Trans joy amidst survivor’s guilt
CW: I discuss the issue of a growing suicide rate in the UK trans community here. If you are struggling, I ask that you reach out for help to one of the following helplines or resources:
- https://www.switchboard.org.uk/ — 01273359042
- https://lgbt.foundation/ — 0345 3 30 30 30
- For struggling with hate crimes: Galop Hate Crimes —020 7704 2040
- For advice and support around LGBTQ domestic abuse: Galop — 0800 999 5428
- If you are suffering from conversion therapy, Galop again at— 0800 130 3335
My community is reeling from multiple deaths in this week alone. News arrived on Monday of a 12 year old trans boy who I won’t name bullied to his death (shortly before the local news site that reported his suicide were forced to delete the story for the benefit of those implicated in the misery accused of causing it). Shortly after, we heard of another trans person, this time a non-binary 23 year old trans community activist and black pride organiser called Shay. Then in the last couple of days we heard about the death of Iggy, a community member in Wales.
This follows a lot of near misses too. Multiple times recently, close friends and I have rushed to respond to suicide notes left online by trans people, orchestrating efforts to find people who can get there before the person does something they can’t take back. As a community, we are cracking under the strain we are under, in a way that I have not seen before despite our already high rates of self destruction.
Following outcry about this we are being accused of politicising the fact that trans people are reaching a point of hopelessness. One man, the legal correspondent for an anti trans “Gender Critical" online newspaper accused us of taking an erotic interest in the death of the trans child in particular. They don’t care if we die.
I’ve constantly called on trans ppl to hold on but things are getting too much. This level of immiseration is political. It is not inevitable. There are things we can do as a community to look after each other and fight back, but it is not a problem that can be written off as an inherent fatal defect of trans people in general.
This level of immiseration is political. It is not inevitable.
Trans people have written about how they have no hope that they will get access to the healthcare they need, in light of NHS waiting lists reaching 7+ years now. That they feel that the writing is on the wall for us, faced with the rising tide of violence against us, about the complete disregard for sexual violence we face (with trans people reporting high rates of experiencing sexual violence and trans access to sexual assault resources becoming politicised to the point that trans people working in the sexual violence sector have been chased offline with violent intimidation). Trans people have talked about isolation and the lack of solidarity we find in our own organisations, even in many cases in the human rights sector where chanting a few “Trans Rights are Human Rights" slogans on Twitter is supposed to make up for a complete lack of practical resources or progress.
And if the anti-trans movement can’t dismiss us as political, they choose to play upon mental health stigma more generally and say “trans people are mentally ill, of course they commit suicide" as if the simple explanation that we live in unhealthy amounts of distress is sufficient to close the question of why altogether. One of my trans friends who died last year was absolutely mentally ill. But they were also a survivor of homelessness, a degree of familial alienation, they had spent a life living through extensive racism (and were engaged with a long struggle trying to secure support from social services in the midst of escalating environmental hostility towards people of colour). They had lived through homophobic and transphobic violence and had faced marginalisation by Whites within the supposedly liberal activist communities that exist to resist that.
Pinning my friend’s death on any one thing would be wrong, but it feels like it was not a coincidence that it happened recently, in the UK, against mounting oppression and forces of reaction on nearly every front. I want to be absolutely clear that my friend was one of the most joyful people I know. And this country, the United Kingdom, is in the process of taking the joy out of our lives on so many fronts. Trans people don’t start off broken. We are systematically driven that way.
So, what to do about it? I do have great hopes for the trans community including our siblings facing escalating racism and ablism to outlast this reactionary turn and to resist it. What is going on is comedically evil stuff and we have no choice but to fight it! I was convinced I was going to die young for many years because of living in the conditions that are now killing my friends (homelessness, desperation for enough to eat, turning to alcohol or other substances to numb the misery of it all). That’s what I mean when I say I have survivor’s guilt. I don’t know why we’ve not managed to save them, and I know that we have to save others.
My only suggestion is that it is incumbent on us to steal pleasure wherever we can. To rob hope from the miserable bastards taking it from us. We must be unflinching and merciless in manifesting Trans Joy at any time and any place, without warning or remorse, to survive by any means necessary. And we will do what we can to distribute little pleasures to everyone we can reach.