Monday, November 30, 2009

The risk of suicide

Assigning blame for someone's suicide is always tricky business. The only clear-cut cases are if the suspect intentionally drove the victim to suicide. Everything else is just speculation, although we can identify group trends. The harassment and discrimination that most gay men, lesbians and bisexuals have to deal with is quite likely a cause of the higher suicide rates in those groups. Similarly with transgender people of any variety.

One thing that I've always accepted as a background truth is that some people commit suicide because they can't bear to live as their current gender and their life circumstances prevent them from transitioning. Several trans people have told me that they've considered suicide in the past, and that they decided to transition because they believed that for them it was "transition or die." For anyone who is truly faced with that choice, a satisfactory transition is of course the better choice.

In the past I've soft-pedaled my concerns about the value of transitioning for a number of reasons. I don't want to make blanket pronouncements about something I really don't know that much about - not that that stops a lot of trans people, but it's important to me. I also don't want to start unnecessary fights, especially not in the online transgender community. But a big reason is that I don't want to support anyone who would discourage a "transition or die" person from transitioning, thereby forcing them into a situation where they feel their only option is to die. I don't want that on my conscience.

The recent death of Mike Penner (as far as I know, that name and male pronouns were his most recent preference for how he wanted people to refer to him) from an apparent suicide should make us all wonder about whether transition should be the default path for any transgender person. Of course it's possible that his suicide had nothing to do with transgender issues at all. Unless he left a note or talked to anyone, we'll probably never know. I've seen speculation that he killed himself because someone forced him to detransition, but there's no evidence for that.

What's at least possible is that Penner was dissatisfied with his transition, but couldn't detransition to his satisfaction. We know that transgender regret exists; even Lynn Conway has acknowledged it. In the previous post, Sara Davis Buechner told us how disheartening transition can be at times even for people who don't come to regret it.

We've accepted the possibility that there are people who will kill themselves if they don't transition. What if there are people who will kill themselves if they do transition? Do we want that on our consciences?

1 comment:

Shannon said...

With respect to "transition or die." I have been considering transition, living my life as myself a woman, for almost 20 years. I have only recently started to live my life full time. Somedays my life feels wonderful and others aren't so good. But my new life is still finding its paths.

I have always been uncomfortable when people comment on how "brave" I am to make this change, to live an authentic life. I appreciate the comment and what they mean behind it, but I don't feel brave. I always think and sometimes say, "It's not bravery or courage when you are faced with transition or die." I have not been in danger of physical death, but emotional and spiritual death have always been choices. I am an addict. Medication to make the pain go away, to numb myself has always been a part of my life. I KNOW I am capable of self-medicating to the point that who I am at the core becomes comatose and dies. And before living full-time my greatest pain was because I was not living authentically as myself.