Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Cutting Edge-Jan 2015

Barbara F. Anderson, Ph.D., LCSW


Another wonderful article by Jennifer Finney Boylan, transgender author of “Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders,” appeared on the Op-Ed page o f The NY Times, Jan 7, 2015.  The article focuses on the suicide of 17 year old Leelah Alcorn and Jennifer’s recollection of her own suicidal ideation.  I’ll quote liberally from her article as I could not do it justice otherwise. 


“Leelah was no mistake.  The world abounds with all sorts of ways of being human, one of which is being trans.  It is a tragedy that Leelah was never given the chance to be proud of who she was. And that she thought the only way to change the world was through her death.


“Suicide is a constant among transgender people; we are one of the most at risk groups in the country.  One study suggests that over 40% of us attempt it during the course of our lives.


“I was among that number.  In 1986 I stood at the edge of a cliff in Nova Scotia, looking down at the Atlantic, considering the plunge into the sea below.  Then I turned back.  Somehow here I am….


“My own life was saved in part by books. When I found Jan Morris’s 1974 memoir, “Conundrum,” it was as if I found a wormhole to another universe, a galaxy where people like me could thrive.  I wish I could have also given Leelah two more recent works:  Janet Mock’s “Redefining Realness” and Kate Bornstein’s  “Hello Cruel World.”  They might have made a difference.


“If reading provided me with solace, so did writing.  Keeping a journal, telling stories, inventing worlds gave me comfort until the time came when I had the agency to make my own choices….


“It may still be possible to fulfill at least one of Leelah’s wishes.  In her note, she wrote: ‘My death needs to mean something.  My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year.  I want someone to look at that number and say, ‘that’s [expletive] up and fix it.  Fix society.  Please.’”


In November 1997 I published an article in my column for this newsletter entitled, “Did it Have to Happen?”  Like Jennifer’s piece, it focused on suicidality among the trans population.  As a therapist I emphasized the importance of psychological treatment in identifying and addressing depression and serious mental health issues before irreversible actions ensued.  In the spirit of the adage, “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” each of us offers the resource we have at hand.  I will certainly consider Jennifer’s suggestions and hope that she will include mine in forthcoming writing on the subject.


Once again the city of West Hollywood is in the forefront of liberal causes.  Not known as “Gay Camelot” for nothing, having been one of the first in the nation to pass a same-sex marriage law, known as a haven for gay people, painting its crosswalks in rainbow hues, now it has taken one more step to make transpeople feel welcome.  An ordinance has been passed prohibiting the designation of “male” or “female” on single stall public restrooms. All such facilities have to be labeled “gender neutral.” (New York Times Jan. 18, 2015)