February 4, 2013

In Memory of Those We Lost

Suicide is the greatest threat crossdreamers face. What can we do about it?

Last summer there appeared a heart breaking post on one of the male to female transgender/crossdreamer caption blogs: Yvonne's Caption World.

The message read:

"My name is Mark. I am Yvonne's brother.

I am afraid I have to bring you the sad news that three weeks ago Yvonne decided to take her life

She left a note saying that she felt she could no longer go on living (in her words); 'in between two genders, dysfunctional in one and unable to become the other.'

She did not feel she had anyone to turn to. I wish she had given me a call."


Her site is full of captions and stories reflecting the dreams of a gender dysphoric crossdreamer. And yes, it seems obvious to me that Yvonne was a transsexual woman. In the upper right corner of her blog you will find a request for support for her transition.

Suicide among crossdreamers and transgender

We have actually no idea of how many crossdreamers take their life every year. The reason for this is that most crossdreamers are invisible, not only to health personnel  but often also to their loved ones. Often those left behind do not know what really caused their family member to chose this option.

We do have statistics for registered transgender, however, and I have reason to believe that great many of those registered as such are crossdreamers (transgender is here an umbrella term including a wide variety of gender variant people).


According to one recent American study 41 percent of American transgender have attempted to commit suicide.  A study from Ontario shows a similar number (43 percent), as does an Irish study.

Californian study reports that as many as two out of three transgender people have considered taking their lives.  The comparable numbers for the general population varies from 6 to 12 percent.

Cristan Williams have written an interesting post on the extreme pressures faced by trans people. She points to a study which shows that 55 percent of US trans people live with social anxiety (compared to 6.8 percent in the general population).

All of these studies cover respondents that have been in touch with social services, health services or personnel engaged in transgender care. However, data from the transgender support site Laura's Playground  tells us that this is a problem that goes beyond the ones that actively seek help from health professionals. Laura's Playground handled some  staggering 80,000 suicidal crises online in a five year period!

It is a fair guess that as crossdreamers go, most of the ones considering taking their life are gender dysphoric, i.e. they feel a strong dissonance between their inner selves and their bodies.

Still, I know for a fact that many who do not identify with the opposite sex also struggle with identity issues, shame and confusion. This is not a transsexual problem alone.

Causes for despair

There are many reasons for why transgender persons give up, including violence and harassment, stereotyping and discrimination .

The Ontario report concludes that respondents aren't suicidal because they're transgender; rather, it's the social shame and isolation that get to them.

The numbers form Laura's Playground ranks the following causes as the most important:
  • Problems coming out to homophobic friends, families and co-workers. 
  • Body image distress or disgust, including the changes appearing in puberty
  • Discrimination  (like in the cases of housing, employment and reactions from religious communities)
  • Hate crimes and/or violence
I have had quite a few crossdreamers contacting me and telling me about their despair. Their stories, as well as my own experience, tells me that there are various factors that may lead people into that dark place:

Alienation from your own self
Children try hard to adapt to the expectations of parents, peers and play mates. Society normally enforces gender expectations with  fierce force, and many transgender children go to extremes to keep the love and respect of those around them. They are caught in this pattern as adults. The discrepancy between the role they are forced to play and their inner sense of self becomes jarring.

Many succeeds so well in suppressing their inner self that they make themselves believe they are not transgender. The emotional pain remains, though, and becomes even harder to handle.

Alienation from your own body
Crossdreamers suffering from gender dysphoria (or more correctly: sex dysphoria) also experience a strong misalignment between their mind and their body. It is as if their body isn't truly theirs.

Ironically, this means that any social or sexual affirmation they get as their birth sex will not strengthen their sense of self (as it will in a non-transgender person). Instead it will make the pain even more acute.

Alienation from friends, family and society at large
Many (if not most) crossdreamers keep their crossdreams to themselves, or limit their exposure to anonymous communities online. This means that they do not tell their friends and family about the one part of them that matters most. This leads to loneliness and often  a feeling of duplicity. This further undermines the self esteem of the crossdreamer.

