World Suicide Prevention Day: Please Let’s Do Something

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day – a day to mindfully engage in discussion and commitment to helping reduce the number of people we lose each year to this act.

Find out more here: http://www.iasp.info/wspd/

I believe there is so much more that the trans community can be doing to prevent suicides of people struggling with gender identity.  I am just as guilty as anyone. Handwringing can only go so far.  Last weekend I started the process of volunteering for the Trevor Project.  It is a very small step but a lot of small efforts from many people can make a BIG difference.

I also think that, for those of us in the trans community, it is good for us all to stop at least this one time of year and look at how we are talking about suicide amongst ourselves. It is a subject that at times needs to be acknowledged and discussed, but when it does it must be done mindfully—both for the people who are listening to our words and also for our own selves so that we are aware of how to keep our own mental wellness when we are engaged in these conversations.

I know that some LGBT and Trans-focused organizations and individuals have done a lot of advocacy in this area year round. I have named the Trevor Project, but there are others out there.  I would appreciate it if you know of any of these resources to please reply to this thread with information as I would like to compile as many as I can and make them available online.

There are a few other things that I would like to see happen and am willing to be involved in creating if I can find a few partners.

I think someone might have already done this but I can’t find it (again—please send me links or contact info if you know where it is.)  I think that there needs to be some readily accessible guidelines for how members of the trans community might want to think about when talking about suicide.  I have watched countless threads on internet forums where a gender questioning visitor (usually a young person or, increasingly, children) will ask if they should start the process of transition. In most of these threads a number of respondents (much older adults) will immediately tell that person that they will likely get to the same point that they themselves did – ready to get a gun out and pull the trigger. I really do believe that we are helping “normalize” suicide within the trans community by speaking of it so often especially in occasions such as this. (If anyone is familiar with trans forums they will know exactly what I am talking about.)  For many, I believe that this moment of very seriously contemplating or (in many cases) attempting suicide has almost become part of the Trans Mythos – a story of rebirth out of the debris of a life that had been there before.  I am not here to discount those stories. I believe most of them are true. I even have one myself.  But I believe that for those of us in the older “trans generations” can help younger generations find a new narrative, and set a tone where suicide is not something that is presented to someone right as they are “walking in the door” as it were. Let’s be mindful in our speech.

I sometimes search for the term “detransition” on social media because that is something that I am STILL struggling through. So many of the results I get are along the lines of “I would rather kill myself than detransition”.  I totally support the right of people to say that, but just keep in mind that for someone trying to hold their detransition together seeing this stuff online does have an impact and will have consequences of one form or another.  If you need to say it, do say it.  But maybe it is something you need to be saying to a therapist instead of shouting blindly out into the internet.

A lot of trans people use social media to make suicide threats. I think it is a good thing that they are at least calling out for help. Many in the trans community rally around to assist these people in their time of crisis to keep them talking and distracted enough so that the suicidal moment will pass.  Again, I would like to see guidelines for how these conversations should be conducted.  Maybe this is already out there on the net (I know there are a number of things for the general population and I will be gathering those as well as publishing them.) If anyone has anything they can let me know about I would appreciate it.

The reason why guidelines are important here is twofold – both equally important. Firstly, it is important to know how best to interact with someone in this situation and how to make sure that they are safe and will ensure that they connect with the resources and professionals who it is critical they speak to. Secondly, and just as important, how to keep one’s self healthy in the process. Talking to someone about suicide can be extremely draining and, if not done mindfully, can seriously impact the “helper’s” own mental wellness. Boundaries are really important here. I think a lot of people don’t really take care of themselves when they are trying to help others.

One of the resources available to anyone in the US is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/  Their phone number is 1-800-273-8255.  For those who are not familiar with how the crisis line operates, it is a federally funded non profit organization that serves as a coordination point for 165 independent crisis centers through out the country, fielding calls from people in crisis.  If you are trans and in crisis, this could be a good resource for you if you are unable to find anyone else to talk about.

I deliberately used the word “could” because right now I know that a lot of trans people will not call this number because they feel that the people answering the calls will not be sensitive to their trans identities.  I was curious about this so I reached out to the training department (in another lifetime I used to do training and quality control for a group of call centers so I am interested in this stuff.)  I was surprised to learn that they have not received any guidelines on how to handle trans* identified people in crisis.  (This is what I was told—if this is not the case, again someone please let me know.)

When I first approached the training department, I believe they thought I was suggesting some sort of intensive new training curriculum for “all things trans” that I wanted the crisis line and all of its independently affiliated call centers to adopt.  This is not the case. I think it can be as simple as a one sheet page of things to be mindful.  I think that there is probably a way of establishing that when a caller in crisis comes through that caller is immediately given the confidence that they will be treated with the dignity and lack of judgement that is their birthright. It is also important to find a solution to “neutralize” the negative impact that a callers perception of being “misgendered” might have on them. For those call centers (or individual counselors) who have difficulty using the caller’s prefered pronouns, a few tips for effective “gender neutral” communication would be extremely helpful.  It goes without saying that crisis counselors should not attempt to  ”counsel” the caller’s actual gender identity struggles.  I think a reminder in guidelines would be helpful.

