Suicide is not painless

When, as a teenager, I learned the title of the M*A*S*H theme song was, “Suicide is Painless,” I wondered, “What on earth is that supposed to mean?”

Since I announced that I am in the midst of the Real Life Test, and I changed my online profile from Greg to Gina, I have received some tremendously strong messages. These two thoughts represent them:

  • The devil is laughing his tail off; return to the arms of Jesus.
  • Stop taking HRT immediately and resume living as a man.

Because each message came from a person who is important to me, they affected me deeply. I am a person who longs to please, who has never been on the outs with family and friends and faith community. Each day last week I had a meltdown. As I turned to the Lord in prayer, I was forced to renew my promises not to kill myself, not to run away from home, not to take out my frustrations by destroying things.

That this has been tremendously hard on me was displayed in my essay the day after I changed my profile, “I Am a Real Person,” which got me thinking about Leelah Alcorn, and so I posted regarding her on Saturday, “She Was a Real Person,” and all of this got me thinking about the problem of suicide.

The day after I went public on April 29, I posted the following under the title, “41%.” It remains as important a piece as I have posted in these four months.

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Because we all want to live, and live in peace, since I made it known, yesterday, that I suffer gender dysphoria, I begin to explore this many-faceted topic with a discussion of death.

How bad does person need to be hurting, in how big of a hole does he have to see himself, to take his life? Someone once said to me, “It is one thing to think about killing yourself; how big of a leap is it to actually do it?”

Suicide is common enough that we all know about it, fairly close to home. When I was a teenager, a neighbor boy hung himself to death. As a pastor, four times I had to minister to families in the aftermath of family members taking their lives. Twice, I called 911 when a member was in the process, and they did make the leap and, thankfully, they both lived.

In the general population, fewer than 2% attempt suicide. Among those who struggle with gender dysphoria and those who identify somewhere on the wide spectrum of transgender, 41% try to end their lives.

Four months after she succeeded, the first person I still think of is Leelah Alcorn, who, last December, at age seventeen, stepped onto a freeway and into the path of a truck, and was killed. Leelah became known, quickly and widely, when her suicide note went viral. She had readied it to appear in the social media, the day she planned to take her life. Leelah wrote:

“I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse. That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me.”

Leelah was born Joshua, into a Christian, conservative family. There was no place in their world for a transgender child, according to both Leelah and admissions by her mother. Joshua was their son. He was confused. They had him undergo the counseling, conversion therapy, which has been decried by the American Psychiatric Association, which my first therapist told me if I wanted it I would have to find another therapist, which has been made illegal in some places and there is a call for the federal government to outlaw it in the entire USA.

So, this child remained tortured. Out of respect for this human being, whose self-identity was female, I will respect by calling Leelah, with female pronouns. She represents the other major type of gender dysphoria. Mine heated up slowly, as a roaster cooks meat. Hers got hot immediately, as in a microwave.

Children as young as two and three recognize that their self-conception does not match what they are being called, how they are being dressed, how they are treated. The dysphoria—ill feelings—gets very hot, very fast. When parents do not listen, when they treat the child as no more than confused, when the child has to abide in a life which is entirely foreign, well, go back and read Leelah’s suicide note. For adult sufferers, who at least have the benefits of experience and maturity and resources, gender dysphoria is bad enough. For children, it has to be suffocating.

Outsiders view gender dysphoria many ways. Some think the person is simply depressed. Others insist it is strictly a spiritual problem. Maybe there is another health issue creating this, they wonder. Oh, it must be the way he was brought up—the nature versus nurture argument; he didn’t have the proper role models.

  • Why don’t we, who suffer, speak up? Why don’t we speak louder?
  • We were watching a movie with others, there was a transsexual on the screen, and unkind jokes were made.
  • We have been around others who were “different,” and we heard the talk about them: queer, freak, their mothers should have aborted them.
  • We did speak up, and no one would listen.
  • We did speak up, and we were shut down.
  • We did speak up, and all hell broke lose.

Leelah did not have the capacity to see a good end, so she created her end. 41% of people, who have some degree of a sense that they are transgender, feel the same way.

This is why we need to have calm, compassionate conversation. This is why it is incumbent on YOU to treat others the way you want to be treated, because you never know what the terrible truth is for the person who, on the outside is laughing along with you but, on the inside, has just been crushed.

No one wants a family member to take his life. The aftermath is tragic. No matter anyone’s personal opinion about gender dysphoria or transgender, let us all work to promote peace, to foster a spirit of hope.

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