Friday, 2 January 2015

Most trans suicides are murder

(trigger warnings for suicide, both external and internalised trans oppression, parental abuse, religion)

On 28 December, another transgender teenager committed suicide. Statistically, she is likely not to have been the only one in the past month. Leelah Alcorn's suicide note says her parents' response to her assertion of female gender at 14 was to tell her it was "a phase", that "God doesn't make mistakes", and that she "would never truly be a girl", before subjecting her to what is heavily implied to be "reparative therapy". After Leelah turned 16 and her parents Carla and Doug failed to give permission for her to start medical transition, when she publicly "came out as gay" in what she saw as a sort of stepping stone towards social transition, they "took [her] out of public school, took away [her] laptop and phone, and [forbade her from] getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating [her] from [her] friends". By the time they relented enough to let her back in contact with the outside world, her friends had drifted away.

Meanwhile, Leelah had come to the conclusion that she was "never going to transition successfully, even when [she moved] out", no doubt influenced in this by the factual decreased effectiveness of hormone treatment with age - especially in late teens - but also cissexist ideas promoted by the media and the medical establishment of what constitutes "successful" transition, a lack of access to information, thanks to the actions of her parents and "therapists" and the failures of the school system, about how effective such treatment can be even in adulthood, and her parents' abuse. She was also convinced that she would never have enough friends or romance, no doubt influenced by the factual greater isolation transgender people live with on average due to societal transphobia, but also by her parents' and therapists' abuse, her apparent abandonment by the friends she did have, and by a media which promotes a view of transgender people as nothing but punchlines, sex objects, pity objects (and/)or deceivers.

Another suicide victim in recent years whose case has stuck with me is Lucy Meadows. Lucy was a primary school teacher who, when she transitioned over the 2012 Christmas break, was brought to the attention of the local media by transphobic parents such as Wayne Cowie who did not want their attempts to indoctrinate their children with cissexist models of sex and gender to be undermined by contact with an adult whose existence contradicted them. The story was then picked up by Richard Littlejohn, a notoriously bigoted columnist in the more notorious and equally bigoted mass-market Daily Mail. From that point on, she faced paparazzi harassment at every step, and frequently received hate mail.

Although it's unlikely to be recognised as such in the foreseeable future - and indeed the police declared Lucy Meadows' death "not suspicious", which I suppose is technically true only insofar as we know exactly who killed her, how and why - it should be totally uncontroversial to describe their deaths, and others in similar circumstances, as murder. The primary culprits respectively being Leelah Alcorn's parents and "therapists"; and Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, Stuart Pike of the Accrington Observer and the editor who approved their original article, Wayne Cowie and the other transantagonist parents who contacted the media in the first place, and others who took part in the campaign against Lucy Meadows as an individual, as well as the financiers who insisted on collecting the debts mentioned in her suicide note.

However, a case can be made that even such transgender suicides that aren't directly traceable to individualised, targeted abuse by specific people are murder, provided they are traceable to generalised oppression. The media is responsible for the perpetuation of transphobic tropes mentioned above - among others - and the lack of role models available to transgender people. The school system is responsible for perpetuating the commonly believed lie that assigned sex is gender, and the lack of both positive understanding of sex, gender, and transgender identities and experiences, and access to information about what's possible with regards to transition. The medical establishment is responsible for putting bureaucratic and legal barriers in the way of people trying to access medical transition, often essential to alleviate frequently crippling dysphoria, and also along with the institution of the family for creating the precedent at birth for each individual trans person to be misgendered throughout their lives until - in the best case scenario - they are able to successfully assert their own identity. All of those things are responsible for creating the environment in which every trans person is subject to a myriad of microaggressions and often macroaggressions such as physical violence and denial of housing, healthcare, work and income. All of those things contribute directly to trans suicide. All of those institutions are, in their continued resistance to improvement after decades of campaigning for change by trans people and worthwhile cis people, wilfully complicit in murder. In genocide.

Mourn the dead.

Fight like hell for the living.

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