I would like to work with others to put together such guidelines. I believe I can offer some valuable input, but I do not have the expertise to do this alone. Additionally this really needs to be put together by a diverse but unified group of stakeholders.  If anyone would like to assist me in this or has recommendations of people I can approach to partner with please let me know j@retransition.org.

There is no guarantee that the National Suicide Prevention Crisis Line would follow these guidelines—but I say it is at least worth a try and I believe these may be useful for other non LGBT-specific points of contact for people in crisis.

Also, I am hoping that some of the more prominent activists out there will build awareness that, yes, being referred to as one’s affirmed gender is important, getting “misgendered” is not the end of the world—especially in matters of life or death.  I believe that if the gravity and catastrophizing of getting “misgendered” was de-escalated a bit a lot of our trans family would find more wellness.

And speaking of “wellness”, there is one last point I want to make.  I have watched over the last ten years as the subject of “mental health” has been purposely driven from the larger conversation we are having about trans issues today. This is also happening at the therapeutic level—so many who express feelings of gender confusion actually lose potentially helpful psychological assistance because of the fear on the part of many providers that to dig a little deeper looking at and working through potential root causes for GID would be to dishonor their patient.  A false equivalence has been set up between the unspeakable and unnecessary damage done by so-called “reparative therapy” to some members of the LGB population with spending a little bit of time with a client presenting with gender identity issues to look for what really might be going on.  I believe that it is possible to live in a world where we acknowledge that being gender non-conforming is a perfectly valid (and quite possibly immutable) foundation of many people’s identities, while also recognizing that some cross-gender behavior and ruminations can also be a red flag for something much more serious going on in the background.

And that is the final point I want to make. We all know that the suicide rate (and the number of people who have at least contemplated it) is unacceptably high in the trans community.  A lot of this IS situational. The effects of bigotry and discrimination due have their cumalative toll and there is no doubt they have been a contributing factor to some trans people’s arrival at a place where they felt they truly had no more options. Again, practicing steps toward mental wellness can be helpful here, as well as the continued efforts to promote a more tolerant and compassionate world.  But I also strongly believe that there are also many deaths within our community that actually have little to do with being trans.  What makes me frustrated is that I believe that many of these are preventable, but because mental illness has now been deliberately stigmatized even further in the trans community than it is for the general population (where it already carries a huge stigma all on its own) these people are slipping through the cracks.

I say it is time to step forward to work toward building an environment that is safer for all and is even more respecting of everyone’s dignity. My fellow detransitioner thirdwaytrans is trying to untangle some of this in his website. Again, I know there are others out there (again, please let me know of any that you are familiar with.) In the coming days I too will be launching a website devoted to trans mental health based on some of what I have described here. It will be simple—it is just meant as another signpost for those who are struggling to find their way. In my case, my own path involved detransition, but I know this is certainly not for everyone so that is why I  am planning on this second site that only focuses on trans mental health.  My hope is to be one of many trans related sites that remind those who are suffering that we always have more options in life than we realize. We are never really “stuck” as long as we are here in this world alive today.

I hope you join me in this conversation.

Joel
Survivor

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Lady Valor — The Trans Navy Seal CNN Doc

I thought I would slip in a quick movie review because I do think the film on CNN about Kristen Beck, the ex-navy seal who has come out as MTF is worth watching if you get a chance. I think the filmmakers, Mark Herzog, Sandrine Orabona and, in particular, cinematographer Jen White, have done a surprisingly good job of documenting some of the issues that society faces as it struggles to make meaning of the wave of people now identifying as “trans”.

The filmmakers allow Kristen to tell “her own story” throughout the film, through her running commentary about her life growing up, her decision to transition, what her life is like now and what her plans are for the future. Although it is clear that they have compassion for Kristen, I believe that they have not let that obscure their duty as documentarians to provide their audience with the larger story that often directly contradicts what the onscreen dialogue is saying.  “Lady Valor” plays like a long series of extremely awkward moments. That is no coincidence—for many trans people that is the world they live in. It is fascinating to watch as the non-trans people in this film seem painfully stilted as struggle to say what they believe they “should say” as opposed to the sincere and honest emotional freedom when they let their “guard down” and refer to “Chris” in a way that still feels authentic to them—as a man.

