24 October 2012

Why They Think About Killing Themselves

Sometimes a study will confirm what any five-year-old could tell you.  Still, it's good to have them, if only to use as evidence that the five-year-olds are right.  Furthermore, such studies can sometimes indicate or suggest what needs to be done or changed.

Such a study was recently conducted by Ryan J. Testa of the Center for LGBTQ Evidence-based Applied Research (CLEAR) in Palo Alto, California.  

While anywhere from 6 to 12 percent of the general population has contemplated suicide, two out of every three transgender people have.  Think about it:  A transgender person is anywhere from five to eleven times as likely to think about killing him or her self as everyone else!

Other sorts of self-destructive behavior, such as drug and alcohol abuse, increase in both frequency and intensity among transgender people.  Predictably, the study showed that the bigotry we face has much to do with trans peoples' negative coping strategies and and thoughts about ending their own lives.  However, Testa's work may have revealed something that is entirely intuitive but has been mostly unrealized or unacknowledged.

Dr. Testa found that of all things trans people experience, physical violence is the one most closely related to suicide attempts.  As I have mentioned in other post, no one else is more at risk for being subject to a beating, sexual attack or other kind of violence.  

One reason for that is that so many trans people are sex workers--a fate that transitioning in middle age may have spared me.  Few, if any, occupations carry a greater risk of its practitioners incurring assaults, or even becoming homicide victims.  

Another reason why so many trans peoples' badges are scars (sometimes permanent), bruises and burns is the fact they are more likely than other people to be abused by family members and close friends.  This, of course, is a reason some leave their homes before finishing high, or even junior high, school.  Fleeing their families of communities makes them prime candidates for homelessness and sex work, which exposes them to even more risk for ending up battered or dead.

Related to trans people's not finishing school--and, of course, increasing the number and depth of the emotional as well as physical scars too many of us bear--is the bullying many of us experience in school, or on our way to or from it.  

One more reason why so many trans people incur beatings as well as sexual assaults is that, very often, people see us as mere receptacles for their sexual desires and aggression  and their most lurid fantasies.  We are at least as likely as anyone else to be beaten or raped by our partners.  And said partners and hook-ups can use the fact that we're trans against us because even relatively tolerant people share some of the same fantasies and misconceptions about, as well as subconscious hatred of, us.  So it is easy, for example, for an abuser to spread false rumors that we are paedophiles or other kinds of sexual predators or that we "lie" about who we are.  An abuser can thus make him or her self the victim in the eyes of other people.

What I described in the previous two sentences happened to me.  I had been in a relationship with the person who tried to spread such rumors.  That person never assualted me physically, but was abusive in other ways.  I went along with it because at the time I met that person, I felt that his attraction toward me was a confirmation of my womanhood.  

Finally, the study reports something else that makes perfect sense--at least to me, given my experience:  Fewer than 10 percent of victims report their attacks.  They fear retaliation from the attacker or, worse, the police to whom they reported the assault.  Still worse, we face indifference from the police.

I had to make three complaints before anyone helped me.  The second time, I was all but ready to give up:  Not only did I face unhelpful officers at the front desk and in the conference room, I was also harassed by three officers on their way out of the precinct house's gym.  As they were not wearing their badges, I could not identify them. The officer at the front desk saw it but said "It's not my job!"  when I declared my intention of reporting it.   Nobody in the criminal "justice" system took me seriously, let alone made any effort to help, until I got to the county court (thanks to some erroneous advice I got).  A counselor in the court advised me that I needed to go to Family Court, where people were helpful, and told me about some of the counseling and other services that I could use.

I had the experiences I described even after getting advice from a retired NYPD detective my father knows.  So I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for some trans teenager who's left a violent home, has no education (Young people in such situations often lack skills, or are altogether illiterate or innumerate because they missed so much of their schooling before they dropped out.) and has no one to advocate for him or her.

That brings me to one more reason why too many trans people get sucked into a cycle of violence and despair:  Too many of us are completely on our own.  Other people who experience discrimination have their communities, families, places of worship and other institutions to give them the mental and spiritual--and sometimes physical--sustenance they need in order to endure.  Being trans cuts many people off those lifelines.  Every researcher on suicide from Emile Durkheim onward recognized the importance of such ties in giving people the will to live.  It's true that some people can live as hermits, but such people are not normally the ones who have no way of surviving--mentally as well as physically--in this world.  Isolation that is not self-imposed almost invariably breaks down that will.  In such a state, a person is virtually a target for violence, whether it comes from outside or within him or her self.

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