One afternoon in 2006, I sat in my dorm room, staring intently at a bottle of little white pills. For a few months beforehand, I’d been refilling a prescription. Instead of taking them as directed, however, I began a little stockpile, asking myself, “I wonder how many of these I’d need to take in order to end it all?”
At that point, my life was anything but happy. I was 19 years old, and already so tired of life, living each day with a pain more unbearable than the one before. For years, I had been battling my inner needs, pretending to be happy and healthy. For years, I did everything in my power to just be “one of the boys.” I simply couldn’t do this anymore. This wasn’t me. I hated the person who looked back at me in the mirror. I wished harm to him; death, even.
As I twisted the cap off the orange pill container, I focused on what I was about to do. “Just do it. Get it over with. If this is life, it’s not worth it,” I said to myself in whatever the opposite of a pep-talk happens to be.
Moments later, I began methodically swallowing the pills, one or two at a time. There I was, nearly 90 days worth of an antipsychotic medication in my system, waiting for whatever was supposed to happen next. My roommate was scheduled to be out of town for a few days, and so I was all but been assured of my privacy as I slipped into death. I closed my eyes, and let this happen.
When I woke, my body felt like it was burning up from the inside. Looking at the ground, it was apparent that I’d involuntarily vomited up enough of the medication so that only a non-lethal dose remained in my system. I’d failed, and instead found myself in the worst physical pain of my life.
Following that experience, I walled myself off from the world, sleeping for days. Unable to continue school, I moved home with my parents until I was mentally strong enough to handle the outside world.
My personal life has improved since then, almost entirely as a result of coming to terms with my authentic self. I knew that the boy I pretended to be was only a lie, yet I clung to my mask, afraid that there was nothing I could do to change who I was. It took me nearly seven more years to fully realize my own existence, but I finally did it. I am a woman.
Yes, seven years later, I came out as transgender. The simple act of being honest with myself was so refreshing, so relieving, and so real. Upon starting hormone replacement therapy, I almost immediately felt as though a cloud of self-loathing had been lifted, and life finally felt as though it had a future.
It’s because of this, because of my own personal battle with attempted suicide, that I can relate to a study released last week by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute. The study, titled, “Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults”, examines many of the underlying factors that contribute to an alarmingly high suicide attempt rate among transgender individuals.
Most of the American public isn’t aware that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide during their lifetimes. This is 25 times the national average. Could you imagine what it would be like if any other subset of society had such a high attempt rate? People would call this an epidemic, a tragedy, and a major societal problem. The American people would demand action be taken to understand and provide a remedy.
But it isn’t any other demographic or psychographic, it’s just transgender people. The punchline to sitcom jokes, the predator in Conservative depictions, the perpetually misrepresented — transgender people don’t matter. Or, at least that’s how it seems.
There are, however, things we, as a society, and as a human race, can do to improve these sobering figures. Based on the study, trans people who are able to find employment are 35 percent less likely to attempt suicide than those who struggle to land a job. Transgender people who are HIV-positive are 27.5 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their HIV-negative counterparts. Those who became homeless as a result of their trans identity are 68 percent more likely to attempt suicide than those who weren’t subject to this discrimination.
The point is, and needs to be, these are all issues that can be remedied. Outlaw discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of one’s gender identity. Ensure that trans people aren’t denied basic medical care. Most importantly, we need to cultivate a society that welcomes those whose gender identity varies from the expected. It’s that society that nearly cost me my life, and has cost so many others theirs. We can live as happy, healthy people; and society can be an accepting place, so long as we fight for it.
Still, though things have improved, sometimes I feel like its that afternoon in 2006 all over again.