Suicide and salvation

Eight years ago this week, my phone rang Saturday afternoon. It was one of my closest pastor friends. He began, “Greg, my son shot himself to death, today.” He then gave me the privilege of ministering to his family in those difficult days.

Many people are confused about suicide. Many wonder if a person is automatically damned if he takes his own life. I hope the funeral sermon I preached answers vital questions.

All names have been changed.

This sketch reminded me of Mark, who was in his early twenties.

Dear members of the congregation, friends of Mark, and especially to his family: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might think you are here for Mark, or for the Schultzes. You might think this is about Mark. Everyone knows that’s what a funeral is for, to speak well of our loved one and remember him. I will certainly do that, but that’s not really what this is about. When I talk about Mark, please hear everything I say under this heading: what the Lord Jesus did for Mark.

As your presence here is a marvelous show of love and support for the Schultzes, you are in this church to lean, with all your weight, upon the gifts and promises of God the Father, purchased and won for you through His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all of your sins, so that you possess life which defeats the grave, so that you are saved from death, devil, and damnation.

This sermon has three sections. First, a little bit about the man Mark was—about the young man, from what I learned on Monday when visiting with the Schultzes, who was a bright, funny, creative, precocious, talented, caring, loving, and empathetic young man. Second, an important section about sin, about the topic that you don’t want me to talk about today but one on which people always have so many questions: taking one’s life, and about your own battles with the enticing world, the tempting devil, and the weak flesh in which each one of us lives. Finally, the best part: the eternal life to come in the resurrection from the dead.

Part One

As I take up the first section, I must bathe it in the fact that Mark wasn’t simply the multi-gifted guy you knew him to be, but he was, first and best, a child of God. Mark was conceived and born a sinner. As he received every physical attribute from his parents, he received their spiritual attributes, the sin of every generation which stems from Adam’s original sin.

Because Alan and Beth loved Mark, they quickly took Mark to the font of forgiveness; the baptism of Jesus Christ in which Mark became the righteous possessor of his Lord’s promises: faith in Jesus Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of all his sins. God’s Word declares that the baptized one is joined with Christ in His death and raised with Christ in His resurrection, and that the baptized one puts on Christ as a robe of righteousness.

In every way, Mark was a typical, young, American male. I read all of his interests on his Facebook wall, and the many posts of his friends. I’ve heard the family stories.

The Lord equipped Mark with a fine body and a wonderful mind. Dad and Mom want you to know that Mark succeeded in sports because he was persistent. But, they were most pleased with the caring nature of their firstborn son. See, Mark simply could not bear to see anyone get hurt, nor to hurt anyone. You know, Alan and Beth, that sounds to me like living the Golden Rule.

Mark’s siblings want you to know how gifted their big brother was, the things he did to make them laugh—many of which are definitely only for family consumption—how compassionate he could be with them, and that he was such an awesome musician.

To all of you, who knew and loved Mark, he was special because he was a neat and nice guy. But, of eternally greater importance, to God the Father Mark was as holy as Jesus Christ, for God the Father always saw Mark through his Savior. Mark was holy in God the Father’s eyes, righteous and beloved, because Jesus is righteous and beloved of the Father, and Mark belonged to Jesus—Mark belongs to Jesus.

Here is Mark’s confirmation verse, Revelation 7:14: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (all Bible passages NIV). When Mark’s soul arrived in heaven, he joined this crowd which is gathered around the throne of God the Father and the Lamb Jesus Christ. Mark did, indeed, arrive in heaven from the great tribulation of this world and of his personal struggles, and now Mark is declared with all the other saints in heaven to be one whose robe was washed white—pure, holy, freed from the penalty of sin—in the blood of the Lamb.

That’s what the Lord Jesus did for Mark when Mark was baptized and throughout Mark’s life. That’s what Jesus does for you, the baptized who still live in this great tribulation. Lean on that today. Trust in that tomorrow. Rejoice in Christ forever.

Part Two

Moving to section two, we need to address some sticky questions. How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? Doesn’t God promise to never give us more than we can bear? And, I will dare to ask the one that’s so hard to talk about: can a person go to heaven who took his own life?

How can a loving Jesus let such terrible things happen? A few years ago, when I was in a similar, tragic situation in Port Hope, it came to me to answer this question thus: do you want God to step into your life every time you are about to sin? Can you imagine if, every time you might misuse God’s name or tell a lie, He would zap you just enough to stop your mouth; or every time you were about to covet or lust or hate, He would turn your thoughts into fields of daisies and butterflies; or every time you are about to open the fridge for that evening snack that you don’t need, He would slam the fridge door on your fingers?

Do you want a God who controls your life? Is that what love does—build fences around us so that we can never do wrong, so that we can never get hurt?

