Bruce Parker

A Death in the Family

Filed By Bruce Parker | October 31, 2007 3:49 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: lgbt suicide

One of the four most courageous, strong and beautiful women I have ever met lost her son earlier this week. He was a sixteen-year-old transgender male who was supported by his family. He was intelligent, handsome and had so much to offer the world; his loss is a loss to all of us. He took his own life.

According to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Some studies indicate that the rate of attempted suicide for transgender youth is higher than 50%. I hadn’t seen this statistic from them until late in the day on Tuesday, October 30th.

Monday morning found me reading an article by Eve Sedgewick called Queer and Now about being a queer theorist and teaching queer theory to undergraduate college students. She opens her article by saying,

I think everyone who does gay and lesbian studies is haunted by the suicides of adolescents. To us, the hard statistic comes easily: that queer teenagers are two to three times likelier to attempt suicide, and to accomplish it, than others; that up to 30 percent of teen suicides are likely to be gay or lesbian; that a third of lesbian and gay teenagers say they have attempted suicide; that minority queer adolescents are at even more extreme risk.

She goes on to say,

I look at my adult friends and colleagues doing gay and lesbian work, and I feel that the survival of each one is a miracle.

It still seems unreal to me that later that same day Shannon Garcia President of TYFA (TransYouth Family Advocates) called to give me the news of Ian’s suicide. I stopped in my tracks on my way home from class and had to sit down. I immediately felt my mind race to how we could save him. He had been dead almost the entire day. Shannon and I sat in silence on the phone and cried together.

In the few short months that I have been working with TYFA these women have become like mothers to me. They are so passionate and loving of not only their children but also everyone else’s as well.

These women are my friends and my family. The loss of Amy’s son is devastating. I have been unable to find words to comfort anyone. I couldn’t answer my phone all day because every time I tried to talk, tears came out instead of words. I can’t keep food down. I told Amy that it seems important to me not to contribute to the spectacle that suicide can sometimes become but making sense of the loss of Ian and the pain that he must have been in is heavy work. Work that we should all be doing for all the kids who die under these circumstances. It is our responsibility.

As we go about our work as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender activists, writers, bloggers and individuals we cannot forget the responsibility we owe to our youth. I have recently had the opportunity to become friends with an activist who works with queer youth who are in juvenile detention facilities. He reminds me a lot just by telling stories that we are indeed at war. Queer America is still under attack and the causalities are the youngest among us. How can we help them? Supporting the work of organizations like TYFA and GLSEN are okay places to start.

Condolences can be emailed to info@imatyfa.org or mailed to
TYFA
Attn: Program Manager
PO Box 1471
Holland, MI 49422-1471

Let’s all let this family know that our community shares their grief.


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Almost One in 3 TS people suicide.

I'll say that again.

ONE IN THREE TRANSSEXUAL PEOPLE SUICIDE

But what does that mean?

It means stories like this, every day, drip, drip, drip, for those of us running support sites trying to stop them from taking the easy way out.

It means trying to tell them that things will get better, that although at the moment their chances of getting a fulltime job are only ONE IN FOUR, that things are happening to make that better. That there is hope, they just have to hang on.

Look, I'm Australian. ENDA, trans or not, doesn't affect me one whit. But the Internet is International, and I know too many kids who were pinning their hopes on not being sold down the river again.

I'm glad I'm not in the USA, I'm not confronted by the obituaries.

It gets old very quickly. Look, in July I had to go back for some revision surgery. I met a woman from Boston who was fired the day before she was due to travel. Human Resources made it quite clear that she wasn't being fired for being lesbian, but for being transsexual. Naturally, to afford the surgery, she'd had to mortgage herself to the hilt. No way to make payments, even in the unlikely event she'd ever find work again.

And there she was, still recovering from major surgery, and about to fly home to financial ruin.

I have met too many people, heard too many stories, and although I try very hard to be objective, I can't be. That's why I write on Bilerico, and AmericaBlog, and Catholic Daily, and the Washington Post, and....

Being on the Right, I concentrate on right-wing pundits. Tom Blair, Lileks, Victor Davis Hanson, Real Clear Politics, whatever it takes.

Calm down, Zoe. Do what you have to at times like this. You've had enough practice.

Please give the Family my thoughts. They did all they could, and I'm just sorry that we didn't get to her in time. Tell them that medically, having female cellular receptors in the brain with a male hormonal mix inevitably causes depression. It can be deadly if not treated.

A UK Survey by the Scottish office - the most Scientifically rigorous of all of the studies - showed 25% of GLB teens self-harmed by age 20.

The figure for Transgendered teens was double that, 50%.

A Western Australian study - and that is probably the least TS-friendly state in an otherwise quite tolerant country - showed that 90% of Transgendered people suffered premature death from suicide, substance abuse, STDs, or violence (in that order).

I'm no activist. But if I'm to be true to my right-wing political beliefs of "personal responsibility", then I'm personally responsible for trying to do something about this.

But enough of the "Big Picture". We have a family struck by tragedy, and now, the most important thing we can do is to help them any way we can.

