Antonia D'orsay

On Transition & Suicide

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | November 29, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: bisexual, Day of Remembrance, lesbian, LGBT, obstinance, suicide, transgender, transition, understanding

A recent death and the comments I've read has me in an unusual mood today. And I'm reminded of something that I've seen, and that many in the LGBT community as a whole have seen.

There was, for a couple of years, a number bandied about of half of the Transsexuals out there kill themselves. I could go into various arguments about that number, but the truth isn't really all that much better, and it's 1 in 3.

Suicide, in and of itself, takes a certain mental state of mind, a special kind of thought, and it comes at you when you've lost hope, when despair is what surrounds you, and right now, well, this is the peak time of the year for it. This is not merely the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the most horrible time of the year.

This is the dying season.

The black record of the new year's count has already begun after the Day of Remembrance, where we take a moment to remember those who have been slain by injustice. This is a somber day for transfolks, and it affects a wider part of the community than many realize, and every year I read blog posts by straight cisfolk and all shapes of transfolks, and I struggle to read a post by LGB cisfolk about their thoughts on attending the event.

It's a piece of the puzzle I miss.

And perhaps that piece is because people don't realize that while 3 of us are murdered each week, a third of us take our own lives.

And people don't always realize why.

I get into arguments over this. I get told I make it too scary, make it too harsh, too terrible, that its not always that bad, and while it isn't always that bad, a lot of the time, it is.

Take one thing you know you to be true. Now let's say you need to make it true of you to others. It doesn't matter what it is. It doesn't matter how big or little it is. Maybe it's the color of our hair. Or the car you drive. Or the fact you are gay or bisexual or trans. One thing. One absolute, inalienable truth, one thing that must be, and you know it, at the core of your heart.

Now, let everyone and everything in the world around you tell you it is not true.

Everything.

The words you use and others use around and about you. The clothes you wear. The teachers at school, the schoolbooks themselves, the great philosophers and the enigmatic priests. The reflection in the mirror. Your doctor, your library, your police, your government, your entire world.

Your spouse, your partner, your best friend, your parents, your dog, your mailbox, your brothers, your sisters.

Everything. You can't even form a thought in your head to speak it or write it without having to rely on it because the very language you use is against you, telling you that this one singular truth you know absolutely and utterly and irrevocably is not true.

Got that? Everything.

Now, you know that everything about it is that way, and then somehow, you find out a way to make it happen so that it becomes a truth you can reveal.

Only in doing so, you have to give up everything you ever loved, ever valued, ever cherished, ever hoped for, ever dreamed about. Family and friends is part of it. Everything you ever did in your life - yep, that. Degrees, history, children, job, future.

That is the price. No chance that it won't happen, no hope for something better - this isn't coming out - that's something that's easy compared to this.

Now, with all of that, let's through in the absolute necessity that this truth must be shared.

Kinda has a sense of religion to it, doesn't it?

Something that one person knows, utterly and absolutely, without proof from anything around them, a truth that they must make known, make manifest, make visible and possible and probable.

That entirety of things, boiled down into one moment, one instant - that is the decision to transition as an adult. It's not much better as a kid. The decision to do that, with that price staring you in the face, that high and unimaginable degree of total uncertainty.

It can only be done with an act of faith.

Strength is what carries you through it, but strength gives out. Courage of the sort that allows blind uninformed leaps into the unknown when all the world is against you is called foolhardiness. Which, if you talk to people after witnessing a foolhardy act, is usually called just plain stupidity.

Obstinance is essential to it, but that's a form of strength in this measure, in this way, and all it does is carry you through the storm of actually losing things - hoping that maybe you'll keep this part and maybe you'll keep that part and hey, you got to have this, how awesome, so maybe you'll get to keep that only to find moments later you've lost it too.

None of them let you make that decision.

If you make that decision, you begin suffering. And that suffering is not merely the wide eyed kind you see in horror movies. It is the epic suffering that tears your soul out like the loss of a loved one, the slow and steady decay of things you have worked your whole life to achieve, something once sweet and joyous now dust and despair.

