One week ago, a young woman I knew from a trans support forum took her own life
She had been traveling through Kimball, TN on her way from Atlanta, where she had been staying with another trans couple (met through the same support forum) after having been disowned by her family. She was due in Illinois for an arraignment on drug charges. She found herself initially unable, emotionally, to take the trip, and had nearly killed herself the night before, but was convinced to go by the couple who had been helping her, given that if she didn’t a warrant would be issued for her arrest. When she stopped in Kimball for gas, she found her debit card missing, presumably forgotten at the scene of the earlier suicide attempt. Without it, she had no way of getting gas to either complete her trip or make it back to Georgia, and was more or less stranded in Kimball. The couple from Georgia had no way of getting to her, and she turned off her phone. Presumably this was just one last thing too many, and she chose to leave.
I don’t blame her. How could I? If the path of transitioning to a genuine, liveable self seems hopeless, the idea of transitioning from life to death starts seeming like a pretty damn reasonable compromise. I’ve often said, in absolute sincerity, that I’d rather die than detransition. I’m never, ever exaggerating when I do. At least she’s no longer trapped in a male body. And in her case, transition was only one of many difficulties in her life.
Her name was Natalie, too. The newspapers didn’t print it as such, however, nor did they refer to her as female. As is often the case in the death of a trans person, her true identity and what she had been fighting so hard for was cast aside, so as to pay respect to a costume, to mourn a version of her that never really existed, and she had been desperate to escape. It’s sad that in death we so often have to suffer these final acts of erasure and denial.
I wish that the reminders of our situation, and the degree to which it needs to be improved, didn’t come so frequently and so severely. It seems like I’ve never had much of a chance to forget that our lives are being lost, that we are one of the most vulnerable and least protected groups of human beings in our entire culture. 41% of trans people attempt or commit suicide… and those are only the ones we know about. Many, I’m sure, succeed before ever having an opportunity for their gender identity to become known. That would have been the case if I’d succeeded in my own attempts, and in every “so what prompted you to finally transition?” conversation I’ve been involved in, at least half the stories typically involve suicide attempts or other forms of self-destruction.
We are several hundred times more likely to be murdered than cis women of comparable demographics. 1/5 of us end up homeless. 1/5 do survival sex work. 97% experience harassment or discrimination in the workplace. 26% have lost a job due to gender identity. Rates of domestic abuse, addiction, depression, poverty, sexual assault and violence are all just as grim, as disturbingly outlined in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.
It feels I’m not often permitted a chance to ignore this or put it out of my mind. This ends up in stark contrast to the perspectives, mentality and experiences of the cis people around me. What I often find, even amongst allies, is that the concept of us, of transgender people, is typically treated as a somewhat abstract, intellectual or academic question. The conversations and questions are typically well-intentioned, but repeatedly I come across the same discussions, or am asked the same questions (“out of curiosity”)… what’s the relationship between transgenderism and transhumanism? If someone offered you a pill that could give you a male identity would you haven taken it instead of having to go through transition? Don’t you think that transition sort of confirms social concepts of gender roles, like, that if we didn’t have a binary, you wouldn’t have needed to? When is a trans person, ethically speaking, supposed to tell a partner? Isn’t it kind of deceitful to have sex with someone without telling them? So… would you guys feel comfortable using the restroom with a TG person? Should gay men and trans men be allowed to say “tranny”? Does liking chicks-with-dicks porn make me gay? Are trans women who are lesbians, like, getting off on themselves or something? Should trans women be allowed in women’s spaces like domestic violence shelters? Are trans people holding back the gay rights movement? Would you have sex with a TG person, if they were attractive enough? (attractive enough… *wince*)
And so on. Forever and ever.
We do get exhausted.
And yes, what frustrates me perhaps the most is that for the people asking, or engaging in the discussions presumably amongst themselves (simply assuming that trans people can’t possibly be present to see or overhear is itself a pretty glaring act of cissexism), it is a matter of curiosity, an intellectual exercise, a contemplation of the nature of gender and identity. A thousand fucking theses have been written by cisgender students on us. We are forever being forced in the position of educator, subject, object of study, etc. and often several of these roles at the same time. What gets lost in this, in the treatment of it all as this big academic, intellectual, fascinating question is awareness of the actual harsh realities we live with.
The realities that left Natalie dead in her car in some arbitrary town, Tennessee.
These are our lives. Our experiences. What’s an interesting sub-topic for you is for us an inescapable constant. When we discuss it and think of it it’s not because we find it fascinating, but because it’s a necessary aspect of our survival. I’m not into gender theory, really. I’m just doing my best to get through an often extremely difficult existence. The question of its relative interestingness, or the theoretical implications of our existence, are irrelevant. I could be bored out of my damn mind with discussing the ethics of trans disclosure, or why gender is neither a social construct or bio-essentially innate, or whether or not we should be permitted access to The Michigan Fucking Womyn’s Fucking Music Fucking Festival, and it wouldn’t matter one bit, because I’d still be left facing these questions, and these discussions, again the next day… and more importantly, I’m still going to be trans. I’m still going to wake up tomorrow being trans again, and facing my trans life, my trans body, and the same risks. The same threats to my life. The same questions of privacy. The same legal hassles. the same health issues. The same poverty. The same ridicule. The same discrimination. The same dysphoria. The same absent friends.
I live this every day. And every once in awhile, that life is punctuated with another tragedy. Not for one moment am I able to forget why this is important, why it matters, and why things need to change. I don’t get to forget about the blood on the hands of the beliefs, bigotry and misconceptions I try (perhaps hopelessly) to fight.
What I wish is that cis people, those with both a vague passing interest and those who are committed allies, would try to remember too. Try to bear this in mind when discussing us and our lives, our implications. Try to remember what we face and what we’ve been through, the friends we’ve lost and the friends we’ll someday lose. Please try to be respectful of the fact that this is much more than a question of privilege, gender theory and socio-cultural concepts or constructs… we are in the midst of a silent, abstracted genocide.
Please, consider us beyond your own curiosity.
Please, remember Natalie, and those like her.
Please help build a world more welcoming to those who come after her, a world that more than 59% of us will find worth sticking with.