September 18, 2018

The suicide rate among FTM transgender youth is much higher than among MTF teenagers. Why?

Here is an article that has made me rethink certain preconceptions about female to male transgender people: "Half Of Transgender Teen Boys Have Attempted Suicide, According To A New Study"

The study, made at the University of Arizona,  says that about 50% of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime. The similar number for transgender teen girls is 29.9 percent and for non-binary youth 41.8 percent.

In comparison, 17.6% of cisgender females and 9.8% of cisgender males had attempted suicide.
Chaz Bono is one of the few truly visible transgender men in the media. Photo: Gage Skidmore.
I must admit that I would have guessed that the attempted suicide rate would have been just as high among male to female transgender youth, as the misogynistic stigma attached to femininity would make the social pressure they face worse.

Moreover, I suspected that female to male transgender youth would – at least to some extent – find some relief from the fact that female assigned persons are given more freedom as regards gender expressions. Society does – in general – accept that a woman wear more "masculine" outfits, like for instance jeans, boots and a leather jacket. The opposite is not true for those assigned male.

Still, this study tells me that my assumptions were off target.

Lack of visible role models

Lead author Russ Toomey believes that the reason for this may be that “Transmasculine youth, as well as nonbinary youth, really lack a sense of community or visibility.”

He continues: “In mass media, we have some transfeminine actors, for example, represented in the media, however there are very few transmasculine or nonbinary people represented in the larger culture.”

Medical invalidation

FTM (female to male) crossdreamers and trans men are becoming increasingly visible in some parts of the internet, like on tumblr. Yet, at the same time the medical community has been very much in the dark as regards FTM transgender youth (to the point of denying the very existence of androphilic – man-loving – trans men). 

The pseudo-science of "rapid onset gender dysphoria" represents an active attempt by some parts of the scientific and medical communities  to deny the very existence of female to male transgender people. Transphobic parents are embracing this nonsense, adding another layer of invalidation.

Lack of communities

Male to female (MTF) transgender persons have actually had a wide variety of communities to explore, like the crossdresser culture in the case of predominantly gynephilic MTF trans people, and the gay male culture in the case of those who are attracted to men. 

Trans men who are attracted to women have used the lesbian community for self exploration, but parts of this sub-culture have been actively invalidating transgender identities. Indeed, it is that sub-culture who gave birth to the transphobic TERF-movement.

Trans men who are attracted to men have been  considered an impossibility. I am reminded of Lou Sullivan, the gay trans man who founded the American FTM movement. He tried actively to get transphobic sexologist Ray Blanchard to understand that trans men like him existed. He failed. 

Nonbinary does not fit in

Toomey also found that sexual orientation exacerbated suicide risk for almost everyone in the survey. The only population whose risk didn't seem to be affected by sexual orientation was the nonbinary population.

"Nonbinary youth do not identify as totally masculine or totally feminine, so it complicates an understanding of sexual orientation, which is rooted in a binary, male-female understanding of gender. Thus, for these youth, the combination of gender and sexual orientation may be more complicated," Toomey said.

This is a familiar tune for many of the readers of this blog, who are often crossdreamers whose sexual orientation does not follow the binary script of "real women love men".

Fetishising transgender identities

Still, we have, even in our  crossdreamer subsection of the transgender community, found it hard to attract a significant number of FTM gender variant persons. That might be caused by them not feeling that the MTF narratives –  which are anchored in a long history of debate – do not fit with their needs or life experiences. Attempts at developing alternative narratives, like in the case of the "girlfag" concept, have been ruthlessly repressed by conservatives,  feminists and more dogmatic  trans men. 

For the conservatives and the feminist, the girlfags and androphilic trans men represents a threat to their world view, as women (and they see them as women) are not supposed to have feelings like that. Only men can be sexual perverts, apparently. The transgender invalidation of androphilic trans men is probably grounded in fear of social contamination. 

People assigned female who dream about having sex as a gay man with a gay man are easily dismissed as fetishist, even if these dreams seem completely natural if you accept the sexual orientation and gender identity of these people.

Unlike MTF crossdreamers, these crossdreamers and transgender men do not have well developed lasting subcultures where the sexuality of gender variance has been discussed and where they can find support and affirmation.

We have to do something about that.

Original paper. "Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior" by Russell B. Toomey, Amy K. Syvertsen, Maura Shramko. Pediatrics, September 2018.


7 comments:

  1. I agree, the study brings up many more questions for further study, including 18% and 10% of cis females and males, respectively, have attempted suicide? Those numbers alone are shocking, perhaps even more than 41% of trans adults having attempted.

    I understand that trans men and trans women face a lot of challenges; I experience such struggles, mostly internal, myself. To me, though, it seems that the struggles would be even greater for non-binary people who so dramatically exist outside the status quo.

    These inconsistencies, to me, call into question the entire study. It doesn’t pass what we’ve often called the “sniff test.”

    ReplyDelete
  2. The study includes 120,617 teens ages 11 to 19, including more than 1,700 who identified as transgender or gender questioning, which are impressive numbers. The data comes from the Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey . Data were collected over a 36-month period: June 2012 to May 2015. The full paper is available in the Crossdream Life library.

    I haven't had time to compare this study with others covering transgender people. I guess it is important to note that this is a survey of youth, and that the numbers therefore are not directly comparable with studies that cover all ages. It might be, for instance, that the suicide rates among MTF people where much higher before the "transgender tipping point."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, large sample sizes ought to lead to good results. But here’s what bothers me: one in 10 boys and almost one in 5 girls having attempted suicide? That seems like such a high percentage but if correct doesn’t that point to a larger problem? Please understand, I’m not ignoring nor surprised that the rates for trans teens are higher than for cis kids.

      BTW, I’m not familiar with the “transgender tipping point.” What does that refer to please?

      Delete
  3. The transgender tipping point is a reference to the Laverne Cox Time cover back in 2014. This was a reference to the fact that transgender people had become so visible in mainstream media that it was impossible to ignore them anymore. The narrative at the time was that this tipping point was similar to the previous one for gay and lesbian people. I believe the tipping point was and is real. The recent backlash is proof of that.

    I agree that the general suicide rate for kids and youths is very high in this study. I will see if I can find similar studies for comparison.

    ReplyDelete
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