It is the stuff that takes you to your knees and drives you out of your mind and makes you question everything.

Much like some mad prophet.

There is great reward on the other side. If you make it. It Is a journey that no one can give you a compass rose for, merely point the way they took and hope for the best.

Many people forget these moments, these times, and offer merely condolences, simple gestures, when they hear of such. How can they know? How can they know what it feels like to have your own son tell you "I don't want to" when all that is being asked is just to see you? How can they know what it is to lose a company and job you've spent 20 hours a day on for 4 years?

How can they know what it is like to realize that your life was a lie and you helped to make it?

Suicide claims one in three who do know what that is like. And a large part of the reason is that it is crushingly hard, even when things seem to be going great, and nothing makes it worse, ever, anytime, than the holidays, when you sit there and look around you and everything that they represent to you has been taken from you.

The last time I tried to commit suicide was January 2007. My birthday was a few days away, I'd just gotten everything in my situation at the time arranged, was settling in for what I thought was going to be a long haul, and something happened. What is unimportant, but it was enough, and sent me into a point of despair that even to this day colors a part of my heart and leaves it cold and sometimes inert.

And I sat there, my knees buckled, my heart so sore I literally clawed at my chest to try and relieve the pain I was feeling, and I sobbed as I'd never sobbed before, and I lost my mind. Into my head came the strange and bizarre notion that I would get up, put my shoes on, calmly walk out of the apartment, and wait for a short time beside the very busy street just a few dozen yards away, and step at the last minute in front of a semi-trailer.

I could see it in my mind, the whole process. It was easy.

It was the right thing to do. I knew it, it rang in my head for several minutes, and so I started looking for my shoes.

There wasn't going to be a note. Notes never entered my head, and I'm not the sort to do that. There was no phone call to make - I as nuts, anyway, it wasn't going to occur to me even if there was a hotline I could turn to that would be able to even comprehend what I was going through (and, as a note, there still isn't a hotline for trans folks).

And so I sobbed and weeped and let out howls until my throat was raw and I crawled all around the tiny room I had searching for my shoes.

Never popped into my mind to load the shotgun I had in the closet with the shell I had in my drawer.

And it is not a stretch to sit here and write to you that the reason I am doing so is that I did not find my shoes until after I had passed out and awakened in a much more sane frame of reference.

Had I found them, I would have absolutely done it.

One in Three. One third. And there is no rhyme or reason to when - it could be before they start transition, it could be during it, it could be ten years after. The reasons, the triggers, the causes are all different, and often it isn't just trans stuff that does it.

Its that whole world against you that does it, and that one little straw that breaks the camel's back - the last thin little wafer before the explosion.

We'll likely never know why the death that reminded me of this happened.

But maybe some of ya'll now have an idea of why it happens so often.

And why once so many of do, we have a somewhat fanatical way about us...


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What can I say but yeah, just yeah.

I too have been within a hair's breadth of suicide, my life saved more by happenstance than by actual intent.

And yes, it changed me, in ways I think I'm still discovering even today.

We have been to that place and we walked out of it under our own power, as so many of us have. We can provide love and support to those who follow us, but in the end this a journey every potential suicide must take alone.

SUCH a great post, Dys!

Sadly, our event here in Champaign--organized by high schoolers no less--was sparsely attended, and its proximity to the school meant that many in the trans community may have been too nervous to attend. However, it was a powerful experience. What was most powerful about it is that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance where high school kids. The youth get it. The adults in our community represented there were the directors of the University Resource center, a social worker friend of mine, a librarian and myself. The first three are constantly visible leaders in our Q community. Where is everyone else?

The youth, however, where there in full force. They give a damn and they're not afraid or jaded like we adults are. They're totally on the right track, and I think that's so incredibly awesome! I hope that the youth of our community teach the rest of us a thing or two!

1 in 66… Maybe even 1 of the 33… Triage?

