of a person with a history of persona trauma and loss. I come at this from the perspective of an atheist. I come at this from the perspective of someone that researches the deaths of trans people across the world for the Remembering our Dead/Transgender Day of Remembrance project. I come at this from having partners who struggle with mental illness. From each one of these perspectives, I see life and death up close. I often see conflicting messages when seeing the suffering, the pain, and the joy of living.

When I saw Brittney’s story, and I read the doctor’s words about the suicide of a 50 year old man with a history of depression, I saw a similar story. I saw a story of two people dealing with a life threatening illness. I saw a story of two people taking control of their life, their destiny, and their pain.

I think about every person I’ve ever treated as a medical professional, that was at their life’s end. So many times what I end up seeing is suffering. Needless suffering. Terminally ill patients with families that just can’t let go of their loved ones. I’ve had to perform scans on those patients. Patient’s who cried during through the procedures, crying out that they just wanted to die. They are the patients who have feeding tubes. The patients who have lived years, sometimes a quarter of century, living in a bed. I’ve went home and just put my face in my hands and cried because of those patients. From that perspective, I’m like close to 80% of doctors that would avoid chemotherapy for aggressive forms of cancer that have little hope of a cure. I understand the rational choice to not suffer needlessly and have control over your life up until the end of it. I’m an atheist, but the needless suffering I’ve seen has made me see it as a kind of “hell on earth.” I don’t want that for myself.

From my own personal trauma, I can understand losing hope. 12 years ago I lost the ability to see my daughter and be a part of her life, because of who I am. For almost 6 years I suffered with situational depression because of this. Most recently, I’m about 6 months out from ending a relationship. I mourn the loss of my best friend and my partner.

Being visibly trans isn’t the easiest path in life either. At times it weighs on my life like a heavy anchor. It limits my job choices, limits my income, and limits many other aspects of my life. Parts of my trans life history have been so damaging, so brutal, and honestly… so unnecessary. When news broke of Kate von Roeder’s very public suicide, I commented at the time that I think anyone that’s visibly trans can understand why she took her own life. I looked at her letter and can honestly say that I understand why she did it. Some may say that makes me unstable or depressed, but I think of the words of comedian Marc Maron:

“If somebody comes up to you and says ‘you might be clinically depressed’, you should probably say ‘thank you! That means I’m awake.’ Is there any indication I shouldn’t be depressed? Are you living on the same planet as I am? Do you ever think that depression might be the reasonable human response to the crap we’re going through as a species?”

I’m not saying I want to kill myself. I’ve thought about it,  and every time I do it comes back to the same question:

“Do I want to relieve myself of pain, more than I want to live?”

The answer to that question has been a consistent no. As difficult as life is right now and as unsure I am of my future, I still find joy and wonder in life. I still want more. I still want to be here and see how this all plays out. Doing the TDoR list, I see (sometimes graphically so), trans women losing their life because they are trans. The pain I feel from my own life experience is tempered with the knowledge that my privilege (class, race, geography) allows me not to have to feel as much pain as many other people do.

As an atheist, I’m as sure of the existence of God, as I am the existence of the Easter Bunny or Santa. Let’s just say, I’m sorry kids, but I know the sad truth.  I know that what comes after death, is what came before birth. Non-existence. Silence. Light switched off. One of the truly lovely delusions of religion is that suffering has a bigger purpose, that there’s a reason why bad things happen. Why loves end. Why people die. Why kids are removed from your life. Someone I respect a lot said that we need to find value in life for ourselves. When I get overwhelmed with it all, I watch this:

I’m glad I’m here, and I’m glad I’m alive right now. I acknowledge that though my pain may last, it will lessen over time. That there will be a day sometime in the future where I’ll yearn for today, for more time, for one more chance at living, but tomorrow won’t come. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a choice of deciding when and if enough is enough. When the answer to the question above is that the pain is too much. Personal autonomy/agency is a gift that many people don’t receive.

What’s New is Old Again

I took this blog offline for a while and I’ve deleted a lot of the posts that don’t make sense being here, but I still feel the need to write. I look back over my writing and my life and see and feel where I was at the time.