Those that do come out of the closet and reveal their true nature, risk ridicule and -- in the worst case scenario -- losing their loved ones. Many are violently attacked, verbally and physically. This even happens online, where religious fanatics, radical feminists, militant "classical transsexuals" as well as bigoted "experts" attack them for being perverts and "paraphiliacs", all of them negating the crossdreamer's and the transgender person's  sense of self.

Existential angst
For some, and especially older crossdreamers who have not transtioned, crossdreaming may also lead to what we can call existential angst. This is basically situation where they fear they have lost out on life, having never become what they now believe they were supposed to be.  Some find that they are truly transsexual, but fear it is too late to do something about it, age and social relationships considering.

For some this becomes all too much, and they give up.

What can we do?

Mark, Yvonne's brother, gives good advice on how to handle the darkness:

"I am sure many of her readers are going through the same mental struggles Yvonne was. If you are, please ask for help don't follow Yvonne. Those who love you will listen and help. Those who don't are not worth losing sleep over."

It is better to try to talk to your loved ones and fail, than to kill yourself without giving them a chance.

I will add that if you do not believe this is possible, do seek professional help from someone with a heart and an open mind! Your outlook changes when you are able to put your feelings into words, and there is someone there who can listen with compassion.

Talk about this in the public room

The reports  I get from crossdreamers is that their online communities save lives. This applies to transgender forums like Laura's, dedicated crossdreamer forums like Crossdream Life and sites for creative crossdreaming like Rachel's Haven [explicit content]. For the most part these are arenas where they can be themselves and get acceptance and understanding.

For those who are gender dysphoric it also helps hearing transgender people talk about their struggles. One person who recently has contributed much to helping struggling transgender people coping with the darkness is Lana Wachowski (previously known as Laurence Wachowski of the "Matrix" Wachowski siblings).

She talked about her suicide plans at the gala fundraising dinner for LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign in San Francisco last year.

The Huffington Post reported it this way:

"Wachowski, now 47, revealed how she was beat by a nun in Catholic school, wore a slip under her clothes and became involved with theater in high school because she fell in love with the costume collection.

"As she grew older she felt an 'intense anxious isolation' that included insomnia and depression. At one point, she went to a local Burger King and penned a four-page suicide note to her parents. She planned on jumping in front of train, stood on the platform and waited, until an older man passed her and stared at her. 'I don’t know why he wouldn’t look away. All I know is that because he didn’t, I am still here.'" (Video here)

Stop calling crossdreamers  and transgender"autogynephiles"

One of the main reasons for suicide among gender dysphoric MTF crossdreamers is lack of understanding and lack of affirmation. On one level they do understand that this is so much more than a "sexual thing". If that had been all there was to it, the condition might have been difficult, but  not a challenge of these proportions.

Still, given that most -- if not all -- have been brought up i strict heterosexist culture where men are men and women are weaklings, the feeling of being a woman brings up all kinds of fears. There is much internalized homophobia among male to female crossdreamers, and the fantasy of being a woman having sex with a man triggers those fears.

Many MTF crossdreamers literally join the marines in an effort to quench their feminine side.

In other words: It takes a lot of courage and a lot of time to face the insight that sex and gender is not so clear cut as the popes and mullahs of this world want us to believe.

Hearing so-called "experts" -- and even transsexual women -- reducing them to perverts is of little help to those living in the twilight zone of gender identity or those who are truly transsexual.

I suspect quite a few have been pushed over the edge bey being called an "autogynephiliac". I am not going to repeat my arguments against the factual content of that theory here. I will only stress that for  transsexual women the term is emotional poison. It may, literally, kill.

Build alliances

The recent use of the autogynephilia theory by radical feminists is depressing, and shows how extremely damaging this theory can be.

But I also see reasons for hope. 2012 represented a breakthrough for gay rights in the USA, where many states finally followed in the footsteps of countries like my own and opened up for gay marriage.

This tells me that the new generations of Americans and Europeans know too many gay people to believe the stereotypes and the message that they are mentally ill. My gay friends tell me that the new generation of homosexual Norwegians face a better future than the generations that went before them.