Hi Toni,

Know this the next time you can’t find your shoes or forget about the shotgun… Somewhere here on the web you connected with 1 or more of us in the 66 who choose to stay alive one more day!

For me, for all my life I’ve fought thoughts of suicide with the simple knowledge that ending my life deprives me of any chance let alone hope of finally experiencing some level of acceptance by others as my true self. Guess I’m selfish that way!

Today with this post you’ve reached at least one of us in the 66 who choose to stay and fight on! We do become militant about this don’t we! You’ll never know how many of the remaining 65 came to that same conclusion as me but surely some have!

Being a genetic female and lesbian, a genetic male and gay has become almost “chic” in our society! Being TG/TS often means total rejection of us by those who profess to stand with us! Many of those who profess to stand with us are lesbian women and gay men who give no real thought to our plight.

I’m entering my first “holiday season” as an “out” trans-lesbian woman. I think I’m ready but have a wonderful therapist when I find out I’m not. I fight on for the trans people who can’t afford a therapist or couldn’t find one nearby if they could afford it.

Lynn Conway proves statistically on her web site, www.lynnconway.com that many more people on this planet are TG/TS than have some forms of cancer or heart disease yet we remain totally marginalized by the medical establishment.

Keep writing and fighting Toni. You’re probably gonna save some of those in the group of 33 though you’ll probably never know who!

Once again I admire you for having the courage to write about such a sensitive subject. Its hard to confront the role of mental illness in trans people without making it seem like it is a forgone conclusion, but I think you managed to do it.

You know, I think Toni's post actually transcends just trans people. Her story uses trans examples to point out the difficulties of the community, but they could almost be transposed into a stunning critique of mental illness, depression, and suicide through any group of people.

It's just that well written.

Kathy Padilla | November 29, 2009 6:26 PM

The rate is very high - but I'm not sure the death rate from suicide is that high. And it's important to distinguish between the attempt rate and the death rate. The attempt rate will, of course be much, much higher.

The Dutch studies on transsexuals reported rates - which may not necessarily be completely comparable - but they do have better data than we do here is pasted below. The rate is likely much higher here due to many reasons - most importantly - lack of coverage for transgender health care.

================================================
Mortality and Morbidity in Transsexual Patients With Cross-Gender Hormone Treatment


H. Asscheman, L.J.G. Gooren, and P.L.E. Eklund


Malady -No. Observed (95% Cl) No. Expected
Suicide -3 (0.63-8.8) -0.208


http://www.hemingways.org/GIDinfo/mortality.htm
==============================================


If I read that correctly the rate is perhaps up to 40 times higher thn the general population - Jesus - 40 times higher. But the high end bound is 9% - the low end is considerably less.

It was noted in another study that for those who want it & are able to afford or have their surgical care covered:


===============================================
"Post-reassignment, Pfafflin and Junge found reports of only 16 possible suicide deaths among over 2000 cases: 14 in MFs, one in an FM, and one with gender not specified. Five of the 16 may have been accidental medication or drug overdoses rather than genuine suicides. In the remaining 11 cases, suicide was usually not thought to be related to gender problems per se. These results suggest that post- transition, suicidal tendencies probably get no worse, and may actually improve."

http://www.hemingways.org/GIDinfo/morbid.htm
================================================


Which shows just how important and live saving access to appropriate treatment is for us.

The increased rate is, of course, due mostlty to systemic lack of access to care, poverty, un & under employment and societal stigma.

These are all things that aren't inherent in our being - they are imposed upon us.


The number of 31% or 50% seems to come from a survey done by a website - Laura's Playground:

http://www.lauras-playground.com/transgender_suicide_report.htm

I don't know how much validity that type of survey has - but it certainly has a place and should prompt more rigorous studies.

Kathy Padilla | November 29, 2009 7:06 PM

I know I shouldn't comment on my own post - but - if those numbers are correct (and if I read them correctly) - access to appropriate transgender health care lowers the suicide rate by a factor of TEN.

