Transgender, mental instability and suicidal ideation

Among the of current links of interest are Suggested Links between discrimination and suicide attempts by transgender people, which delves into a Williams Institute study from much earlier in the year and the Movement Advancement Project’s A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers, which was published about a year ago.

These were woven together in the story of the recent suicide of Kate Von Roeder

One of the most commonly voiced perceptions about transgender people is that because we are transgender we are of necessity also mentally deficient.

This is not a new belief.

When an individual fails to mature according to his (or her) proper biological and sexological status, such an individual is psychologically (mentall deficient).  The psychological condition is in reality the disease.

When an individual who is unfavorably affected psychologically determines to live and appear as a member of the sex to which he or she does not belong, such an individual is what may be called a psychopathic transexual.

–David O. Caldwell, Psychopathis Transexualis, Sexology: Sex Science Magazine vol. 16 (1949)

People believe we are mentally deficient because of their own attachment issues they have with their primary or secondary sex organs.Because most men cannot conceive of life without their penises and many women believe that without their breasts they would be less than completely feminine, they cannot conceive of the fact that someone else may not feel the same attachment.

So what we get are people who compare us to people who wish to have species transplants and so forth.

And that starts us off on a trip around a self-perpetuating loop of disaster.  Our society does not treat those who it labels as mentally deficient well.  Exclusion socially leads to discriminatory denial of equal access to public accommodations and employment opportunities which in turn increases minority stressors.

This study outlines the potential links between minority stressors and suicidal behavior among transgender and gender non-conforming individuals,” said Herman. “More research is needed, but this is a critical first step in efforts to address the negative mental health impacts of anti-transgender discrimination –  

Williams Institute

78 percent of survey respondents who suffered physical or sexual violence at school reported suicide attempts, as did 65 percent of respondents who experienced violence at work.

–Ann P. Haas and Philip L. Rodgers of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Jody L. Herman of UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute

The high incidence of suicidal ideation, on the other hand, reaffirms in the minds of many, that transgender people are mentally unstable…and off we go to repeat the loop.

High prevalence of suicide attempts was also found among those who had ever experienced homelessness (69%) and those who reported a doctor or healthcare provider refused to treat them (60%).

Our findings suggest the need for a closer look at how anti-transgender bias, depression and despair interact to produce the alarmingly high suicide attempt rates among transgender people.

The basic American bargain is that people who work hard and meet their responsibilities should be able to get ahead.  It is an agreement that workers will be judged and rewarded based on their contributions and capabilities- no matter who they are, what they look like, or where they are from.  This basic bargain is not just an idea-it is embedded in laws that promote equal access to jobs and that protect workers from unfair practices.

For transgender workers in America, this bargain is broken.  Instead of having a fair chance to get ahead, transgender workers often are held back by bias and unequal workplace benefits.  Even though 77% of voters say they support protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment, no federal law provides explicit legal protections for transgender workers based on gender identity/expression; and only 17 states and the District of Columbia have laws that offer these protections.  

Among the results of these inequities are extraordinarily high rates of unemployment and poverty among transgender people in the United States.

–Movement Advancement Project, A Broken Bargain for Transgender Workers

Many Americans have very little understanding of what it means to be transgender.  As a result, for transgender people seeking work, the entire job search and hiring process is a minefield, particularly if a legal name or gender on an identity document does not match the outward appearance of the applicant.  Once a transgender employee is hired, he or she may face many forms of harassment and discrimination, including denial of promotions or unfair firing.

When you think about what are the different types of discrimination that transgender employees face (in addition to job and workplace issues), it is wage disparity. Such unequal distribution of wages makes it harder for them to provide for themselves and their families.

For most workers in the United States, a paycheck is only one of many important benefits that come with having a job.  Other work-related benefits include health insurance and family and medical leave.  The report describes in detail how the denial of health and leave benefits for many transgender workers results in health problems, added costs for medical care and other problems.

Although transgender employees may have equal access to health insurance enrollment, they may still be denied appropriate coverage and care.  For example, a transgender employee may find that an insurance company refuses to cover a range of routine and medically necessary care because of coverage exclusions that directly or inadvertently target transgender people.  Exclusions in health insurance often deny transgender workers access to both basic healthcare and transition-related care.

Employers may deny transgender workers leave for transition-related care, incorrectly stating that such care does not constitute a “serious medical condition.”  As a result, transgender employees may face a difficult choice:  Put their jobs at risk to care for themselves, or make do without leave and put their health in jeopardy.

Kate von Roeder purchased a shotgun last week and began posting cryptic countdowns to her Facebook page, and on Thursday she followed through with plans she said had been made for a long time.

This week, the California woman posted on Facebook a long suicide note before taking her life. In the note, she explained that pressures of living as a trans woman.

I shouldn’t have done it. Not because I’m not trans, but because I didn’t have a fraction of the personal strength to succeed at it, unlike some of the amazing trans people I’ve been privileged to know.

–Kate von Roeder

von Roeder was a gamecaster employed by Riot under the identity of jerleminara in Dota 2

Among transgender people who became homeless because of bias against their gender identity, 69 percent said they had tried to kill themselves. Out of those who had been turned away by a doctor because they were transgender or gender-nonconforming, 60% had attempted suicide sometime in their lives, the survey found.

“Nearly two-thirds of respondents who were the victims of domestic violence at the hands of a family member had attempted suicide, the study also showed. Suicide attempts were less common among transgender and gender-nonconforming people who said their family ties had remained strong after they came out.

In her suicide note, Kate von Roeder did not mention any particular discrimination, but mentioned struggles in making and keeping friends.

Loneliness can be one of the most vicious battles we face in transition.


Loneliness and Isolation

The mind–yearning, seeking, questing, emerging–female.

The body–betraying the mind–male.

Can one express what it feels like to be transsexual?

Before I was man and was treated like man.

After I will be woman.

Now I am both/neither.

Neither generally wins, excluded from both.

Is it too difficult for others to comprehend

Or is it too difficult for me to explain?

Is there anyone who will accept me as I am

Or will I only be accepted/rejected

For who I was/will be?

Loneliness and isolation nip at the edges of my being.

Certainty becomes expectation.

Expectation becomes hope.

Hopes become dreams.

The dreams dissipate into nothingness.

Another friend is gone.

New friends are made.

Life changes but why must the bridge be so tenuous?

Loneliness and isolation blur my consciousness.

Why must others always bring up the past

Which has become so foreign to me?

The events are there but the feelings are gone.

How do I describe the deeper feelings that have replaced them?

Emotions long submerged boil to the surface

And erupt full-blown into the mind

But there is no one present with whom to share them.

Loneliness and isolation crowd around my soul.

How do I explain the feeling of hormones

Coursing through my body,

Changing it to fit the mind?

How do I deal with the sexuality, the sensuality

Exploding in every nerve ending?

When there is nobody with whom to explore these sensations,

Time slows considerably.

How does one measure the growth of a breast?

With a watch, a sundial, a calendar, or with a life?

Loneliness and isolation seek to smother my existence

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–November, 1992

1 comment

    • Robyn on October 8, 2014 at 12:09 am

    …reshare the poem.

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