As all parents do, Alan and Beth let Mark grow and let him go into the world. Jesus did the same for Mark. As Alan and Beth always had their hearts watching over Mark, and were always there to take his calls, answer his questions, and provide for his needs, so much more did the Lord Jesus always take Mark’s calls, answer his prayers, and provide for his needs. Alan and Beth let Mark make mistakes—that’s what love does, it gives freedom to do right and freedom to fail. From heaven, Jesus gave Mark freedom to live his life, to pass the tests of life or to fail them, but He always loved Mark, and in the ways that matter for Mark’s eternal life, He always kept Mark safe. Never did Jesus leave Mark; never did He forsake Mark.

The Lord doesn’t control our lives and, to ease into the second question, He does not give us more than we can handle—well, hold on; let’s look at what the Word of God says in full: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”

Here’s what happens: every person has his own set of struggles, trials, and temptations—tests of weakness, illness, and maladies of every type. For you, the Christian, when there is no other answer—when you can’t fix a problem, or cure an illness, or avoid a temptation, or pass a test—there is always God’s answer to your trouble: Jesus Christ and His strength, His compassion, His forgiveness, and the wisdom of His Holy Spirit.

So, here’s what happens: we don’t always pay attention to the last part of this passage: “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” We follow our own thinking. We listen to the ways of the world. And that wily devil, who has been learning our weaknesses, having been observing us all of our lives, knows exactly where to strike with his evil intentions. And we don’t stand up under it. We fall.

We ask: how can a Christian take his own life? Fair enough. As long as we are asking, let’s also ask:

  • How can a Christian cheat on his wife?
  • How can a Christian, who knows that God forgives his every sin for Christ’s sake, still hold onto grudges and not forgive others?
  • How can a Christian steal?
  • How can a Christian gossip?
  • How can a Christian sass his dad or mom?
  • How can a Christian delight in getting drunk?
  • How can a Christian misuse Jesus’ holy name?

The fact of our sinful nature is that we Christians commit every sin under the sun. To recognize this is not to excuse this. And please hear this clearly: nothing I say, today, gives anyone permission to do harm to himself. Listen to Beth Schultz on this: first, if Mark were healthy, this would never have happened and, second, Mark never meant to hurt anyone.

What I am working to achieve in this sermon is understanding: understanding of our frail minds and bodies; understanding of our brother, Mark; and, best of all, understanding God’s grace, Jesus Christ’s love, and the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence . . . especially when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Thus, we land on the question: how can a person go to heaven who took his own life? Actually, we can shorten it, for the question is the same for all: how can a person go to heaven? For this, I need only proclaim the promises and gifts of Jesus Christ:

  • 1 Timothy 1:15: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”
  • John 3:17: “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
  • And, two verses later: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
  • Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
  • Romans 8:39: “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • Finally, in John 6:40 hear the Lord Jesus: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Part Three

This takes us to the third and best section of the sermon—Jesus’ promise: “I will raise him up at the last day.” This is what Job was talking about: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God. I, and not another!”

Mark knows that His Redeemer lives, and in the end Mark will stand upon the earth, and after his skin has been destroyed, yet in his resurrected flesh he will see Jesus.

First Corinthians fifteen tells us four ways our bodies go into the earth because of death, and four ways in which death will be conquered in the resurrection given to us by Jesus Christ.

First, the body that is sown into the earth is perishable—that is, we live in bodies that can and do die, and we can’t stop it. But, the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be imperishable—never to be touched by death again.

Second, the body that is sown into the earth is laid to rest in dishonor—that is, it is a shame that our bodies should be captured in a casket. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in glory—the resurrected body will never again be held captive.

Third, the body that is sown into the earth is sown in weakness—these present bodies succumb to disease, to old age, to accidents, to every manner of harm which silence them. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised in power—no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain will ever visit our resurrected bodies.

Finally, the body that is sown into the earth is a natural body—we are shackled to the laws of this corrupted world, in this sinful nature. But the body Jesus will raise from the dead will be raised a spiritual body—and of this I can barely speak, because you and I cannot begin to imagine what it will be like to transcend the only world we know.

All of this, dear friends, Jesus Christ prepared for Mark and for you. So, for now, Mark’s soul delights in heaven, at the foot of the Lord Jesus’ throne, praising Jesus for his salvation. So, for now, you delight in the house of Jesus, at His altar-throne, from which He is proclaimed in the Gospel, in which you are baptized into His gifts, and from where you are fed upon His living body and blood.

I close with this verse from Romans, which is really hard to digest: “We rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And, hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time . . . While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Dear Alan and Beth, and all who loved Mark: God’s Holy Spirit is at work today so that in your suffering your faith will be strengthened that you might persevere, building your Christian character by which you live in hope for the rest of your days in this great tribulation—the sure and certain hope which is Jesus Christ, the Victor over death.

Your Victor. Mark’s Victor. Jesus Christ. Amen.

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A father of a trans child responds

In response to my piece, “Concern for Children Transitioning,” Erik Kluzek added comments which are insightful and important. They warranted my bringing them to your attention. Erik agreed to my posting them.

As Erik states, he is the father of a transgender child, who transitioned as a youth and is now an adult. Also, Erik is the writer of the other letter in my post, “Two More Rays of Hope.”

