In a week—on November 20—it will be Transgender Day of Remembrance, the annual day to honor trans people who’ve been killed because of their gender identity.
I’ll be in Kansas City on November 20 to speak at a large international law firm and then to law students and the local bar association. Certainly, I’ll talk about it being TGDOR to highlight the marginalization of trans people. No doubt, I’ll point out that trans people have no legal protections in either Missouri or Kansas (although Kansas City proper outlaws trans discrimination) and how that impacts a trans person on everything from renting an apartment to finding a therapist or doctor.
Yet, I will not do something which traditionally occurs on TGDOR: I won’t read the names of this year’s victims nor will I list how each trans person died. It’s not that I don’t want to honor murder victims—after all, they are my people—or that I don’t care. As a masculine-voiced woman who happens to be transgender, I’m very much aware of how the wrong person in the wrong situation could cause me great, even fatal, harm. I feel a deep kinship to all trans people (as well as to everyone else GLBT) who suffer violence simply because they’re brave enough to live authentically.
Still, my focus will be on a different kind of violence that afflicts trans people—the violence which we do unto ourselves. What follows is the essence of the talk that I’ll give in Kansas City.
Many know that of the letters in the GLBT alphabet, it’s the Ts who have the highest incidence of bad stuff; comparatively speaking, trans people are far more prone to depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and joblessness. Crucially, the Ts are way more likely to attempt suicide or be successful at it. In fact, a 2011 study revealed that trans people attempt suicide at a rate nearly forty times the national average.
Why is it that the Ts are more prone to the self-hatred and despair that feed suicide; why do we become so very lost; what is it about our collective condition that makes it much easier to pull a trigger, loop a rope, or swallow a bottle of pills?
While I’m not a social scientist or expert on suicidology, I’m a trans person who grew up in a black-and-white society that defines gender on the basis of one’s birth anatomy. Indeed, in most places on this planet, it’s heretical to say that gender is brain-based rather than dictated by what’s between one’s legs.
It’s very difficult to go through life when your brain doesn’t match your body. To make things even worse, many non-trans (called “cisgender”) people simply can’t wrap their arms (or hearts) around the idea that in order to survive, a trans person must move from man to woman or vice versa. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, co-workers, and best friends far too often erroneously believe that transitioning genders is a choice.
Loved ones sometimes believe they, too, can choose. Their choice is to shut out the trans person, as if love flows from a spigot that can be turned on and off at whim. Many trans people fear losing love above all else; the need to be loved often outweighs the need to love one’s self.
However—and I will attest from personal experience—not loving one’s self is far worse than losing the love of another person. There’s really no choice there: survival, authenticity, and being complete aren’t things to choose. Rather, they’re basic life necessities, preserved only by valuing one’s self as a human who deserves basic dignity.
Words can’t fully describe the utter misery that comes from having to “choose” between love of self and the love of another. Because of that misery, we trans people tend to resort to a third option: ending the pain by our own hand. For some, that becomes the only logical answer regardless of how illogical suicide is.
Having explained all of this to my Kansas City audiences, I will offer an answer to self-hatred and an antidote to fearing love lost: compassion.
Wikipedia—the authority on just about everything that matters—defines compassion as “the emotion one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.”
Compassion comes in two varieties. One is the compassion that we feel for others; it’s exemplified when cisgender people keep the love spigot flowing for a trans person. Compassion is understanding that gender isn’t at all a choice, that true love is unconditional, and that we must take people as who they are, regardless of our black-and-white society.
The other variety of compassion?
Compassion for one’s self and recognition that we suffer by trying to live up to the standards of someone else. As trans people, we have the right to walk this earth as our true selves. Yes, that takes courage and a darn lot of hard work, but the payoff to loving one’s self is freedom.
As I write above, TGDOR is about honoring.
I seek to honor those who struggle to remain with us.
Love yourselves, my T friends. You are worth it.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers experiencing thoughts about self-harm are urged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or their local hospital emergency room.