And male receptors with a female mix is almost as bad. All the FtoMs I know have self-harmed in their teens. A female puberty can be terrible for any man to bear, especially when he's really just a boy.

Please give them a Hug, OK?

Carrie Wooten Carrie Wooten | October 31, 2007 9:56 AM

I wonder if it's irresponsible to reinterpret for others the death of someone who has left no clue as to why he made that decision? This is the second thing I've seen written about Ian in the past two days that has come to the conclusion that the fact that Ian was trans had anything to do with why he committed suicide. As good feminist and critical theorists have brought up, the one being researched is rarely left the opportunity to have their voice left pure, but is rather always reinterpreted by the researcher. We don't know why Ian killed himself, but we do know there could have been a multitude of reasons, including that he was trans, but not solely because of it. The fact that Ian was transitioning in a supportive environment gives me pause about the conclusions that have been made about his death. Trans youth don't kill themselves simply because they are trans - they kill themselves because they are unsupported, oftentimes homeless, depressed, discriminated against, and abused. I know I'm preaching to the choir, which is why I was so surprised when reading your entry today. Without knowing exactly what was going on with Ian, what kind of medications he may have been on, what warning signs he might have given, etc, then we can't say for sure what really happened or why he made the decision that he did.

I am glad to see someone touch on the other possible causes of ian's suicide. I just wonder how many transfolk are on anti-depressants compared to the rest of the society, take that a step further and break it down by age groups.

These chemicals doctors are prescribing to people of all ages are often more harmful them living without them can be. Too many drugs, not enough close monitoring. and you end up with statistics like the handful of transfolk i have known who just decided to off themselves one day and succeeded in doing so.

Ian will be in my prayers

Susan Robins

Bruce, thanks for sharing this. I had never seen that statistic about trans youth before.

Here's some another quote from Sedgwick on the subject:

"It’s always open season on gay kids. What professor who cares for her students’ survival and dignity can fail to be impressed and frightened by the unaccustomed, perhaps impossible responsibilities that devolve on faculty as a result of the homophobia uniformly enjoined on, for example, teachers in the primary and secondary levels of public school—who are subject to being fired, not only for being visibly gay, but, whatever their sexuality for providing any intimation that homosexual desires, identities, cultures, adults, children, or adolescents have a right to expression or existence" ("How to Raise Your Kids Gay," in Fear of a Queer Planet, ed. Michael Warner)

In Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick calls the disproportionate rates of youth suicides in our community "genocide." I think she's right.

This is a topic very near and dear to me, as I was almost a part of that statistic. Back in late '96-early'97, I'd reached the breaking point with my own gender issues and attempted suicide. The reason: Between the time I really understood the difference between boys and girls at about age 5 and the time I attempted to take my own life, I spent the intervening 30 years firmly believing that there was no hope of a happy, fulfilling life for someone like me.

I'd tried everything to "cure" myself...a flight to hyper-masculinity through the punk rocker lifestyle, aggressive, violent behavior, intense amounts of illegal hardcore drugs...nothing worked, or even made the slightest difference in how I felt about myself. I was convinced that my choices in life were limited to just two: Live the balance of my life miserably unhappy or, as I later came to understand was possible, transition and give up all I held dear, including the love and support of my friends and family. There were no positive media images or readily-available information available to tell me otherwise, and so I continued to believe it until finally I just couldn't take it anymore.

So, why am I still alive? Because as much as I wanted to end my life, I was still too scared of dying to actually kill myself. I tried to drive a van off of a bridge, but at the last second pulled the wheel away from the edge. Had I waited perhaps a second or two more before doing so, I probably would not be here to tell this story today.

It was only after this experience that I found the courage to reach within myself and reach out to others and ask for help. It was through seeking that help that I came to discover that my options were not quite as limited as I'd thought, that it was possible to be both transsexual and happy at the same time.

While I am loathe to bring politics into this particular discussion, it's nonetheless a factor. Imagine what teenagers like Ian encounter as they seek their first jobs as well as social acceptance from their peers. Consider what it must be like for them as they struggle with their own emerging sexuality at the same time as they confront these issue within themselves. And think about how they must feel when they hear so many who are important figures in their lives, parents, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, condemn and vilify that which they know to be true within themselves.

We need to do more. We who have traveled this road already and have emerged on the other side must share our stories and what what we have learned with those who are still at the beginning of this journey. All too often, we adult transfolks wrap ourselves so tightly in the issues directly relevant to our own lives that we forget to look beyond them, to those who could greatly benefit from knowing what we know, that there is help and even happiness at the other end if we are willing to fight for it.

We need to show these kids, and adults as well, that there are other options than taking one's own life. If we are to truly call ourselves advocates we must look beyond ourselves and make sure these people know that they are welcome and wanted within OUR family.

This is a job only we who are transgender ourselves can do effectively. For teens like Ian, those of a similar age are not their true peer group, we are, and we must proactively take on that responsibility with all the enthusiasm and gravity it requires.