Listen to Erik.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gina, thanks so much for this well done article on transgender kids. I would like to add a little bit from my perspective as a parent of a transgender child, who is now an adult. I’ve also worked with a lot of parents of transgender kids in peer support groups. So I know something of the experience from the point of view of parents.

Let me first of all affirm what you have said. Medical interventions do not happen to young children. The first step that may be used as you point out are puberty blockers which have been safely used for decades for precocious puberty. And they are safe and reversible. HRT is not reversible—but neither is puberty. They do have to pick either natal puberty or HRT. PIC is the language we use as well—persistent, insistent, and consistent. It’s not something done on a whim. The risk of suicide that you point out is very real as well and often transgender kids either make attempts or are hospitalized for suicide ideation (even for very young children). What I’ve seen over and over is that behavior drops as the kids transition and start to feel comfortable in their own skin.

Let me bring in a couple points from the original question which I’ll divide into three parts: “can kids make life-changing decisions at young ages,” “do kids eventually come to terms with these things,” and finally are professionals “actively forcing reluctant parents?”

First, can kids make life-changing decisions at young ages? What research has found is that kids gain a gender identity at about ages 2-6 years old. It’s also found that identity isn’t able to be changed. Even the conservative Dr. Kenneth Zucker has admitted that if a child’s gender identity is firmly transgender at about age 12—they aren’t likely to change and he recommends medical transition treatment as needed. Here’s some great advice from the AAP which is the US organization for Pediatricians (60,000 strong).

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/Pages/Gender-Non-Conforming-Transgender-Children.aspx

Second, do kids eventually come to terms with their natal sex? There’s better articles on this than I. But, let me point out a major new understanding on this. In the past the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder included kids who don’t identify themselves as being the opposite gender—but only display behavior that is stereotypical of the opposite gender. Most of those kids will desist. But, the kids with PIC as Gina pointed out—don’t. Hence, the new criteria for Gender Dysphoria has to do with what gender the child identifies with themself.

Lastly are professionals actively forcing reluctant parents? As a parent I understand this fear. It’s not something that I’ve seen however, and I think it could only be done very rarely. I also understand that parents in this position are very terrified—I certainly was. And that is what I see in the majority of parents, especially at first, they don’t understand, and they are scared to death. Since parents have parental rights for a child, a professional can’t force a parent to do anything they don’t want for their child—unless the professional can prove it’s in the child’s best interest.

In one study that opened my eyes the likelihood of attempted suicide for a person that is transgender and has family that is highly rejecting of them is a horrific 57%, while for supportive family it’s near the normal of 4% (to put a human face on it remember Leelah Alcorn).

trans children
Taken from the website Erik cited.  The numbers speak for themselves, and they scream out the need to compassionately listen to our children.

Other metrics are similarly horrifying. Even with that a professional can’t force a parent to act. A parent has to consent for medical interventions on their child, until the child is 18. The only way that can be overturned is in the rare case, where a child can be legally emancipated. That process is long and difficult, and multiple people have to agree that it’s in the child’s best interest.

I used to think it was outrageous that my kids school can’t give my child aspirin without my consent, but they can send them for a highly dangerous medical procedure of abortion. What I know now is that having parents that are unsupportive of their transgender child is very dangerous for that child. Is there a point where a child is so unsafe with their parents, that parental rights should be taken away? Yes, there is. Does that happen very often? No. And I suspect it only happens in the most egregious cases, and probably not as often as it should.

As I say, just witness Leelah Alcorn.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Leelah_Alcorn

What I hoped to achieve by attempting suicide

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You have likely heard it said that suicide attempts are cries for help, that these people really don’t want to die but use the moment to get help, help which they otherwise could not figure out how to get, even with the availability of suicide prevention phone numbers.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, ended up dying, who never wanted to die.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, found themselves in no different a situation after the attempt, leaving them just as frustrated, leaving them just as trapped, leaving them feeling just as terrible as before.

And leaving them contemplating their next suicide attempt.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I found myself feeling the worst, I never wanted to die, but I really wanted to try to kill myself. Over and over, and over again, I had the same conversation with myself: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to “beat this thing” as I would say, whatever that would mean. And though my will to live was so strong, I could not shake the thought, even the desire, to try to kill myself.

Outside of talking with Julie, with whom I shared everything, holding back nothing that I was experiencing, I had no ability to imagine revealing my secret to anyone else. Telling my kids—are you kidding me? Telling my siblings—was that any less worse? Telling my closest friends and fellow pastors—was that not just as bad?

Trying to transition? At my age? As tall and large as I am? Having the money to do so? Becoming a laughing stock, an offense to many?

Leaving the ministry?  Leaving the work I so loved, the perfect job for me?  Leaving the people and town which Julie and I adored?  Giving up a secure income, with good benefits?

Trying to keep my mouth shut and go on as I had been? Hoping therapy would finally help me find a way to stop hating myself?

Every question came back with an answer that just plain stunk. How was I ever going to live through this?