Most of the people Beck encounters use male pronouns when speaking with “Kristen”. They are not doing this because they are “transphobic” or “transmisogynistic” or “cis-sexist”.  Most of them are clearly good people, many of whom love Beck very much. This is just their natural reaction to use this term—and when watching this film one has to wonder if it is ever going to be possible to “reprogram” them to speak in a way that is not in direct contradiction with what their natural intuition is telling them. And if they are able to “train” themselves to speak this way, will the wall that comes when people can’t speak honestly with each other ever allow Kristen to feel the sincere connectedness with others that I believe all humans need in their lives for basic survival?  I am not going to answer that question—but I believe it is part of the subtext of this movie.  We see many people forcing smiles and patting Beck on the back saying “good for you”—and yet to what end? At one point Beck laments that even though she is meeting lots of new people, her new friendships feel superficial and very different from the sustaining friendships she formed with others before her transition.

As the documentary shows, when Beck first came out with her story she had a nice house and seemed to have at least some kind of future ahead of her.  The Beck we see in this film is now living out of a van, driving from LGBT event to LGBT event to speak out for the “cause” and sell whatever “Lady Valor” chotskies she may have so as to eek out a living.  She speaks of how she connects online with young people to let them know that being trans is ok, and yet I wonder exactly what uplifting stories she has to tell them. The film ends with a postscript that basically says Beck is now broke.

So much of what I find interesting in this movie is what is NOT included in the film. First and foremost among the missing is any definition of what it means for Beck to be a woman. It is clear that she likes short short skirts, make up and very high heels—but those aren’t definitions of womanhood are they? Or are they, to Beck at least? Beck presents a common narrative of how dressing as a girl was always a way of coping with stress. I think the most awkward moment in the film was Beck showing her young niece the closet where she had stashed her pilfered female wardrobe when she was a kid. The child’s father utters probably the most unconvincing “that’s nice” I have heard in a looooooong while.

Of course, the people who are missing in this film tell a story of their own. Beck’s mother and two of his sisters, that refused to be part of the film are the most obvious absentees. (Beck’s ex-wife and two young sons are also not featured in the movie but this is much less surprising, especially since the film strongly suggests that there were other “situations” that had nothing to do with transgender that has led Beck’s ex-wife to seek distance from Beck.)

Actually, for me personally, the most interesting “absentees” from this film were the people in the various scenes who have their faces digitally obscured to prevent their being seen in this film. Why did the woman standing next to Beck at the football game sign a release so that we would see her face while the guy she is with obviously did not want to be associated with this film? (A few seconds later we see her embracing Beck.) Maybe it isn’t so much “why” (which is kind of obvious) but more of a curiosity on my part about what how the conversation between the couple about the decision to appear or not went down. There are many little moments like this throughout the film and I find them all fascinating.

One last little moment that somehow got my attention was the credit for “Excecutive Producer”,  Anne Speckhard, Ph.D.  Who was this? It turns out it she is an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University who co-authored the Beck’s recent semi-autobiography. Surprisingly, a person who appears to be Beck herself has taken to social media to request people not buy her own book. A person who identifies herself as Beck has this to say on Amazon.

The worst day of my life is when I signed a contract, with no legal counsel…
I was just divorced, came out transgender, thrown out of my house, punched in face by my sister… THEN a psychologist who was an author/publisher and claimed “many great books” patted me on the back and told me that she was my friend and would save me.
She then shook hands on a contract that would be for a book and only a book…now it turns out that contract gives her my entire life with no say over the quality of the “stuff” she puts out…hence the poorly edited book with various fallacies and incorrect data…She owns me like a slave from my birth until I die….
she is NOW trying to make a movie in hollywood about my life without me, totally cutting me out of my life story.
The worst day in my life was the day I met Advances Press and was swindled into a very very very bad contract. Evil, deceit and greed at its worst.
That is the truth.
Kristin Beck

 

The same user also gave the book a one star review, writing, “All I can say is sorry about this book. 3rd person narrative of me laying on a psychologists couch….. :(

If this is indeed actually Beck who posted this comment, one has to ask some serious questions about the quality of psychological care Beck received. Of course I am sure Dr. Speckhard has a very different version of events, but all the same it shows that Beck probably sees herself more as a victim of the medical, entertainment industries than of a transphobic world. (This probably would extend to some of the political groups out there who seem to be more interested in the unique branding opportunity their partnership with her brings them rather than true compassion for Kristen Beck the person.)

The movie uses the open road as an ongoing motiffe. The opening sequence is a montage of endless highways, in America and the various countries where Beck saw “action”. There is a brief film clip of her in the cab of her little trailer shown each time the film returns from commercial break. Where is she going? Beck herself doesn’t seem to know. More importantly, what is she driving away from? Apparently Beck is not ready to look in the rear view mirror.

Blog note: There are a few more posts that I had hoped to push out this weekend. Because they seemed more timely, I decided to get to this and another post that is still coming out first, but please know I have some thoughts to share now that I have reached the one year milestone with this blog. I hope to see you tomorrow if I can.

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