My connection to the issue is grounded in losing my partner to suicide (yup, at this time of year), to suicide.

Great thoughts Dys... I need to take time to re-read, later, before feeling that I've really heard all of what you've got to say.

The point that I seldom hear being made is that suicide is the result of severe distress and/or mental illness, and for every death, another 2, 3, or more are living with phases, seasons, or lifetimes of equal distress and mental illness.

Maybe that point doesn't means as much to other folks as it does to me, but I wish people could be challenged more often. OK, if discussing suicide directly is uncomfortable, let's start with severe distress and mental illness which are the result of violence, bullying, demonization, discrimination, and poor access to health care.

Kathy Padilla | November 29, 2009 8:30 PM

The methodology at Laura's web site was:

"In a 5 year period here this site handled 78,800 suicidal crisis's online. They were of 3 types. Type 3 being suicide ideation, type 2 being suicide ideation with a plan and Type 1 being actual suicide attempts.

Type 3 = 46933 Type 2 = 20238 Type 1= 11629"


Which doesn't tell us the total number of distinct users on her site nor the the number of distinct interventions - did one person make multiple contacts in a day etc.

Given that - I don't see how you get a prevalence rate from the survey - unless I'm missing something. There's no tracking of distinct contacters vs. all the people using the site.

Even using these numbers, ideation & ideation with a plan are not an attempt - extremely serious as they are. The percentage of her sites contacts seeking help that made an attempt
which would be about a 14%. But again - it doesn't seem as if there's a way to know how many of those contacts were the same people.

A couple years back I wrote a short little story about a far right family's response to the suicide of their transsexual child purely fiction but intended to mirror their perspective as negatively as possible. I was in a dark period in my life and writing that story helped me decide to be a survivor. Just this last Friday I was showing that story to a young gay friend who started laughing at the end. Well to say I was pissed would be an understatement but I remained calm and explained how much suicide, violent crimes, the employment situation, and family impact the life of transsexuals then I let him start reading the comments. By the end of them he was near tears and knew the truth. Occasionally I still think about suicide but I realize to commit it would give satisfaction to those who ______. Thank you for writing about this and may the person who left rest in peace.

Whatever the correct or incorrect percentage is, WHO CARES!!! Shouldn’t all of us care? “Whatsoever you do for the least of… Yah dah, yah dah, yah dah!”

Does anyone really care? No, just let them all kill themselves! After all “are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?”

Merry Christmas! “Humbug!”

I have to say, I'd rather have Kathy correcting me on numbers (such things are often disputed) than someone slamming me for my use of a monty python reference.

Which happens.

I don't share my experience to say woe is me. I have a great life now -- and such things ae in my past, not my future.

I share my experience to teach others, because none of us is alone out there, none of us is singular, and while some might not be trans, it doesn't matter.

Because while the degree may be different, the sense of the world being out to get you is just as great for cisLGB folks who decide to come out -- they don't know the effect it will have on them, and they suffer as terribly.

I share my story, without warnings, so that people can know that there is suffering out there great and terrible this time of the year, and that one person can, indeed, make all the difference.

Sometimes all you need is one person to believe in you.

Go be that person.

Kathy Padilla | November 30, 2009 4:07 PM

Thank you Toni - and thank you for this article.

To answer to some why I think it matters that we have accurate information on these important issues - there are many reasons.

The information contributes to perceptions by others both in and outside of the community - just as the spurious statistics on gay men's life expectency by Paul Cameron effect perceptions of gay men and are used by to prevent their equality and undermine their identities. The same happens to us.

When we mobilise resources to address these needs, they have to be based upon reality to address them adequately - and all of the service providers that see trans peoples and agencies that interact with us must have cultural competency. That must be based in fact to respect us & do us good, rather than harm.

It matters in that I don't want someone who is in despair to feel looking at those unbelivably high numbers - that there is no hope. That people who need to transition don't delay their actions based soley on fear, that some kids doesn't say - why even try - I'm destined to end my life anyway.

