Caught in the Middle of Life

CW: This post talks about suicide, self harm, and anti-trans violence

Another week, another transgender death or three. This week it was the suicide of a young transgender person that I am seeing on my social media feeds. Other times it is transgender people who are murdered. It is exhausting. As exhausting as it is, however, when we do not talk about and share the stories of those who have died we do them and ourselves a disservice. Do I share about every death? No. This is because I am at my own personal saturation point and need to ensure my own mental health is as good as it can be. What I do notice is that when there are stories about trans deaths there is a glaring gap in the range of people who we hear about. We do not talk about adult transgender people who take their own lives.

The current media climate is focusing on transgender youth and children. In the past week there was yet another article about yet another study showing that being affirming of children and young transgender people and allowing them to explore who they are reduces self harm and suicide. Each time I see these my first reaction is something like, “and in other news, water is wet.” When I see the responses from many conservative non-affirming people and groups I think, “and there’s the #NotAllWater response.” Yet we do not see articles or posts about older transgender people and our difficulties.

Part of the reason for this is that, for the most part, we aren’t sexy enough for media coverage. There are a few who meet societal expectations of what beauty is and pass quite easily in the world. They get attention. This does not mean suicide and self harm isn’t a problem for those of us who are older. We just don’t have the same number of studies that get mainstream coverage.

Organisations that purport to support LGBT people offer programs that are beneficial. Looking more closely at the offerings, however, there are some obvious gaps. We see quite a few programs aimed at transgender youth. We see programs for older transgender people who are in their senior years, usually defined as 50 or 55 years and older. We do not see programs for those of us in the middle of these two segments. If one is between about 30-35 and 50-55 the programming is lacking. My suspicion is that there is an underlying assumption that those in the middle are able to afford to find their own supports and don’t need good community supports. Further, decisions are often made by people who are not transgender themselves and there is inadequate transgender representation in leadership and decision making.

Having been fortunate enough to be able to travel to some conferences in various cities I have looked at programs offered by LGBT community centres, and other LGBT organisations. A common thread is that when there are broad programs they are either wide open to all transgender people, or are trans masculine specific. Programs specifically for trans feminine people are not offered. To be absolutely clear, I do not think that trans masculine specific programs should not be offered! What irks me is that trans feminine specific programs are not. Or, where they are offered they are not facilitated by a trans feminine person.

Transgender specific groups and organisations that are open to transgender people in this age range are, all too often, ones that have difficulty in representing and supporting those in need. Or, they have a very narrow focus and are focused on social activities. These activities are usually not accessible to many for a variety of reasons including, financial, disability, mobility, if one has engaged in sex work, and a sense that one has to be the ‘right’ type of transgender person to participate.

All of these are factors that lead to isolation, increased depression, and anxiety. This in turn exacerbates the stresses that transgender people in their middle years face. Far too many in this age range are living in poverty and do not have access to paid support, or are unable to afford transit to get to what little is offered. Yet, we do not really know how many transgender people in this age range are taking their own lives. Canada does not specifically track the murders or suicides of transgender people. Numbers are based on what the community knows and reports among ourselves.

What can be done?

As usual, I do not want to state a problem without making suggestions and recommendations on how to improve the situation.

  1. I strongly recommend you read Amanda Jetté Knox’s post “How You Can Help Save a Trans Child’s Life”.
  2. If you are engaged in transgender communities, particularly if you are transgender yourself, take care of your own needs and use what supports you have available. As much as we are inclined not to want to seem ‘weak’, seeking support is not a sign of weakness.
  3. Advocate for services and supports where there are gaps. Ask why there are no supports for one specific group when there are for another. Sadly, the responses will likely be defencive with a lot of excuses. We must be persistent.
  4. Be as available as you can be for friends going through a rough time. The transgender people who are unable to get health care. The transgender woman who has been fired and/or unable to get work. The transgender man who is denied housing. The transgender or non-binary person who is constantly misgendered. Be present and acknowledge their hurt and stress. Listen.
  5. Seek to ensure that legislation such as C-16 currently before the Canadian Senate gets passed. Help ensure that protections that are in place are not just paper tigers, but that they are enforced. Be vigilant in ensuring that hard-won rights are not repealed or rolled back as we are starting to see in the USA.
  6. Ask what organisations are doing to ensure they have diversity in leadership, management, and decision making. Do they have trans masculine and trans feminine representation? Do they listen to the people they do have, or are they there as tokens and to say “LOOK! We’re inclusive because we have one transgender person!”
  7. Find some humour in life, spread some joy and fun. Life can be draining when on the margins and we all could use more fun and joy in the world.

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