So, what did I do?  I went about my life as if all were well.  I did my job, putting on a happy face for everyone and then, when I went home, once again fell apart.  One would have had to have been able to read minds to know that I was constantly thinking about killing myself.

That’s the way it is with those suffering suicidal ideation—they are really good at hiding it.

It was this time of year, four years ago, that I began the trek of telling my kids, and then my siblings and, as I had opportunity and need, talking with friends and professional peers. That I navigated everything and successfully transitioned, mine is a survivor’s story and, just for that, it is worth telling, because someone might read it and find the strength to take heart and move forward. Even more, I find it important to talk about why people try to kill themselves, because what I hoped to achieve by it has a common plot.

Two of every five people—41%—who are struggling with their gender identity, will try to end their lives. The reasons come from the internal struggle and the external realities. I am confident that there rarely is one thing, but a mixture of stressors—trying to accurately understand oneself, fear of rejection from family, what will happen to job and economic situation if I attempt transitioning, will I be safe, will God reject me, and more—which pile on, egging on that “just kill yourself” voice, to call more often and more clearly.

Again, we who are suffering—not only we with gender dysphoria, but anyone who is suffering terribly—don’t really want to die; we simply can’t see a way out in which we will not suffer horribly, ending up in a life which could be far worse than what we have now.

But we don’t know how to cry out, to say the words to others, and so we turn inside. Fear is mighty powerful; addressing it can be crippling.

We make a plan. We hope that, should we attempt to carry it out, we won’t die, and we won’t be permanently disabled, but we will be hurt badly enough so that when the most important people in our lives ask why we did it there will be so much concern in their words and compassion in their hearts that we will finally be able launch into our story.

I had made a plan. Whenever I thought about my plan, I wondered why it was my plan. “Just take a bunch of pills,” I would tell myself. “You’re not a violent person. It’s the only logical way to do it.” Yet, pills were too passive for me. Though I constantly rejected the notion of causing pain to myself, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

Another reason some of us attempt suicide is because we believe we deserve to be punished. We tell ourselves that we were not strong enough to get our act together. If others knew about us, that’s exactly what many of them would say. Indeed, after I undertook transitioning, I was asked: “Why didn’t you try harder to be a man?” Before I transitioned, one pastor said it straight out: “Greg, be a man.”

I was finding it impossible to satisfy either of those men, and I wanted so desperately to do so.  I was a failure.

Encapsulated in their words is another reason we attempt suicide. We are misunderstood. Many will never understand us. Many will not even try. Many will allow their prejudices and preconceived notions to speak louder than we can talk to them.

Two events in 2013 stand out as low points, when I so wanted to try to kill myself. The first occurred just before I was about to begin telling others about my gender dysphoria and that I was going to retire from the ministry. The second came in the autumn, after I had an intense week of telling key people in the ministry.

Both times, I was on county roads near Port Hope. In the first, I was heading home, just east of Filion on Filion Road. In the second, I was going south on Ruth Road, on my way to Bad Axe.

Both times, my situation had so broken me that I devolved into bitter bawling. I was driving fifty-five miles an hour, crying hard and screaming at the top of my lungs everything that I was feeling, and begging the Lord to spare me.

“Please, let me die,” was combined with, “Please, let me live.” Back and forth.

On Filion Road, a semi was heading west. “Turn into its path,” I tried to convince myself. “You have to do it now, or the opportunity will be lost.” As the truck neared the ideal spot, I knew I could not do it, because I would have put another human into harm’s way. No, if I were going to try to kill myself, I could not bring another person into it.

Four months later, as I was crying and screaming and praying down Ruth Road, I had already formed my plan. These county roads have really wide and deep ditches. I had buried two teenagers who had fatally met up with them in separate crashes, so I had experienced their power against a careening vehicle. I would release my seat belt, increase my speed, and aim myself at the ditch on my side of the road.

If it is possible to be equal parts angry that you didn’t do something and glad that you didn’t, I was that. My desire to live, to “beat this thing,” not to test the Lord that He was duty-bound to take me to heaven, not to harm Julie and my family and all who loved me, won the moment. I would drive to Bad Axe. Instead of calling on some shut-in members, I headed to Julie’s place of work. She came home with me. I resolved to quit the ministry that very day. My pastoral counselor talked me out of it. I managed to plow forward eight more months in the ministry, to tell my kids and siblings, and Julie and I figured out a path for ourselves, a path which now is in its fourth year.

I didn’t try to kill myself mostly because I didn’t want to die. I also didn’t try because I feared that I would . . .
. . . barely be hurt, but I would total my car, and the whole thing would simply be an expensive, embarrassing, impossible-to-explain mess.
. . . be hurt so badly that I would be left paralyzed. Can you imagine that, still suffering gender dysphoria and now confined to a wheelchair? I could, and it almost took away my breath.
. . . actually die. And I didn’t want to die.

