“Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering.”
— Dalai Lama
I want to honor the lives destroyed because of hatred. I am watching grief-stricken as we become more divided and are less able to hear each other’s stories. I had the thought of doing this piece to honor a transgender woman who passed last week, only to hear of a second person this week who is now lost to us. And then I kept thinking that there are too many people suffering, too many names to list.
Each time I hear of a suicide, I am reminded of how close I came myself to no longer being here. I lived in isolation and silence, to the point of selective mutism, for years in trying to overcome my shame about living with being incorrectly assigned female at birth. There were months and years of numbing the pain just so I could delay my thoughts of taking my own life. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church where I was taught that who I am is an abomination. It took me many years in mental agony to realize this was wrong, that I am this person for a reason. For me, my transition at 28 was also my moment to start speaking, to start sharing my experience so others would feel safer in sharing theirs, so there is, hopefully, more peace and connection for all people.
Now Is the time for us to speak up for those who are struggling with being seen as “other,” or at least to take a moment to listen to their stories. Forty-one percent of transgender individuals attempt to take their own lives because of the pain that goes along with that identity living in this world. These numbers only increase as people struggle with other layers of discrimination experienced by people of color, immigrants, survivors of trauma (which is frighteningly common in the trans community), and those who may be practicing faiths such as Islam that are being targeted. Both research and experience in providing therapy, shows so clearly that positive outcomes increase dramatically if a person has even one supportive person in their life who will put in the time and effort to respect and understand their experience. And if we believe in having compassion, which I sincerely hope most of us still do, then every person has the right to do what it takes, especially when it comes to their own body, to find happiness or even just some sense of peace so long as they are not violating the rights of others.
I am hyper-aware that I live with so much privilege as someone who now passes consistently as a white man. Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are arguably one of the most pervasively discriminated against groups around the globe. And there are additional barriers for individuals who may not feel comfortable with identifying as male or female, who exist somewhere else on the spectrum of gender where they fight for recognition that they even exist. I don’t identify as 100 percent male myself. I lived 28 years of my life being seen as a woman, socialized as a woman, and that is undoubtably still a large part of my identity. We don’t know all the biological reasons yet why people don’t identify with the gender they were assigned, but there is plenty of evidence showing that this is a biological reality for more people than we even realize.
We all struggle with internalized racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and prejudice against every other thing society has told us is less desirable. I believe if we can find a place to acknowledge that and compassionately listen to the experiences of people of all identities, we will find, as I have found in doing therapy with so many in the community, that we are all much more similar than we are different. Our greatest enemy, in my opinion, is the snap judgments we make about others that prevent us from recognizing each other’s humanity. I stand with those who are fighting on the front lines of the movement for transgender rights, with those who march for #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that recognize this need for change, but also with those who are still fighting day-to-day just to survive.
We are all stronger together. So, I ask humbly for those who don’t support what I’m saying, to consider at least listening to the story of someone with whom you don’t agree. I ask that we all find the strength to resist hate and look at our own blind spots that may be preventing us from coming together. So many lives depend on it.
Trey Greene, MSW, LCSWA, is the executive director for Transcend Charlotte. To learn more about transgender issues or to obtain assistance, visit the organization at transcendcharlotte.org.