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Suicide Continues to Present Real Danger to Trans People

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Editor’s Note: This article discusses transphobia and suicide.

According to a national survey conducted by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, 40 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide compared to 4.6 percent of the general population. As someone who identifies as non-binary, these numbers make me sick.

Forty percent is merely an average. The survey also asked respondents about their experiences with discrimination, rejection, and violence. Suicide attempt rates varied depending on how many of these a trans person experienced. For example, the rate was far higher for those who endured family rejection (57 percent), homelessness (69 percent), or sexual assault while attending college (78 percent.)

Being transgender is hard. Many trans people are rejected by family and friends, leaving them to navigate constant misgendering, microaggressions, and uncomfortable spaces such as doctors’ offices and gendered bathrooms without social support. Although many of these situations are minor nuisances, they can have a lasting emotional impact. A few weeks ago, I ordered a dreamsicle at the Feve, a cocktail topped with whipped cream. One of my friends saw the drink and said “Oh girrrrrrl!” My father says that CoolWhip is its own food group. Liking whipped cream doesn’t make you a girl. It makes you a human. Despite the fact that I know my drink choices don’t determine my gender, I now feel the need to order a beer before ordering any “girly” drinks to prove my gender.

Having multiple marginalized identities can compound the issue. Sometimes I receive multiple microaggressions in a single sentence. Just the other day, the elevator broke in one of the academic buildings. The administrative assistant asked my professor (instead of asking me), “Can she get down the stairs okay?” and then referred to me as a “young lady” while she was on the phone with facilities. I am not a “young lady.” I am a non-binary adult who knows far more about their physical abilities than their professor does.

The survey results align with my personal experience. Those with additional marginalized identities are at an increased risk of attempting suicide. Alaskan Natives and Native Americans were the racial group with the highest risk at 56 percent, while white people had the lowest rate at 38 percent. Furthermore, having a physical or learning disability increased the risk of attempting suicide to 56 and 55 percent, respectively.

In her piece “Why Trans Suicides are Also Murders” — published by Wear Your Voice magazine — Venus Selenite argues that trans suicides should be counted as trans murders because they are caused by facing a never-ending stream of transphobic rhetoric, especially for trans people of color. Although I disagree with the idea that trans suicides should be equated with trans murders — mostly because those who physically murder trans people need to be held accountable as individuals and not merely the result of a transphobic society — I agree with Selenite’s premise. The suicide rate among trans people is caused by cisgender people’s attitudes and actions.

I’ve lost more than one trans friend to suicide. I’ve watched parents mourn the death of their only child. I’ve heard faculty lament the loss of a brilliant young mind. I’ve seen best friends and romantic partners break down. But at every memorial service, during every speech and song, all I can do is ask myself the same question: “Who’s next?” My grief is laced with terror and rage. Rage at the world for taking another trans life. Terror because I know that I could be the next person sobbing at a podium.

Trans people, please remember that although society may hate us, we are always loved by someone. Cis people, practice good allyship. Use people’s pronouns. Support your trans family and friends. Our lives depend on it.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Suicide Continues to Present Real Danger to Trans People”

  1. Toni Myers on May 22nd, 2018 9:48 PM

    Thank you El.

    This article is more important than you know. Keep speaking. Keep writing. Keep telling your truths and telling the truth.

    I’m honored to know you and to know that you’re an Oberlin student. We don’t even realize how fortunate we are to have you (and that’s the truth!)

    Warmly,
    Toni

    -MRC

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