In this life I’ve experienced a lot of pain, heartache, and disappointment. But I’ve also loved, and been loved in return. That’s probably the one thing in life that I value most. Being loved, and loving others, is really the only thing that I find has any lasting value. Even if friendships fade, the memories are something I treasure. Someone recently said to me:

I loved reading your story. You have had a lot more passionate romance in your life than I have.”

I never really considered it before, but it’s true. I’ve had some really painful times of late but as much as I’ve been hurting, I don’t regret the love and the passion. I can honestly say if I died tomorrow, I’d be happy with the life I’ve lived. I’ve been in very low places, but the question always comes back to

 “do I want to walk into oblivion, to rid myself of this pain?”

The answer has been a consistent no. So I march forward. I know where I’ve been, but I’m not sure where the future will take me. But I’m grateful for today, for now, for this.

Most Significant Teachers

I recently wrote about my high school experience over at Classmates.com:

I had so much bad stuff going on in my life, I came to school to get away from the drama at home. I really didn’t care to do the work (something I regret now). School was more of a social hour for me than anything else. But there were a few teachers that stood out for me. It took me 4 years to pass 10th and 11th grade English (if you count summer school as a year). One class I didn’t fail was Mrs. Stumpf’s 11th grade English. She saw through my troubled exterior and gave me the tools to become the writer/blogger that I am today. In my teen years I searched for an outlet to express myself and be creative. She gave me the tools to find it, and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that gift.

Mr. Wright was another teacher that inspired me. It wasn’t so much how he taught or what he taught, but how he treated others. He taught through all the bullshit that was going in my life and inspired me enough to fall in love with American history and politics. He was strict in the classroom, but he was totally fair. I saw him recently and he hasn’t changed much at all. I’m sure he still talks about Cool Hand Luke and adores Ronald Reagan.

I have to include Mr Hawkins as inspiration. It wasn’t on a positive note that he inspired me. He was kind of a nasty person. But one day I was looking for my girlfriend (Suzy Adamo) and I overheard Mr. Hawkins and another teacher comment about me. In reference to me he said, “oh, he’ll never amount to anything.” That and the fact that Suzy’s parents thought I’d never “become anything”, drove me in my twenties to do all the things I did that made me successful. They both filled me with the fear of being a failure in life. I also wanted, in the back of my mind, to prove them wrong. Those words and thoughts hurt me at the time, but I’m grateful for them now.

These three teachers were the most significant to me because they all had one thing in common… impact. They cut through all my problems and spoke to my heart and inspired me to do and be a better human being. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

LJ Reprise – Life At This Moment

I was searching for an old post on my LiveJournal that I wanted to share with my cousin, and I started reading old posts. I read this old post and almost cried. I wrote a post called “I live, I die” on March 10th, 2004. This is an excerpt:

“I am feeling very lethargic. I think it’s the meds I am on. Ive had some pretty horrid thoughts lately. I wont follow through with it though. My father slowly killed himself and died when I was 11. I refuse to do the same to my kids, so I my life is a living hell. I don’t want to live, I don’t want to die. So I exist.”

That is exactly how I felt then. In August of 2000 I got divorced from my wife of 7 years and went into a very dark place. I stayed in that place pretty much for the next four or five years. The divorce was brutal on me. I had never felt such pain in my life. The only thing I can even closely compare it with was the death of my father.

When I wrote that paragraph above in my LJ, I hadn’t seen my children in two years. I had gotten so depressed I saw a therapist through work and they put me on Lexapro. WRONG THING TO DO FOR ME. We lived on the 29th floor of a high rise apartment and I started having fantasies about taking a nose dive off the balcony. I knew it was the meds. I stopped taking them, and those feelings stopped. But i still felt trapped in a life I hated, not wanting to live, but not wanting to die either.

I started writing my journal out of my own sense of fear, loneliness, and most of all, raw, emotionally crippling, gut clenching pain. I don’t think anyone wishes pain on themselves, but that pain did give birth to of my greatest gift, my writing. Nietzsche once said “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” I truly believe that.

I look back on those entries and it feels like I’m reading entries from another person. My world is so different now. I feel totally different about my life, my outlook, and my hopes and dreams. I can be alone, and be ok. I’m happy to be alive. Being joyful rocks.