But I so wanted to try to kill myself. I saw it as a way of letting the world know so that I didn’t have to find my own way to do it. I wanted sympathy, because I feared judgment. If I went public only after surviving a suicide attempt, maybe—just maybe—I would get the “Poor guy. What he must be going through” comments for which I longed, that everyone would feel sorry for me and, if I did find that I had to try transitioning, they would recognize it as the life-saving measure it would be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you know anyone who is hurting badly, please show them a gentle spirit and compassionate concern.  They might be suffering suicidal ideation.  And they might find you a safe person to whom they can open up. You might just save their life.

If you know anyone who tried to kill her- or himself and lived, please be sympathetic and kind, and do not judge them as weak. Actually making the attempt to take one’s life might be the hardest thing a person can do. How badly does a person need to be hurting, to finally take the pills, hang the noose, turn the wheel, pull the trigger?  For as badly as I suffered suicidal ideation, I still think an actual attempt was a long ways from my grasp.

If you know anyone who has succeeded at the act and is now dead, I hope you are able to mourn and grieve this horrible loss, to love those who remain, and to grow in compassion and understanding. Somewhere, someone else is having the thoughts, making the plan, and longing to try to end it all.

And hoping to live through it, so that the suicide attempt can speak for them, to be their lifeline.

The transgender suicide problem

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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.

41%.

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.”

Loss-of-Son-to-Suicide

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.

muchpain

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.

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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.

The crooked smile girl killed herself

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November 1, 2016 (NEWSER) – An 11-year-old girl who beat cancer as a preschooler killed herself last month after what mom Wendy Feucht describes as unceasing bullying, CNN reports. Bethany Thompson, a sixth-grader in Cable, Ohio, had been free of cancer after undergoing radiation therapy for a brain tumor at the age of 3, but the treatments marred her nerves, leaving her with a “crooked” smile. That, along with her curly hair, led to the bullying against Bethany, particularly by a certain group of boys—and on Oct. 19, after telling her best friend she was going to end her life, Bethany hunted for and found a loaded handgun on a high shelf inside her family’s home and shot herself before her friend’s father could contact Bethany’s mom, says Paul Thompson, Bethany’s dad, per the Columbus Dispatch.

Triad Middle School was aware of the bullying—the school’s superintendent confirmed with CNN that it “investigated a complaint raised by the student and appropriately resolved the same”—with Feucht noting she had had a conversation with the principal about it just a few days earlier. She says she found out that Bethany, who saw a counselor to help her deal with self-esteem issues, and her friends had even crafted anti-bullying signs but were prohibited by at least one school administrator from displaying them. “I’m sure she felt pretty defeated,” Feucht tells the Dispatch. “I’ve had this constant in my life for 12 years and now it’s gone,” she adds to CNN. “Nothing’s going to be able to fill that hole.” (A 13-year-old Staten Island boy who killed himself in August left behind a note on bullying.)

http://www.newser.com/story/233410/girl-survives-cancer-ends-life-over-bullying.html

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She was eleven.

Eleven years old.

And she killed herself.

How does an eleven-year-old come to the point of wanting to die?

I cannot imagine any way that a young child could kill herself. And to do it with a gun.

The violence of the shot. The violation to the body. The grief it took to pull the trigger.

But she did it.

Bethany Thompson shot herself to death.

This precious human being is dead because her peers treated her as anything but.

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I am not naive. I know that children will be mean. Insensitive. Uncaring. Rarely or never grasping the hurt their words and actions cause to those on the receiving end.

Sticks and stones might break our bones.  Words can kill us.

Words killed Bethany Thompson.

To reading, writing, and arithmetic, let’s add empathy, and compassion, and the Golden Rule.

Let’s start at home with the empathy, the compassion, and the Golden Rule.

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Imagine the child, who is disfigured by illness. By accident. By birth defect.

Imagine the child, who is morbidly obese. Who wears Coke-bottle glasses. Who has flaming red hair and freckles to match.  Who is slow.  Or the brainiac. The oddball. The freak. The square peg.

Imagine the child, whose family cannot afford what all the others are wearing. Whose clothes are too small. Ratty. Shabby. The same shirt and pants, day after day. Who hasn’t been able to bathe. Who smells.

Imagine the child, who doesn’t identify with his or her birth sex. With the way he or she has to socialize and the awkwardness it causes. With his or her doing the wrong thing according to what the majority is doing. And it is obvious to the rest of the kids.

Imagine the five-year-old. Imagine the eleven-year-old. Imagine the sixteen-year-old.

Who doesn’t fit in.

Who is left out. Called out. Worn out.

Looking for a way out.

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Imagine the hell.

The hell of not fitting in.

The hell of the snarky comments. Unwanted.  Uncalled for.  Unending.  Unbearable snarky comments.

The bullying.

Always, the bullying.

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If we think it is fine and dandy that our children are treated so horribly that they kill themselves, then don’t change a thing. We Americans are a grand success story.

If you would never want it to be your child on the sliced-and-diced end of teases and taunts . . .

Of course, you would never want it to be your child.

