Transgender teens, suicide, and the media

As always, this post bears a trigger warning for issues of suicide and abuse

Let’s start by putting a human face on suicide among transgender teens.  Click Here and Watch. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

The link above is a story from USA Today, August 16, 2015.  It is the story of M.C. Lampe, a transgender young person who, in high school, attempted suicide.  This is the reality that we are facing.

Now I want you to do a little experiment.  Open a new tab, and Google “Transgender Suicide statistics.”  Oh, wait, I’ve already done that for you.  Look at the words that are used in the link titles –“staggering”–“exceptionally high”–“alarmingly high”–“shocking”– and tell me: how do you feel?

Me personally, I felt like crap.  I didn’t even know, until this past summer, that nearly half of all transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in their lives.  It wasn’t something I had to deal with.  I am friends with trans men and women, and being friends with someone means that you are at least somewhat aware of their struggle, but I didn’t know this.

Go figure, it didn’t exactly come up in the natural flow of conversation.

So what drives a person to suicide?  I may not be able to speak as a member of the transgender community, but I do have the unfortunate distinction of being counted among the 6.7% of American adults who suffer from clinical depression.  Part of that raw deal is a certain familiarity with suicidal ideation (unusually strong, fixated thoughts about suicide).  Fortunately, I have had the privilege of growing up in a family that doesn’t stigmatize mental illness, and so always had access to the medical and social support I needed to get through my worst lows.  For a lot of people that support either isn’t their, or simply isn’t enough.

According to the National Institute of Health, people who commit suicide usually do so to escape being victimized, feeling lonely or rejected, and feelings of shame or guilt.  In a society that still uses terms like “tranny” and “shemale” to convey humor, it is easy to imagine how teens just starting to learn about their own gender might start to feel isolated, like their identity is something to be ashamed of.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, transgender heroes, the icons these young people could look up to, get written out of history– see, the recent critical/box office/community bomb that is “Stonewall”.

Then, the political and religious movement that rejects their existence, chalking it up to a symptom of “moral craziness”— it starts to make a lot of sense that transgender teens might feel overwhelmed.

So what can we do?  The good news is that we, as individuals, are a part of society, and so have some power in changing it.  This power may seem small, but a little force in the right place can destroy a mountain.  I personally think that place, incidentally, is the school.  Teens spend 30+ waking hours each week in school, and most of their community is created within those walls.  What I am trying to figure out is what works; what are the best methods of making that community a safe place for teens?  Over the next few weeks I’m going to look at programs (more successful and less successful) that have been used to help transgender students in school, and eventually try to come up with a cogent plan.

For now, if you or anyone that you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The number is 1 (800) 273-8255.

[first posted 9/30/15 at 7:13pm]

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