I have also noted that younger transsexual women refuse to make use of the autogynephilia theory or take part in the hate crimes of the so-called "classic transsexuals"/Harry Benjamin Syndrome tribe. This leaves room for crossdreamers in the transgender community. In time we may get where the gay community stands today.

This is why I urge those of you who despair to stay with us. Share your feelings here or in other forums that welcome people like us. You are not perverts! And you are not alone!

I am taking the liberty of closing this blog post with one of Yvonne's final captions. I believe it speaks for many crossdreamers.
Caption by Yvonne. Click on image to read!

Suicide hotlines

For help, you may contact


Youthline (California)

If you know of other institutions that should be listed, add them in a comment.

8 comments:

tg_captioner said...

Reading a story like this frankly scares me. Athough I don't think I could ever follow through with suicide (christian upbringing and fear of eternal hell is too strong), it's not like I haven't pondered the thought of ending it all. It's such a confusing thing for the brain to process, being stuck half-way between. Sometimes I think it's a blessing, other days it's torture (especially when fantasy just doesn't seem like enough). I only hope there continue to be ways of expressing and experiencing opposite gender feelings.

Jack Molay said...

Yeah, it scares me too, but I do believe we have to talk about this.

chrysalis77 said...

Hi guys. First time I’m writing something on this blog. Jack, thank you so much for all the work you’ve put into this. I have read almost the entire blog and all the comments over the course of the last 2 years or so, and it has been immensely helpful for me in terms of learning about and understanding this part of me that wishes to be female. I am sure there are many others who have never given you any feedback but who have, like me, always silently appreciated your efforts and benefited from them. You’re awesome! :-)

Those suicide related statistics are really terrible. I have a suicide attempt in my own life’s history, although not directly because of gender dysphoria. But there’s still a connection, I guess. At the time, about 10 years ago, I was certainly already a crossdreamer but I wasn’t yet like “I wish I was a woman”, more like “I wish I knew what it feels like to be a woman”.
So, even though I had good grades in university, I was always lonely and unhappy since I was never really able to get close male friends because I can’t really connect with men that well, and women were never much interested in me because I am not the least bit dominant and have no drive to pursue them. Well, and I was very closed off, just trying to look cool while I was hiding myself from everybody. Anyway, this situation led to a suicide attempt. I am a Buddhist, by the way, so I believe in rebirth. I am not certain about it, of course, but guess why I’m hoping for it! And I know that even though I didn’t try to commit suicide because of gender dysphoria, I was certainly thinking: “When this is done, I want to be born as a girl! 100%! Another life as a man would be just terrible!” Well, I’m still here… That’s ok. Not always easy, though.

chrysalis77 said...

Jack, you mentioned radical feminists and their hate for transwomen (I read those awful comments in the link you gave), and I feel compelled to say a few words about that:
Feminism is an ideology which is based on the notion that men are exclusively to blame for the vast majority of bad things that have ever happened in the world, and that women are fundamentally superior (morally etc.) to men in pretty much every way except physical strength, that women are just inherently better people than men, but also nothing but innocent victims throughout history. Feminism claims that men, maleness, and masculinity are the problem that needs to be fixed, or eradicated, depending on what type of feminist you ask.

In my view, feminism is in the same category as racism. Both ideologies claim that we (women, whites) are superior to them (men, non-whites), that “they” are less civilized, morally inferior, dangerous, and that the world would be a better place if they were more like us, or just gone altogether.

Of course, most people who call themselves feminists would not say that women are really better people than men. It’s all about equality, isn’t it? But it’s not called “equalism”. How can there be a desire for equality and mutual respect in a world view in which men are seen as dangerous predators, as oppressors, and women as nice, beautiful, innocent victims? Isn’t the victim always seen as a better person than the perpetrator of the alleged abuse?

