Transgender Teen Suicide Hits Close to Home

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by Doctor Jazz

Doctor Jazz Profile ImageI received an email in my inbox last night. It was from my daughter’s high school principal.

It read:

It is with a heavy heart I send this email. Early Sunday morning, March 29th, we were notified that [REDACTED] HS 9th grader [NAME REDACTED] had passed away. [NAME REDACTED] attended [REDACTED], [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] HS. She was not only an excellent student, but a fine young person. [NAME REDACTED] was a member of the Cross Country Team and was in Musical Theatre. She always had a smile on her face and loved running, theatre, and horseback riding.

I was blessed to be able to meet with [NAME REDACTED]’s family this afternoon.  They asked me to let everyone know that [NAME REDACTED] and her family were in a long process of helping her figure out exactly who she was and tried desperately to make sure that she had there sources, the support, and coping mechanisms to get through a difficult time. They loved her and accepted her on this journey.

The principal’s language, was at once circumspect but striking in its clarity. He didn’t mention suicide as the cause of death and transgender identity as the motive, but when he wrote ” . . . and her family were in a long process of helping her figure out exactly who she was and tried desperately to make sure that she had the resources, the support, and coping mechanisms to get through a difficult time” there was little doubt that she and her family were struggling with her gender identity issues and that the troubled teen took her own life. We only have one high school in our city so now it was out in the open as a subject of discussion for many families in our relatively, small and affluent community, including my own family.

In addition to attending the same school, my daughter, who is a sophomore, also ran with her on the Cross Country Team. So I put on my father’s hat, went to her room and told her about the email. I asked if she knew the girl. She said she didn’t know her well but had talked to her many times on the bus driving to and from meets. Apparently it had happened Friday night and was common knowledge among the kids by Saturday’s track meet. I asked my daughter if she had been aware that her teammate was having trouble. She said that she had witnessed what she was told were asthma/anxiety attacks, and the coaches would take her aside attempting to calm her.

She told me that _ wanted to be a boy, that she identified as a boy. I asked how she knew this and she said _wanted to cut her hair short and wear different clothes, but that her mother wouldn’t let her. My daughter was quick to add that she wasn’t trying to blame the mother for the suicide.

I said it had to be hard to not be the person everyone thought you were, who your family expected you to be — a different person on the inside from the one you were on the outside. I told her the story of the young boy featured on a T.V. news magazine a couple of years ago. Although born male he identified early on as a female. He wanted to dress as a girl and when he asked to wear a girl’s bathing suit at his 7th (?) birthday swim party, his parents allowed it. Video of the party was included in the story and with penis protruding under the material the child was clearly comfortable and happy in the girl’s one piece. The other kids seemed not to care.

The boy’s gender identity was difficult for the family especially as they were Christians and their church was not sympathetic. The parents were actually very kind and supportive of their child and seemed to be getting good advice from counseling services. The most poignant moment in the program for me was when the mother recounted the conversation that led them to leave their church.

 My daughter choked up a bit when I told her this and said she thought that it was really sad, which was the response I guess I would have expected had I actually planned our conversation. I told her at least the boy’s parents gave him/her support and, despite their religious beliefs, were genuinely trying to find ways to let him be herself.

We are pretty accustomed to LGBT issues in our family because my sister is gay. She has been married to her partner for over 20 years, and they have four adopted children. Our families spend a lot of time on holidays and birthdays, and there are frequently both gay and straight guests in attendance.

I recalled the trouble my sister had experienced coming out to her own family, and me specifically, probably about as liberal a family as you will find. She dropped all kinds of hints, like that her friends said she reminded them of Ellen DeGeneres. The problem was I knew next to nothing about Ellen and didn’t get the reference. Sis had married and divorced her high school sweetheart, and had another long term boyfriend, so it never occurred to me that she was passing for straight. After over a year of dancing around the issue, I asked my mom what was going on? Of course, she had known for years and never let on. I told my daughter that if was that hard for my sister to come out to her extremely liberal family just imagine how difficult it might be for someone whose family and friends were more conservative.

The fact is there is an exceptionally high suicide rate among the transgender community. A whopping 41% of people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide sometime in their lives, nearly nine times the national average, according to a sweeping survey released three years ago.