As an ol....more experienced person who has been part of the community for onwards of three decades and has known perhaps thousands of trans people - it matters that I haven't had to go to thouands of funerals due to someone taking their own life. Monica has known as many - I'm saddened she has lost three people - I can't imagine what it would be like if she had known thousands.

It matters that we can show good numbers to effect policies such as the relationship of access to transgender health care and mortality.

It's not about numbers - it's about people.

Brenda Jean Louise | November 30, 2009 3:59 AM

This is the third TG suicide that I have heard within 8 months. I'm saddened to see a TG'er or a Gay person commit suicide. I'm also enraged by an indifferent world that seeks to put down the transgender and gay community. It's the lack of a caring, considerate, and inderstanding world that is behind all the motives of TG and Gay suicide.
In closing, I wish that all who have died in this way, find themselves in an eternal orb of love.

Since I have lived as Monica, now for 12.5 years, I have had three trans friends commit suicide, and another one was murdered. I got to meet Christine Daniels at the 2008 IFGE Conference in Tucson. I considered her another friend. That would make four.

In Feb of 2008, I posted the following article about my friend Alice who committed suicide in December of 2002 because she became homeless and woman's shelters in Atlanta would not take in trans women. I wrote it as if it was first person, told by Alice herself. I pretty much know what she went through, so the facts are accurate. However, I could only imagine the emotional aspect of the piece. After all, I also wanted to commit suicide at one time or another.

http://www.monicahelms.com/blog/enda/alice.htm

I'm straight; one in ANY number is too many, whatever teh circumstances. That anyone can lose the understanding that they MATTER is a shame on everyone in that person's life. We turn our heads and try to ignore that something is not happening for that person, that something is amiss, or perhaps we are not the friend that person needs for us to be, and they can't tell us of the despair they feel. I pray that my demeanor indicates that if I have acquaintances in the LGBT community that need for me to understand, I will be the person they need for me to be, so they have SOMEONE to go to who can assure them that they matter to me, completely regardless of sexual orientation or origins. True enough that i have never felt for myself the despair described in this blog entry. Antonia made me feel it, Thank you so much for that, Toni.

Statistics, numbers - regardless of what the actual number is - ONE IS TOO MANY!!!

I pray for a day in the future when society allows us all to be ourselves, without shame, fear or hiding and there will be no reason to even contemplate suicide JUST BECAUSE OF HOW HARD IT IS BEING TRANS!

This was beautifully written. Thank you, I know you'll reach many hearts with this.

You know what would be a great strategy for gays and lesbians? As they are trying to persuade a majority of Americans that they are normal, healthy citizens who should not be treated differently based on sexual orientation, we should place ourselves in the same category as a group in which 33% kill themselves. God only knows what the mental health state is for the 66% who don't kill themselves.

The latest high profile suicide involved a sports writer for the LA Times, who transitioned and then tried to transition back. The notable thing about his case (and I say "his" because he identified as male at the time of death) is that he received widespread support from his employer, his co-workers, and his readers. So you can't blame "transphobia" for this death.

Should we have compassion for trans people? Yes. Should we support government assistance and funding for suicide prevention and counseling? Yes. But should we identify ourselves with this community, to the extent of changing the name of our community to include "Ts"? Absolutely not. To do so is to reject central arguments of the gay rights movement - i.e., that gays are just as normal and healthy as straights, that gay men are men and lesbians are women and there is no gender confusion involved, and that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is irrational.

Your critical analysis is putting you in serious danger of being rejected for any future hug fests.

ah, but a hug fest can't really reject anyone, ATG.

Otherwise its just a "hug those over here but not those over there" fest.

As for critical analysis, well, for a generally ignorant attempt, there's *maybe* some value (until you get to their failure to perform due diligence and possess a halfway decent understanding of the claims they are making), but sock puppets rarely do much more than miss the point and derail, and I'm kinda over all that of late.

Fascinating.

Mind checking up on the suicide rate of cisGLB folks in the mid 60's?

