Trans Suicide - Not the Whole Story
This is going to be hard for some people. For others, they will demand PROOF, evidence that my statements are supported versus the ‘studies’ that prove far less than they think they do.
When a child first starts to exhibit behaviors inconsistent with gender expectations at around 3-4, parents will either laugh about them, or, more usually, attempt to steer the child into behaviors more consistent with their expectations of gender conformity. This may confuse the child, but odds are that the child will return to their preferred behaviors.
By the time the child enters school years, persistent non-conforming gender behavior will usually cause parents to make stronger efforts, efforts that can lead to punishment for the non-conforming behaviors. By the time the child is 6-8, the child will recognize the actions that result in punishment and respond by either hiding the behaviors or pushing back against the efforts at conformity. Most children hide, knowing that their behaviors have caused a rift between them and their parents even if their understanding of why is limited. Shame, fear, and alienation become daily emotions that in almost all cases will lead to various degrees of depression as the cycle repeats.
At school, and in the community, gender non-conforming behaviors provoke alienation from their peers and bullying. WHEN bullying occurs, other adults often will turn a blind eye or sometimes will encourage attempts to force conformity. The bullying and blind eye often create a useless educational environment.
By the age of 9 or 10, elicit activities that allow the non-conforming behavior, either implicitly or explicitly, reinforce the isolation. Fear, shame, and alienation grow to dominate their emotional state. Drugs and alcohol often are sought out, worsening the already damaging emotional environment. Depression becomes a foundation for other problems. At home punishments escalate and at school and in the community, bullying worsens.
By the age of 10-11 for girls, and 11-12 for boys, the only place the child can be ok is in their own self, but that is about to be betrayed also: puberty is coming. At this point, the fear and yes, anger at the world, their parents, themselves reaches a point where there is little hope. Maybe self-harm has already started, but if not, it often starts here along with suicidal ideation. Parents, already facing their own shame and fears either try to hide the issues or seek religious or medical intervention to further the punishment cycles rather than address the underlying issue. Their own efforts to hide increases their emotional opposition to the non-conforming behavior.
The hormonal mix of puberty adds to the negative emotional state of the child. As they enter (JR) high school, non-conforming behavior brings increased bullying and tacit support of the bullying from other adults. Loss of support by peers, outside adults, family members and ultimately the body’s betrayal overwhelms the child. Suicidal ideation moves to planning.
- About teachers and other adults and bullying: Often the phrases, "grow up", "get a thick skin", "defend yourself", and "well, you were provoking them" are not supportive to the child or preventative towards bullying. Children see these adults as bully enablers and supporters.
Suicides at this time are rarely attributed to gender non-conformity issues. If suicide occurs now, there is little desire by parents or other adults to expose the reasoning, if known, for the suicide. Often “depression” is the sole offering. A troubled child the only explanation offered to others.
Loss of support by peers, outside adults, family members and ultimately the body’s betrayal overwhelms the child. The teen years see three possible outcomes, emotional stagnation within several dysfunctions, suicide or repeated attempts increasing already significant issues, or attempts at conformity. The last will usually persuade parents and adults that ‘it was just a phase’. The attempts at conformity occur because the body betrayal is seen as the final straw. You can’t fight yourself.
Depending on the person and their attempts and relative successes, this period can last years and decades. For those that stagnated emotionally, their successes will be few. Those that attempted suicide might continue self-harming behaviors until succeeding in ending their ‘pain’ with few outside their immediate lives knowing why.
Various levels of successful conformity are seldom sufficient to deal with the continued internal dialogue that often includes ‘imposter syndrome’ or shame at non-conforming thoughts. Societal pressures to conform causes non-conforming behavior in secret, increasing fear, shame, and alienation. Drugs and alcohol are often abused to varying degrees. Marriages fail and job stability suffers. Suicides now are often unexplained or related to divorce, job loss, or drug/alcohol abuse.
10. At some point, those that survive or get past the suicide choice, the non-conforming behavior becomes the self-affirming behaviors despite the family and community demands. Family and job demands complicate matters but the adult has at least the minimal ability to hold off those demands to initialize a self-conforming life.
- Societal pressure continues to perpetuate types of bullying. Peers and even strangers demand conformity, emotionally, verbally and on occasion, physically. Stresses caused by hormone replacement therapy often mimic the emotional state of puberty all over again. Suicide is not uncommon as the stresses build. Attempts by the adult, or others, to have medical or religious intervention, almost always to support the pressure to abandon non-conforming behaviors, add to the stress/pressure.
When suicide happens here, the non-conforming behavior is often the factor offered by others. The non-conforming adult seldom offers their take but if they did so, it is often not shared with others.
People seeking to change sex (for themselves their gender has always been without question) post puberty deal not only with the pressures and stresses of their choice, but the consequences puberty dealt them – bodies that are difficult to ‘pass off’ as consistent with the presentation effort. The worse the situation (masculine/feminine bone/muscle structures, height, and voice), the more societal pressures grow. Bullying is not just in schools. It happens on public transportation, in stores and in jobs. Verbal and physical abuse are common.
Even post-transition, these pressures can continue. Often the emotional difficulties that overlaid the non-conforming childhood remain unresolved. Parental abuse during childhood carried over into adulthood, the loss of family connections, fear of the past becoming known, the lack of emotional support all are unresolved by completing a transition. Therapy prior to surgery SHOULD address, but often cannot correct the issues.
It would be helpful to the discussion, but beyond anyone interested, to know to what extent the factors associated with passing had in a suicide at this point. Too frequently the simple answer, transition failed to fix the problem, is probably the wrong one. Studies purporting to say that transitioning doesn’t help rely on few cases where the factors are known and far too many adults seeking to shift blame for their own bullying or emotional failures.
We, us original non-conforming children, do far worse within ourselves than our parents or peers do. We WANT to be normal. We WANT to be conforming. We WANT to not live in fear and shame. We WANT the unconditional love of our parents and family so many tell us is ours if we just can CONFORM. But it is usually beyond us to stop what is going on within us. Our true nature can be suppressed, but only at great emotional cost. The cost is often too much for many. The fear almost never goes away. We recognize that our parents and family are suffering because of OUR behavior. We often believe that our punishments are justified – that WE are the bad people. Overcoming those thoughts is often the result of therapy, but ultimately understanding that WE have to accept ourselves first.
It is a wonder that ANY of us survive childhood and adulthood transitions. It is the EXTERNAL pressures that tip the balance. Always. And those pressures, save for a few of us, NEVER go away, even long after transition.
I based the above on my own experiences, the writings of others, and on discussions with others that walked a similar path of varying ages from 20's to 70's.
(photos from Pexels)