It seems that hardly a day goes past without headlines of yet another young Transgender person ending their life. Every day it seems my feed on Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook is announcing another tragic loss. It has almost become normalised, in that it’s not a surprise or that it’s an expected part of being Transgender. This should not be the case.
Let’s get this straight, young people are not ending their lives becausethey are Transgender, they are ending their lives because the lack of support and acceptance they receive makes it too intolerable to keep on living.
There are far more young people coming out as Transgender now, likely due that there is much greater awareness of gender issues in the media and so younger people are finding the words to explain how they feel in ways that us older Trans guys didn’t. The knowledge that was available when I was young was so slim, so not many people came out and when they did you either didn’t hear about it, or it was so badly put in the media that it certainly didn’t encourage other people to come out. Nowadays, there are much more positive stories, characters on TV, Transgender documentaries, and the vast community of people on YouTube documenting their transition.
So with all these positive stories and access to information why are so many young Transgender people committing suicide?
I believe there are two main reasons for this; the first is that the increase in people coming out is causing a huge increase in need to access treatment. In the UK, waiting times as recently admitted by the NHS, are not meeting good practice guidelines and people have to wait for a horrendous amount of time before being seen. Leaving someone with a medical condition to wait for commonly upwards of a year before accessing a GIC, is nothing short of cruelty. So many transgender people never make their first appointment, it all becomes too much to bare. Therefore we have this huge movement to increase awareness which is causing more people to come out, but when they do there is not the medical treatment available for them. Even worse, in other countries they have no treatment at all or very limited and worse still its illegal in some.
Secondly, and likely the most prevalent, is due to lack of understanding and acceptance from their families. Young people, on expressing their feelings are often told “it’s just a phase”, parents then refuse to acknowledge the young persons preferred name and pronouns and at worst expel them from the family home. As a member of various Transgender forums, at key times of the year, most notably Christmas, the forums are chocked full of posts about being turned away from families, being made homeless, thrown out, having harsh Christmas cards written that you will always be a daughter/son in my eyes. Your child, the one you gave life too, has a medical issue that is not their fault and you are choosing to ignore it, ridicule it or at worst expel them from your lives.
Lack of understanding is being helped by positive stories in mainstream media but is not being helped by the medical profession. Times have changes in the understanding of gender but the way that it is currently treated just has not caught up with that. For a long time, being Transgender was seen as a mental health illness. However, it has now been declassified as such. Despite this, the medical profession are still using a psychopathological model of treatment, whereby a person will have to have psychiatric evaluation as a perquisite to treatment. And not just once either, many times between different interventions, before hormones, before chest surgery before lower surgery. Having to send a child to a psychiatrist just gives parents the message that there is something mentally wrong with their child and so surely it’s all in their mind! It is no wonder that parents are telling their children it’s just a phase or that they are mentally ill.
I want to make it clear that there is a difference between accepting parents and resistant parents. It is completely normal and understandable to react with shock, to react with denial. It happens with other medical conditions too, but people don’t get kicked out because they have a medical condition. Yes parents may go through a grieving period, in feeling they are losing their child or at least the child they thought they had. Yes they may be scared for what their child may have to face, discrimination, operations, and hardship and want to protect them from that, and yes it may take time to get used to the different pronouns and names. This is all normal, but to flatly refuse to try to adjust or to disown your child is just inhumane.
I think that all of these issues, the lack of timely and suitable treatment and the lack of acceptance, go hand in hand in contributing towards the high suicide rate. Making changes in NHS treatment approach and provision would have positive effects in both allowing early access to treatment and changing views in society. For example, changing to the use of a medical model rather than a psychopathological model in providing treatment would greatly help to speed up access to treatment as there wouldn’t be the need for so many psychiatric evaluations. This would free up much needed support for the most vulnerable of patients. Furthermore, this would also reflect the fact that being Transgender is a medical issue not a mental health illness which would send out a message to families that their child is not going through a phase or are mentally ill. In this way, we might see a future where on discovery of their Transgender nature, rather than suicide being the only option, a child may find the support and acceptance they need, from society and the medical profession, to live a long and happy life that is rightfully theirs.
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