Or you.

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Bethany Thompson should have been a success story—beating cancer as a preschooler! Instead, her parents and family and true friends are left with the deepest of holes in their hearts.

And we, her American family, have lost a sister. Someone who, when she grew up, surely would have helped us learn how to cope with and defeat and survive the worst of situations. We lost the gifts that she would have provided for the good of her family and community.

We all won when Bethany was healed from the cancer. We all lost when she died at her own hand.

It is time to turn this loss into a win for every child who might be so hurt by the sticks and stones of classmates.

Who hurt so deeply that being dead sounds better than being alive. Than one more day of being hated.

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Eleven-year-old girls and boys are supposed to be enjoying life. Pondering their teens. Dreaming of dating. Being silly. Carefree. Cared for. Growing up.

Eleven–year-old girls and boys are supposed to have their lives stretched out before them. Not recorded in an obituary.

Not at their own hand.

Not because of the hatred shown to them by their peers.

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The bear trap

This is dedicated to all who suffer from gender dysphoria, to give hope to all who endure in silence, who cannot give voice to their pain, who do not dare to speak, who attempt to take their lives, who see no way out, and to demonstrate to everyone else how terrible it can be for we who live through this extreme conflict of self.

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I once again found the bear trap had snapped firmly onto me.

It was one year ago, today. I had my first ever appointment with an endocrinologist. I bawled through the entire appointment. My new doctor gave me time so she could get to know me. She patiently listened to me tell her how I worked so hard not to transition, how I still did not want to transition, and how I saw no other way out of my mess but transitioning.

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I have written about the suffering that crushed me in 2013, the result of the extreme internal turmoil that left me constantly lamenting, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” I have not explained all of this thoroughly enough.

You might recall the statistic: 41% of people on the transgender spectrum will attempt suicide—from those who have a gender identity question, to those for whom it develops into gender dysphoria, to those who attempt transitioning, to those who transition. This, alone, should speak to how difficult it is to live through the incongruence, the extreme conflict which it is to have a body and brain that do not match; to be seen as one sex but feel like another.

It is far from only the internal struggle. Indeed, if not for the outer forces—the potential for being rejected and misunderstood; of losing a job or a home or both; the risk to one’s emotional life, economic life, the loves in one’s life; rejection by one’s church; every last sphere of life—if not for all of these, the internal struggle would be so much smaller, the attempted suicide rate way easier to stomach.

As much as I pondered killing myself, I was not going to do it. As a Christian, I would not test my Lord that He would give me eternal life; it’s His call, not mine, when I die. As a human, I would not do that to my family and everyone else, who would be left with the worst of emotions, and especially to my Julie, who would have to make it in life on her own. And, frankly, I could not bear to hurt myself.

Even more than killing myself, I thought about running away from home. Sundays came to be the hardest day of the week. I loved leading worship, proclaiming Christ, and teaching Bible class. When I came home at noon, I crashed horribly. I hated myself the worst. Outside of church, I could not sustain the good feeling I had when leading the Lord’s people. Often, during worship, my mind slipped away to the coming gloom, and I felt like a sham of a person.

So, Sunday afternoons were spent planning my getaway. On Monday, whenever Julie might leave the house, I would quickly throw together some things and take off. I would drive to who-knows-where. I would only check in with Julie after I got far enough away, and only so that she knew I was safe.

Several things kept me from running away. I’m so stinking practical that I could not bear the thought of wasting money on hotels and dining out all of the time. Besides, I knew that, eventually, I would have to come home and face my life. Thus, I was able to conclude that running away, like suicide, was no answer.

What did I have left? Since transitioning was an impossibility—this was the mind-set I worked so hard to retain, that my becoming a woman was the stupidest idea on the face of the earth, and even when I would decide that I would have to transition I would work so hard to change my mind—the only other option I could fathom was to enter a psych ward of a hospital.

Here is what I want you to know about how horrible my life was in 2013, and that what I experienced was what thousands of precious people go through who have gender dysphoria.

My mind was on fire.

I have never had a tumor growing in me, so I don’t know how that feels. I have never delivered a baby, so I don’t know how that feels. I have not experienced many of the things which bring the worst pain to the lives of people, so I don’t know how they feel.

But what I know about delivering a baby is that after hours of pain one has a gift of joy. And what I know about tumors is that there are plans for addressing them. And what I know about every other malady under the sun—even the ones which become lifelong plagues, and those which end in death sentences—is that people can tell their families about them, and they won’t be shunned or hated or misunderstood for having them, and even when there isn’t a cure there are many and various ways to treat them, to ease them, and they will be respected for having the surgery or taking the medicine.

Forgive my presumptive arrogance: Because of its uniqueness, my pain was worse.

My pain took me into the wilderness. And feeling like there was no one on earth who could understand, no minister who would think me anything but a sinner, that I had a condition which my family and friends might not/would not respect for its seriousness, in this wilderness I found myself tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

And so I suffered. I hurt the same each new day as I did the day before, yet I wouldn’t die. I just kept on suffering. I bled, but the blood would not run out. There was no end in sight, no expectation of help, no hope that death would come. And there was nothing I could do about it.