In a new study released Tuesday, researchers dug deeper into that number, analyzing the results of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey to examine what puts transgender people at such “exceptionally high” risk.

This as reported by the L.A. Times last year.

Among transgender people who became homeless because of bias against their gender identity, 69% said they had tried to kill themselves. Out of those who had been turned away by a doctor because they were transgender or gender-nonconforming, 60% had attempted suicide sometime in their lives, the survey found.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents who were the victims of domestic violence at the hands of a family member had attempted suicide, the study also showed. Suicide attempts were less common among transgender and gender-nonconforming people who said their family ties had remained strong after they came out.

“This report punctuates what PFLAG families know is fundamental — that there is life-saving merit, demonstrable value, and paramount need for family acceptance,” said Diego Sanchez, policy director for PFLAG National, an organization for family, friends and supporters of LGBT people.

I went to the high school this morning to drop something off in the office for my daughter and noticed right away the memorial of balloons, flowers, photos and messages taped to a tree in the center of the quad. There were a few students sitting near on a bench, comforting each other. Another parent was paying her respects. I made my way over as she walked away. I was curious to see the young girl’s face, and if I’d recognize her. I did not. She was a very photogenic child, with symmetrical features and a broad smile. There were happy photos of her with friends at school and parties, in dance recital ballet tutus, tiaras, and running cross country meets. All typical high school pics. She looked very healthy, with brown hair and olive skin. Happy. On the surface.

I walked around the tree and read the emotional notes from heartbroken friends. And then, there it was. A photo of _ wearing a beanie cap, looking very handsome and very masculine. The typed script had been edited with a pen. Her given name had been crossed out with his chosen male name scribbled above. And where it had read friend and daughter, daughter had been struck through and replaced with “son.” This was obviously the work of close friends, and from now on I would be compelled to consider him male. I walked back to my car, holding down a few spasms of emotion from the back of my throat.

After work I picked my daughter up from track practice and she actually started the conversation. Those of you who have teenagers realize how rare a teen initiated dialog can be, at least on subjects other than requests for money or rides. She told me how much she had cried today, about the impromptu testimonials given at the tree shrine at lunch, and of an in-class discussion about _’s contributions with his best friend sobbing in the room. She showed me a picture on her phone of this friend holding _’s hand in the hospital before being taken off life support. She told me that he had hung himself. Some of _’s closest friends were insisting everyone use his chosen masculine name and my daughter was having trouble with that. She said she hadn’t been told by _ that that was how he wanted to be identified and it was hard to make the change just like that. Good grief how do you prepare for this kind of conversation with your kid?

But at least I have the opportunity to discuss things with my daughter. _’s parents will never have that opportunity again. In last night’s email message the principal had indicated the whole family was involved in “a long process of helping her figure out exactly who she was . . .” I obviously don’t know all the circumstances and it is probably not fair for me to make this assumption, but it seems to me he was already there, waiting too long for his family to catch up..

As my daughter was getting into bed tonight, I went in and hugged her. I told her how much I loved her and that I hoped that if she ever were in trouble that she would be comfortable asking for help. She hugged me back and said she loved me too.

This morning I remembered after watching the news magazine on the transgender child two years ago I had been moved to write a short poem. I retrieved it on my computer. It’s not much as far a poetry goes, but I did find it particularly relevant. I’ll close this diary with the poem I wrote for the little girl two years ago.

There was a Little Girl

There was a little girl,
Lived in the neighborhood,
With Mother and her Father,
On the corner their house stood.

To her Father and her Mother,
One day she did exclaim,
“Mommy, Daddy, I’m mad at God!”
“But, why, you must explain?”

“Because He made a big mistake,
I’ve known it all along!
A girl he made me in my brain,
But the rest of me got wrong.”

Perhaps you know this little girl,
Lives in your neighborhood.
Born in the body of a boy,
She’d change but if she could.

Editor’s Note: Originally posted to Doctor Jazz on Daily Kos on Tuesday, March 31st, 2015. Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, and Community Spotlight

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve known this boy for most of my life, but was having a hard time finding details about his death because I don’t go to his school. I wish I had known that he was transgender, and I wish he knew I was. There are to many “I wish” es surrounding this and it makes me so sad. Thank you for writing this article, he needs to be recognized at the boy he truly was. Rest in Paradise.

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