The transgender spectrum is anyone who has a mismatch of sex and gender, whether or not they transition, attempt to transition, or transition full time.
The attempted suicide rate for those on the transgender spectrum is forty-one percent.
Two of every five.
That’s ten times the rate for all Americans, of which it is estimated about 4% will attempt suicide at least once.
In this piece, I endeavor to examine why those on the transgender spectrum are prone to attempting to kill themselves. I will break it down into four groups, seeking to cover vital areas of impact but not presuming to address every last one, nor to cover things in great depth.
Those who are keeping it to themselves
For those who feel wrong about themselves in their sex and gender, the idea of telling anyone—spouse, parents, children, siblings, friends, even a therapist—can be beyond their imagining. Many circumstances can increase the height of the hurdle, among them being marriage, religion, and work.
“No good thing could come of it,” is where the person arrives. “And much bad would come of it.”
Alone. These folks feel completely alone. They cannot comprehend anyone understanding. They easily can envision trouble with every person, in every sphere of life, a total destruction of their lives. So, they stuff—check that, they try to stuff their feelings deep enough to be able to ignore them, which they find impossible to do. They find they must deal with their angst, yet they cannot find a way to do it. In time, they might arrive at an impasse so great that death seems like the only answer.
Those who open up
The next group includes those who took the leap and gave voice to their gender identity issues. Perhaps, they told one or more of those closest to them, or they first sought a therapist. They have gotten it off their chest, revealed their deep secret. In one respect, telling someone felt good. Of course, there now are others involved.
If it were a close relative, that person’s reaction and feelings are now on the table. If the person saw a therapist, there will be much to work through. By telling the therapist, the person might find facing it—“The therapist said I might in fact be transgender!”—to be too much. Whatever was said, the person now is facing the issues, can see being on a path, and the path might look very scary. By confessing to the family member, the fall-out could easily have done perceived or real irreparable harm to the relationship.
These matters might now be mulled in this person’s head so much that they become big, and they can become so big that they can be seen as unconquerable. “Why did I ever open my mouth?!” Seeking an exit, suicide begins to look like the way out.
Those who begin transitioning
Should a person progress, transitioning might be undertaken. The person tells family and friends, those at work and online. There will be many supporters, but there will be those who do not. Worse, there will almost assuredly be opposition, and the resistance can come from people in positions to adversely affect the trans person’s life—emotionally, spiritually, economically.
Virtually no transgender person experiences 100% acceptance from the entire family. Some of the contention can be so severe as to be traumatic, even to cause division between the supporters and the opposers. If it is internalized as guilt, the impact can be experienced deeply.
Your transitioning could bring you trouble at work—from not receiving a promotion which, otherwise, you are confident was coming your way, to an out-of-the-blue firing when you always had been an appreciated employee. Indeed, every sphere of your life now is in play.
If you find transitioning to ease internal stress, because of these new, external stressors, the tension can mount to the point of needing to alleviate it. You might first try (and likely already have) relieving the stress with alcohol or drugs. Indeed, some studies show the alcohol abuse rate to be higher than the attempted suicide rate among those on the transgender spectrum. Distraction is another tool employed by many—“If I just stay busy”—but it’s one you probably tried before you ever bared your soul, so you already know it is as temporary a fix as getting drunk.
If this person’s pain becomes too great, the scales will tip. Tip too far, and it will crash in a suicide attempt.
Those who have completed transition
We arrive at those living entirely as how they sense themselves. If they longed to have their name legally changed, to have any of several possible surgeries, to socialize in their revealed self, they have accomplished each aspect on their wish list.
They have undertaken the challenging task which is transitioning, and they have succeeded. From my reading of books and getting to know many who have transitioned, when the task is undertaken methodically and carefully, not rushed or with a person mistaken in the source of the gender identity issues, most reach peace. The internal tension has been resolved.
We began with having issues which are only inside us. Should we tell our story, then, if we attempt transitioning, we move to now experiencing issues both inside and out. If we successfully transition, that should take care of our issues, shouldn’t it? All desire to kill oneself is erased. Right?
While in the surveys I have read I have yet to find accurate studies done on this, some show that the attempted suicide rate remains high among those who have fully transitioned, perhaps even not having reduced from the 41% of all on the transgender spectrum. While I have neither appreciated nor respected the manner in which this specific bit of information has been used—always by those who are adamantly opposed to transitioning—it is not a shock to me that the fully transitioned person does not fall back to the attempted suicide rate of the average American but remains somewhere between the 4% and the 41%.
Whatever the attempted suicide rate is for transitioned transgender individuals, it should surprise no one that it likely remains unacceptably higher than the general population. Even if a person has erased all inner turmoil—even when this provides a new, perhaps never-before-in-life-experienced emotional strength—there possibly remain areas of outer turmoil.
No, that is not strong enough. There will remain areas of outer turmoil.
- At home. There might be family members who are struggling with, or opposed to the one who transitioned.
- With family and friends. Estrangements and losses will have littered the way. One might feel, or be made to feel out of place at gatherings, weddings, funerals, or might not even be invited.
- Religion. While some faith groups have become understanding and accepting, many have not. It is common for transgender members to be condemned and expelled.
- At work. Biases against trans folks can arise in many and various ways, some of which I noted.
- Under the law. Protections and privileges which belong to everyone else might not be yours where you live simply because you are transgender.
- In public. Trans persons never know when someone will take exception and bring harm to them. Even insults, which can be quick and casual—looks and stares, laughing behind one’s back—sting and add up.
How trans folks manage all of these—how many of them there are, and to what degree the impact—will make a huge difference in their lives. I have heard far too many sad stories from folks who continue to have family squabbles, who are not accepted, who are called by their old name and misgendered, who are told, “I will never accept this.” I have heard far too many upsetting accounts of trouble in the workplace, when the trans person has done the job and minded his or her own business. I have heard from far too many who are afraid of going out in public, as after the Pulse nightclub massacre last year and whenever there is another report of a trans person being murdered: real fear smacks the trans person right in the face.
Get enough of these into the equation and they can add up to too much.
These are not weak people. Let no one look at them and think that they are lacking in character, in personal fortitude. Those on the transgender spectrum share every attribute of any group of people. Indeed, as a group, transgender women and men might be stronger than the average Joe. As metal is tempered by fire, the trans person grows for having endured the heat.
Ultimately, trans folks are typical folks—regular people in an extraordinary circumstance. We can take a lot, but we feel and hurt just like the next gal or guy. We can take a lot, but sometimes it’s too much.
All we want is what everyone wants: peace, respect, and the chance to live a decent life. When we have finally gotten what every human desires, thoughts of killing ourselves will have melted away.