That’s how the world looked to me: I was lost in the wilderness, tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

Thankfully, I had Julie, but I feared wearing her out. I undertook therapy, to see if I could learn some skills to abide in my male life. I regularly spoke with a pastor, for spiritual strength. I would wind up speaking with many pastors, and placed myself under the care of several of them.

I took refuge in my work. I still loved being a pastor, and I adored the people of my congregation and the village in which I lived. I did not want to leave there until I retired at a good old age or, as I came to joke, when my friends at Ramsey Funeral Home would have to come and pry my dead fingers from the pulpit.

But I could not work twenty-four-hours-a-day.

I cried constantly. I would finally tell my congregation that I cried more in 2013 than in the first fifty-six years of my life, combined. That is no exaggeration.

I cried when I got up in the morning. I cried when I got dressed for work. I cried when I came home from work. I cried when I prayed. I cried when I was driving my car. I cried in my therapy sessions. I cried when I tried to go to sleep at night.

My mind was on fire. The bear trap tightened.

Before I had begun telling pastors about myself, the thought of telling them crushed me. Then, the pastors I had come to tell, who had influence over my professional life, completely did not get me. They were sympathetic, but they didn’t get me. In the end, to them I was struggling with a sinful situation and I had to get my healing from Christ. Their answer to my plea, “What am I supposed to do with myself? If I can’t transition, how am I supposed to ease my pain?” was always, “I don’t know.”

I would rather be told that I have a terminal illness than to hear “I don’t know.” At least with that I would know where I stand.

Every two or three days, especially from winter of 2013 through that autumn, before they became less frequent, I would fall into a complete meltdown. The bear trap was at its tightest. I was filled with pain. With anger. With rage. I had nowhere to go with everything that was inside of me. I couldn’t transition. I had to transition. I had to figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t kill myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself. I wouldn’t run away. I kept planning my escape.

There was no end in sight for my pain. In my mid-fifties, I was still young, still wanted to be a pastor, still wanted to be a husband and father and grandfather and brother. I didn’t know how I was going to be that person. I hated myself, and then I hated myself for hating myself, sniveling ingrate that I was.

I came to say that I suffered a nervous breakdown right in front of everyone, and no one saw it.

In April, I started therapy. I had a marvelous therapist. I felt like I exasperated him with my bawling, pain-filled sermons about myself. He worked hard for me, but he could not remove the bear trap.

He taught me that only I could remove the bear trap. Only I could walk back from the wilderness.

At times, I had a meltdown on my bed. I would kick, and scream, and pound my pillow. I would holler my prayers to Christ, begging His mercy. After an hour, I would collapse in exhaustion and fall asleep.

At times, I had meltdowns when Julie was home. These usually took place in the living room. I would either pound away at the arms of my chair, or I would fall to the floor and writhe in pain. I put my pain into screaming words, as if blowing it out of me would finally get rid of it.

I never put myself into physical danger, so Julie would sit by, observe me, and wait. When I had exhausted myself, she finally spoke. Then we talked. Always an hour. Often two. The same stuff, over and over. New stuff, as it arose. We addressed it all. The profound love and respect we already had for each other grew in a way that cannot occur unless a couple does the hard work of suffering together.

I would beg her to commit me to a mental hospital. Many times, I pondered driving to one and committing myself. I saw it as a reasonable form of running away. And if I wound up in the hospital and I came to tell my world what landed me there, then maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, if I were hospitalized for a good, long time, they would feel sorry for me. Then, maybe, just maybe, because I was this completely screwed up person—this man who was their minister in the stead of Jesus Christ, who led them with integrity, who spoke by the Spirit as one who had authority, to whom they looked in tragedy after tragedy which continued to befall our congregation and community—maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t hate me.

But Julie would not do it. Julie would not commit me. And when I was tempted to drive myself to Bay City or Port Huron—to the psych wards where I had ministered to some of my members—when I thought of placing myself in one of these places her reason for not doing it rang in my ears and kept me at home.

We were convinced that they would so heavily medicate me that I would basically be left in a stupor, that it would take the most serious sedatives to douse the fire in my brain so that I could relax

But the drugs would not cure anything. They would only delay any decisions I had to make. They would leave me in a spot where I was useful to no one—only a blithering idiot, one who could do no more than watch TV.

Drugs. Mental hospital. Suicide. They’re all just other forms of running away.

Another form of running away: One evening, I tried to get drunk. It was during tax season, when Julie was not getting home till 11:00 p.m. or so. We had a bottle of wine. I drank the first glass very quickly. I poured a second. I began to sip it. The alcohol hit my brain. I’ve never been drunk and that first feeling always makes me stop. I started crying so hard that I flipped my La-Z-Boy onto its back, and I spilled onto the floor. I lay there and bawled. I couldn’t even ease my pain with alcohol.

