Mental well-being, adequate psychological health and a satisfied emotional disposition — many of us take these very basic human components for granted.
Now imagine having every one of the above cannily snatched away from you because of a convenient bracket of contempt that goes under the name of being ‘misunderstood’.
Discrimination begins where understanding takes a dodgy, sharp turn towards showing concern – only when prodded by social convention. And discrimination is only a fuzzy word for what many transgender youths face today – an era of ‘acceptance’ and ‘recognition’ – across the world, irrespective of liberty, freedom and modern-day exemptions. It is also fast becoming an age of prejudice and polarization, that primitive pact between hate and distortion.
In Saudi Arabia, just last month, two transgender women were packed into sacks and beaten to death for the ‘depravity’ of being true to themselves. In the United States alone, more than 22 transgender men and women lost their lives last year in acts of savagery and violence.
The depression and suicide rates in young people belonging to the transgender community is so high and so glaring that empirical studies have regularly been conducted to determine why the disillusionment and hopelessness is so pervasive that many youngsters choose to either self-mutilate or self-destruct.
The New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey showed worrying results in the portion detailing the health and well-being of transgender high school students. Out of a total of 8,500, 1.2 percent identified as being transgender. That percentage might seem negligible but, in reality, these kids ranged across the entire social spectrum of high school students.
More than half of these kids were scared of becoming victims of violence in school, one out of five was bullied in increasingly vicious ways, 40 per cent had tried to self-harm, had shown severe depressive symptoms, had been unable to access adequate medical healthcare and, tragically, one in five had tried to kill themselves. Needless to say, the majority of students belonging to other gender groups did not have to face such abuse and did not have to feel anguish over such concerns.
Rejection by friends and family, prejudice at school, in the workplace and from within their social circles, physical and emotional abuse, being seen as unwilling to ‘conform’ to gender norms (as if this were something simply controlled by a pulverised idea of automation) and even internalizing transphobia to blame themselves are all factors that lead to lives lost too soon because of reasons all too preventable.
The suicide rate globally for members of the trans community is a staggering 41 per cent whilst for the general populace it is 4.6 per cent. Not so negligible now.
“I was bullied when I was younger and it was something I wish I could have changed. Now that people know who I am I feel I can make that change for other LGBT+ youth around me who are abused and have to face violence on a near daily basis,” says 17-year-old Tieler James, winner of Project Runway: Threads and LGBT+ youth icon.
“Young transgender people need to know that, no matter what, they have the two F’s: Family and Friends. If their families have shunned them, they need to know they can always find a new family and friends in the LGBT+ community.”
It’s going to be really hard, and at times you are going to want to quit…
However, these issues aren’t just isolated to Auckland. Gisborne-born Charly Walsh, 18, has had the same problems and isn’t afraid to call New Zealand out on it’s lack of education.
“One of the biggest problems the transgender community has here in New Zealand is that nobody knows anything about us. I didn’t know what a transgender person was until I was 14. My therapist talked to me about it after my second suicide attempt. The moment she asked me if I was a boy or a girl, I felt like the female I was born as died inside me. My whole life literally flashed before my eyes in that little room.”
He continues, “It was in that moment I realized I was never a girl, and never had to be again. This was one of the best and worst days of my life. It was the best day because I’d just discovered who I was. But, it was the worst day because I had to try and kill myself twice to get there. I thought that if this was where I had to end up before even finding out that nothing was wrong with me, then what shape is the rest of this community in…”
Auckland-based psychologist Rebecca Daly-Peoples said that a child whose gender is not treated as something to be ashamed of will more often then not “have a positive experience”. “Transgender is different, because it’s the feeling you are in the wrong body but the reason there is an increased risk is because there’s difference and it’s a difference that’s not often seen as acceptable in families, peer groups and then the wider community,” she said.
Organisations such as Rainbow Youth, a charity committed to helping queer and gender diverse youths and those in their wider community, have had their fair share of experiences when it comes to helping those in need. Duncan Matthews, general manager of Rainbow Youth, says that “young people wanting support around their gender approached the organisation on a daily basis.”
He continues, “As a community organisation, we provide social support, information and referral service. We don’t, and can’t, provide services like counselling directly.”
Because of the lack of knowledge within New Zealand, the team rarely refer young people struggling with these issues to ‘mainstream’ professionals. There is a “general lack of awareness, expertise and sensitivity to the needs of trans young people”.
It was in that moment I realized I was never a girl, and never had to be again.
It takes a heart of passion and nerves of sturdier stuff to traverse all the hamlets of first understanding and admitting to yourself that you are different, that the role assigned to you at birth was not one you can neatly align to. Then comes the admission of what can almost feel like guilt to your family and those around you. After that comes a difficult coming of age, a sense of an ending when you decide to say goodbye to the body you’ve always had but never really wanted. To sandwich these emotions and struggles between discrimination and hate is to push already vulnerable youngsters over the precipice of their own pain. “A lot of these kids aren’t depressed. They just don’t know who they are, and don’t have the option to find out because there’s no information on anything,” says Walsh.
Tieler James offers some support for those youths going through tough times. “It’s going to be really hard and at times you are going to want to quit. I know it sounds stupid me saying “Oh it gets better” but it actually does.
Everything is going to change, it may not be a lot, it might just be a little but it will change and there is always someone out there to support you. It’s very cliché but in the end it’s very true. Although there’s so much hate channeled through the adversity, there’s so much more love you get from our community that it compensates for and overpowers the hate. Remember that.”
Article | Reem Wasay
Rainbow Youth runs a fortnightly social group for young people questioning their gender, www.rainbowyouth.org.nz.
They also run the I’m Local Project which aims to help queer and gender diverse youth all over Aotearoa to feel valued, recognised and supported in their local communities, www.imlocal.co.nz.
If you are in distress or concerned about another person’s wellbeing, contact OUTLineNZ on 0800 688 5463 or visit www.outline.org.nz.