Just a suggestion, given the "should we associate with them".

However, it is a really pretty derailment.

Yeah.

Thanks for sharing your story with us.

It wasn't that long ago that I was there too.
I'm glad you're still here, and I'm glad I'm still here.

I do everything I am able in direct support to my friends, lovers, and those in my community to try to help hold back this endless wave of death. And I try to make sure that there are people there for me, just in case I need them.

I've met maybe one or two trans folks ever who haven't considered suicide. I hope that changes. I really do.

Thank you for your story. I been there myself. I cant even imagine the pain of de-transitioning like she did.

Thanks for that great explanation, dyss.

Kathy Padilla | December 1, 2009 10:15 AM

Is that you David?

In either case - given that the suicide rate for gays is four times the average & the suicide rate for transsexuals who have coverage for surgical health care is........four times the average - the point seems a bit murky.

And even if true - many people believe those protections should be in law based upon need. If you're saying gay men don't need them as they don't face such serious levels of discrimination given their social acceptance - you may be underming your own argument, again. To be fair - I'll admit a reluctance to being associated with some gay men. I'm afraid of what people might think of me.

So - let's look at what nonsense I might have to be associated with:

"This is tough news. It's not pleasant to hear," said former Education Secretary William Bennett...."But it's very important, and it's part of telling the truth."....
Homosexuality "takes 30 years off your life." The average life expectancy for gay men, Bennett declared, was just 43.

http://www.slate.com/?id=2098

It's nonsense, of course. But - how does it help me to be associated with it, even if it is nonsense? I'm all for having compassion for gay men - but really - how would the general public look at me?

Sure, polling shows the same support for nondiscrimination legislation for gays as transgender people - but - no one really takes that seriously.

Patricia Harlow | December 1, 2009 11:54 AM

I haven't had a suicidal thought in months, but sure enough, just yesterday the dark began to creep in. It was something non-trans related (well-semi, it was over money) but tis the season.

Throughout my life I've had so many thoughts on killing myself I have become fairly numb to them. There was a time every day was filled with at least one thought of suicide. It's amazing I'm still aive.

Your story hits the core and made me tear up a bit. Thank you for writing this.

Along with Patricia, I also thank you for writing such a powerful column; and share the amazement of still being alive. I am a male to female transsexual woman living in an area of a state (southern TX) not known for its acceptance of alternative lifestyles of any genre. I was formerly career military for twenty continuous years and hid myself from the world. I married, believing the lies I'd been told by the woman who would claim to love me, then so fully and completely betray me. I adopted her two previous children and conceived three more - all while trying relentlessly to deny the reality of my 40 year struggle with gender identity during a decade long marriage full of regrets and reasons for it to end far beyond my gender struggle.

I have since divorced, had my rights to visitation willfully removed by the custodial parent while continuing to pay support and have not seen/visited my adopted or biological children in four years this month. Legal remedies to this point have proven fruitless to restore my access, as the State has all but sanctioned the behavior of the opposition and the Court has scheduled another hearing in February 2010. The last chapter of this years long diatribe has yet to be written, and I hang in the balance.

The associated severe depression, loss of access to my children, loss of employment, loss of social contact with friends and the inability to maintain an independent household has driven me to attempt suicide twice in the last four years. I cut my right carotid artery with a straight razor in 2005 and in 2008 when I became unemployed, I overdosed on Oxycontin left over from ankle surgery. I had followed since April 2007 the story of M. Penner / C. Daniels; I read the blog that ended abruptly at the LA Times and cried at the news in the same newspaper of her recent suicide.

One human being, along with their talents and all they could contribute to the larger world, dying by their own hand from conditions forced by the endless impetus to live a life of truth and authenticity within in a harsh and unforgiving society, is today and will continue to be one too many lost. Will others ever overcome their predjudice and reach out in compassion to be that one person who will make a difference in the life of someone in such desperate need? This is the challenge for those with the decency and capacity to know us and realize our very human vulnerability.