By summer 2013, I finally agreed that I possessed the keys to the bear trap. That’s keys, plural. It would take me two years to finally grab onto these to where they did not slip out of my grasp.

Doc, my exceptional therapist, then Julie’s echoing him, encouraged me that I was the only one who could decide about my life, so the first key was that I could not make decisions based on who would be hurt or by whom I might be hated.

Another key was educating myself, learning that I had a real, physical condition. Once I knew that the origin of my suffering was not some nebulous mental illness, I was able to take control of it.

Another key was Julie and I talking through every last detail as to how we would proceed, figuring out my retirement and our future, how we would tell people and the order in which we would do it, striving to know how each would react so that we were ready for this largest hurdle (and after we got the first few under our belt, we were 100% correct as to the reactions of everyone).

The final, most important key was the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence, His always holding my Lord Jesus Christ before my face, and the excellent theology in which I had been trained, which I had proclaimed and taught, which I believed. I found myself trusting in Christ more deeply than ever, that He loved me and that I was proceeding under His good and gracious will.

I continued to suffer, but it gradually eased. Even at the three year mark, this past winter, I would feel the grip of the bear trap; old wounds would bleed. When they have, I’ve used the keys to free myself.

Through it all, I have taken refuge in Christ and in many of His promises, including this one: “God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13b).”

One more time: it’s NOT a choice

 

So many still don’t get it. They don’t hear us. I fear that they refuse to listen. They have hardened their hearts. The case is closed to them. They know nothing, but they know it all. They are experts at everything. Please, give them the task of solving world hunger, peace among the nations, and how I can take off fifty pounds and keep it off, because, clearly, there is nothing that is beyond them.

I prefer to write upbeat articles, themes to move us all forward in life, but, sadly, this piece comes from shear and utter frustration. Forgive me, but my ranties are in a bunch.

This was prompted by yet another person—in this case, a celebrity—insisting that we trans folks are making a choice by being trans. Let’s look at the facts.

Yes, I did choose several things.

  • I chose not to take my life when my daily refrain was, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.”
  • I chose not to commit myself to a psych ward, because it would not cure my ails and only be a temporary escape.
  • I chose not to reject my Lord Jesus all of the times when it felt like He was asleep on the job. I chose to trust Him. I chose to follow His instruction, to ask, to seek, to knock down His door until I heard His answer.
  • I chose to keep the vow I made to my congregation and do my job, and thus also take care of my family, even fulfilling my promises on those days when the only thing I wanted to do was sit on my bed and cry.
  • And, yes, I chose to transition—or, more accurately said, I chose to try it, to see if it would help, and it is. Even when it helped, I stopped four times, so badly did I not want to hurt anyone or have anyone hate me. But, when, each time, I crashed worse than the previous time, last summer I finally learned to enjoy the peace of mind I was enjoying and reveal that I was living as Gina and planned to continue to do so.

No, I did not choose several things.

  • I did not choose to be the child who was conceived after my mother had two miscarriages, so that I was in line to have my endocrine system disrupted which left me with hormones that did not match my genetics.
  • I did not choose to have the gender identity question that I began experiencing when I was very young.
  • I did not choose for it to worsen throughout my life. Indeed, if everything that everyone wanted me to try after I went public—beg the Lord’s help more, repent of it as if it were a sin in my life, try to convince myself that I am the male that God made me to be, stop dressing in women’s clothes, concentrate on others instead of thinking about myself—which was everything I did, countless times throughout my life—if any or all of this would have been proper treatment for me, then I would have ceased to have any gender identity question decades ago.
  • I did not choose for the identity question to erupt into gender dysphoria when I hit my early fifties, which means that I finally went from simply wishing I were a female to now hating that I was a male.

I continue to make many choices.

  • I choose to live a highly ethical, moral life.
  • I choose to educate about all things transgender.
  • I choose to bring light to what it means to be a Christian, and that being transgender is no more a factor in being a Christian than being an American, or a factory worker, or a parent, or anything else.
  • I choose to take care of my family in my new role of house spouse.
  • I choose to be a friend to many trans folks from all over the country who have called on me for help—sometimes to understand themselves, sometimes for help with their families, sometimes because they too are Christians, and sometimes it is their family member who is trans, and sometimes because a person simply needs a friend who understands and on whose shoulder she or he can cry.
  • I choose to be a biblical Joseph, who declared to his brothers that the thing which they meant for harm the Lord would use to accomplish good things. This is the Lord’s Romans 8:28 promise to me, to use all things in my life for good . I choose to believe Him. I choose to glorify Him in my life.

To you, who think you know all, I beg you to show some humility.

I beg you to do the one thing that all humans desire, to be treated well and fairly and justly and with respect. For the sake of the entire human race, please do for others what you want from them.

Unless you enjoy division. Prejudice. Ignorance. Bigotry. Hatred. Walls. Walls. Walls.

If these are the things you want, go for it, but please purchase a desert island and practice your deaf-dumb-and-blind-ness there.