It is 28 December 2014 and a young woman called Leelah writes a suicide note on the tumblr blog where she had found friends and shared her art. In it she asks that her death mean something. That her death be included in the horrifying statistics of transgender suicides so that people can finally wake up and recognise the situation she, and so many other transgender people, are in. Leelah had found a word for her identity when she was 14. The joy of knowing she was a girl and having the pain she had endured explained made her cry with happiness before telling her strict Christian parents. They reacted like no parents should and refused to acknowledge her identity. Their mistreatment and abuse of her worsened when they forced her to undergo gender conversion therapy which attempts to cure patients of being transgender and non-binary.
Leelah died when she was just 17 and asked for her possessions and money to go to a transgender advocacy charity and for gender to be taught in schools. Her parents misgendered her even in death, and incorrectly stated she was 16. Then something happened. The world took notice. Vigils, marches and demonstrations for Leelah occurred. Petitions sprung up demanding an end to conversion therapy in America, with Obama stating that this torture of transgender children and young people needed to stop. The world, or at least some of it, seemed to be awake.
I’m non-binary and transgender and identify as a man and woman. I’m afab (assigned female at birth) and my gender expression makes me seem like a cis woman (identifies as their assigned gender). I am extremely privileged as a transgender person because of this. For many others this is not the case. The Youth Suicide Prevention Program notes that 50% of all transgender people will attempt suicide before the age of 20. I was suicidal from 14-16 due to my autism and body dysmorphia, which in hindsight might have been gender dysphoria. I attempted it once, but stopped before it was too late. I’ve endured emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of an ex-friend who used my mental health and Asperger’s to manipulate me, but I survived that as well. I know in my heart that if I were a transgender or transfeminine person that possibility would have dropped significantly. The same would go for if I were a person of colour.
As of February, seven transgender women had been murdered in America this year, with the majority being women of colour. In Britain on 28 March this year, a Mexican woman called Vanessa Santillan, who was working as a glamour model and escort, was found beaten and strangled to death in an almost half a million pound flat. Her parents have been left devastated by the murder and the case is ongoing. Deaths like those of Blake Brockington, a transgender young man of 18 who had been a homecoming king and was an activist for transgender rights, which occurred on 25 March, conveyed the commonness of situations like Leelah’s, but also how her race has affected coverage of her death. The deaths of the seven transgender women to be murdered so far this year in the US like Penny Proud and Ty Underwood, reflect how the deaths of many transgender women of colour don’t receive the coverage of those like Leelah. Racism intersects with transmisogyny and transphobia, and that fact needs to be acknowledged.
The reality for many transgender women is that they might find themselves homeless or disowned by family. They are more likely to be murdered than the general population, and even the transgender community, especially if they are transgender women of colour. The deaths of transgender women have reached unforgivable levels, and the fact that changing this isn’t of central importance to many is angering.
On 14 March I attended a demonstration for Leelah in Glasgow with a friend. Speakers discussed many things, such as the fact that politics has done nothing to improve the situation of transgender people, or even give them peace of mind. Another speaker discussed the fact that if Leelah had been a person of colour she would likely not have been the figurehead of a movement, and that the countless deaths of transgender women of colour need to be discussed in the same breath as her. A medical professional who is passionate about reforming the psychiatric system for transgender people was brought to tears hearing of the suffering people had endured. She discussed how heinous the gatekeeping in psychiatric circles for transgender people is. For example, someone who wore trousers to an appointment was asked if they had changed their mind about their gender identity. She asserted that she wanted to change this. I’ve encountered this in my journey as a transgender person, as many psychologists and psychiatrists who don’t specialise in gender identity have asked if my autism or abuse are the reason I’m transgender or if it’s simply an obsession. I’ve even been asked why I would want to mutilate myself. I found myself volunteering to speak at the end, despite anxiety problems and more. In my speech I discussed my own past as a disabled person who has mental illnesses, has been abused and bullied severely, and mentioned the fact my identity as a non-binary afab person means I’m more likely to be able to just live without fear. I stated it was not fair that things were like this. It’s not fair that transgender women have the threat of a stranger, or even friend, abusing or even murdering them. It is 2015 and the deaths of transgender people have been rising. Over 200 transgender people died last year. How many will it be by 30 December this year? How many the following year?
On 31 March International Transgender Day of Visibility happened. Rachel Crandall started it due to the lack of a holiday celebrating transgender people. I joined in online in celebrating the achievements, lives and more of the countless transgender people around the world. People posted selfies, wrote and discussed the authenticity of all transgender people be they people of colour, disabled, mentally ill, survivors of abuse or more. I felt part of something larger than myself. The day of the demo where I stood with other transgender and non-binary people and allies made me feel the same. In November on Transgender Day of Remembrance the deaths of all those transgender people who have lost their lives will be remembered and kept in the hearts of many. On visibility day we existed and proclaimed it to the world. In such a horrific world where trans people are under so much attack, the events of that day made me feel a glimmer of hope. Cis people and those with privilege need to support us in the fight for a better day soon. Cis people, or even those like myself who are perceived as cis, need to give a voice to those of the transgender community like transwomen/transfeminine people or transgender people of colour who do not get heard. The situation transgender people are experiencing today is not fair…It’s not right and it needs to stop…NOW.