So how do I know that I am not mistaken in my view of feminism? Feminists would tend to claim that if you criticize feminism, you are just trying to keep oppressing women and maintain a view of male superiority. But being critical of feminism is not being against women, or against equality! A little while ago I still had fairly positive feelings towards feminism and I would have seen myself as a supporter of it, because how could you be against equality, right? Well, I’m not. I’m still for it, but I’m also for developing a view of men and women that is just and fair, that does not elevate one gender above the other, that values and respects both men and women equally and as individual people with their strengths and weaknesses, who can learn from each other, and who should all be treated with compassion and concern for their well-being. All feminism (and many feminists) really cares about is women.

So, I’m certainly not criticizing this ideology because I am “taking the side of men”. I don’t even consider myself to actually be a man anymore (not a woman either… still quite confused). But you don’t have to be a man in order to speak out against hate of men and masculinity. Most of my life I actually didn’t really like men myself and had a very negative (unfair) perception of them, partly due to my being different, I guess, but also because of the pervasive influence of the feminist view of men on our culture and our minds. But I am starting to see men in a more positive light now. And yet, I still wish I were female all the time. :-) Being a man isn’t worse than being a woman, it just doesn’t suit me very well.

To get back to the feminist hate for transwomen: These women see men as the enemy, so transwomen are just the enemy in disguise trying to infiltrate women’s circles and contaminate their beauty and purity with their hidden malignant and perverted maleness. Or they are just pathetic wannabes who can never be as wonderful and valuable as a “real woman”.
If feminists didn’t think that they are superior and that maleness is intrinsically, and incurably, bad, they wouldn’t have a reason not to welcome all those who are honestly willing to join their awesome group (women). Right?

Anyway, that was a lot of text. If you’d like to listen to an extremely smart and eloquent woman(!) talk about why feminism deserves to be rejected (and she’s neither conservative nor religious), please check out the YouTube channel of “girlwriteswhat”.
Like this one: “Feminism and the Disposable Male”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp8tToFv-bA

Sarah Wilson said...

The observations are indeed spot on, it's not being transgender that makes one suicidal. It's the (fear of) reactions from co workers, the boss, parents, spouse, children, friends, acquaintances... well, everyone! If society in general were more accepting and understanding, I believe it's a safe bet that our suicide rate would drop. As it sits though, we're a ways from there.

The post I'm sharing here was written as much for myself as anyone else who may be needing it. Hitting my wall the following spring was an encounter I almost didn't survive. A contributing factor to this was that I had taken the weekend and isolated myself from friends and family. People who were in a position to help me, but I never gave them the chance. So I let myself wander around in a dark place believing the lies I was telling myself ("You'll never pass!" and worse).

I was lucky. Very lucky. Someone else may not be. Please do not allow yourself to be alone in a dark place. There is never any shame in reaching out a hand.

http://crossdreamjourn.blogspot.com/2010/10/suicide-is-not-painless.html

joanna Santos said...

Thanks for touching on this delicate subject jack. I have been to dark places during my life and have even let the idea that I would be better off desd enter into my consciousness. However I have always refrained from ever going further than just somber thoughts. The high percentage of suicide attempts does not surprise me in the least for it's difficult to grow up as it is never mind adding the trans layer on top. May Yvonne rest in peace with God and may the rest of us draw important lessons against internalizing shame and guilt for how we are.

Sam said...

In the UK at least (don't know if they operate anywhere else) The Samaritans offer a generally good 'desperation hotline' - http://www.samaritans.org/?gclid=CM-_5J_hwLUCFUvHtAodzgEAMA

Jack Molay said...

Davida sent me the following poem as a response to this blogpost. It mirrors the feelings of many, I am afraid.


I Am
Davida

An identity without a face,
no name to be known.
Never had a mother,
nor a father either.
Never had a sister,
nor a brother.
Never had peers,
nor a best friend.
Never had a friend at all,
just a second hand life.
Living in the attic of isolation,
never learning about being.
Like an autistic child,
struggling to understand.
So many years alone,
sliding into the abyss of time.
No one will know,
when I have passed on.
Not a tear will be shed,
never known nor missed.
Just an identity without a face,
no name to call my own.

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