Tough love or tough luck

T-Notes

It seems that people who post trans blogs and commentaries — me included — are always writing about discrimination, hate crimes, health care and bathrooms. Granted, each is critically important and potentially life altering. Only after the tragedy of someone taking their own life, however, do we usually write about suicide and what drives trans people to take their own lives. Many of us have contemplated this drastic act. More than a few of us have attempted it. Generally, a person must reach the depths of despair to want to escape from a life which has become so burdensome, so unbearable, that to live simply becomes unacceptable. And, it usually takes a trigger.

So, imagine you lost your job for no specific reason other than discrimination and there is no legal remedy. There are still no federal ENDA protections. And, for a myriad of reasons, no one wants to hire you. You’ve been scrounging to make ends meet, but you’re running out of options. If you were fortunate to have collected unemployment, it doesn’t last forever — the same thing goes for food stamps. Maybe you own your own home, maybe you’re renting. Either way, the day finally comes when all options have been depleted and you are staring down homelessness. You still have a car, maybe, and you’re living in it. Or, you’re living on friends’ couches (if there are any friends left). Your only access to the internet is the library and support groups are sadly the only, albeit tenuous, lifeline you have left.

Perhaps you’re feeling alienated because your family and friends have rejected you. Your spouse sued for divorce. Your sense of being alone is more than ponderous — it’s overwhelming and seemingly endless. You are unconnected. You literally have no one to whom you can turn. Maybe your crisis is related to your religious upbringing and an inability to reconcile being trans with religious precepts with which you were raised and/or indoctrinated. In many situations, depression stems from a combination of many ancillary factors. More often than not, however, it’s the pressures from without which drive us to the brink of extinction, not the mere fact we are trans. Many, if not most, of us have no problems dealing with being trans — it’s how we fare at the hands of others who are steeped in cultural bigotry which causes distress. In each of these scenarios, it is often an internet connection and support groups that keep us going.

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You write to a few of those groups about your problems, concerns and fears. Several persons in those groups lay into you for having a so-called “pity party.” Is this tough love or is it really just another way of saying tough luck? For some living on the edge, it is, sadly, the latter. I fear it may also be the trigger.

We have become a self-centered and uncompassionate culture and most of us don’t know how to act when we hear of others’ misfortunes. It’s almost as though there is something infectious and we don’t want to catch it, so we compartmentalize ourselves and phase out. It’s the same kind of treatment often given to persons with disabilities. And, trans persons. It’s dismissive, insensitive and shows a total lack of understanding about what’s at stake.

Why are we so callous? For starters, any kind of sense of community we might have once had seems to be disappearing. Our myopia and narcissism as a culture is astounding. Perhaps we don’t want to be perceived as enablers or maybe it’s that we comfort ourselves in others’ misery, knowing that it’s them, not us. Why someone would dump on a person in their direst hours eludes me and I have to wonder about their ability to empathize. It’s possible that some kind of psychic numbing is behind our inability to relate to each other. We treat each other as objects which are in some sense unreal and detach ourselves from any consequences which might ensue.

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This behavior is more common in online groups than in situations like in-person support groups. Not that it doesn’t happen there, or in one-on-one encounters, but it seems to be rampant online and diabolical. Anonymity allows us to pile on with complete disdain for compassion and with a smugness that is astonishing and bewildering.

I have always liked the “walk a mile in the other person’s shoes” metaphor and think that it’s one of the keys to a sense of higher consciousness. We seem to be less and less able to comprehend a concept which should really be self-evident. We are often called upon to evoke this kind of higher consciousness throughout our lives; it’s even more critical when we consider that a human life may be in the balance. After being subjected to the kind of rejection which undeniably happens to so many trans persons, one’s mental landscape can be terribly fragile.

It is often said that when people talk about suicide, they are crying out to someone for a lifeline. Most are looking for support and validation and they really don’t want to take their lives. Alienating and isolating any human being is the quickest and easiest way to convince them that no one really cares and to remove any reason to cry out. That’s usually when a suicide which has merely been entertained crosses the threshold of reality. And, that’s when we most need to be there for each other and not dump on our sisters and brothers for having an alleged pity party. : :

— Comments and corrections can be sent to editor@goqnotes.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.

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3 Replies to “Tough love or tough luck”

  1. Joseph B. Arrington April 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Wow Robbi that is an awesome article, and provides a lot of insights on what the trans community faces when trying to get desparately needed support! I know for certain I would not be here today except for the awesome friends and that I have made on and off line. It sounds like the trans community really needs a stronger and more supportive place to turn, and I would hope that this article really inspires an outpouring of support to meet that need. You are right there are many online who use the internet to dump out their problems and dump on others for theirs, there should always be someone in everyone’s life that can help them when they are in this state. And while it is a kick when you are down, it is very true that self pity will not solve your issues, but it is a feeling we should all get to have and have someone comfort us through, until we are ready to get to work resolving our issues and move on to the next chapter of our lives.

  2. I attend many support groups, though less now, and I have found difficulties with moderators and participants on many occasions, getting responses that were much less supportive than desired. These events caused hurt during a time when things were unsettled in every part of my life. Many times those we think should be our advocates turn on us and we have to rely on what inner truth we know to motivate us. But I for one have never tried to trivialize what i see, and the truth is I see it getting more severe for those at risk in the public eye and want to respond in a direct and effective weay to promote the basic principles of social equality we need to remove the stigma and indifference.
    The fatality rate and all the other statistics pale though at the cultural scenario you presented in detail for many individuals and for us as a group. However I do know of individual online efforts to provide, for example, support to transgender police officers who often face or fear harrassment by others who have transitioned. These are small and local efforts. The concept of community though, is in fact only beginning and hopefully can take hold and unite us. It’s the best way I can see to change the horrors you describe – there has to be people who care.

  3. Robbi;

    Your keen insight summons another quandry.

    How indeed does one go about straddling that silvery gossamer thread that makes up the line between alleged “self-pity” and the full disclosure that is required in order to obtain the appropriate assistance in times of desperation?

    Once pride is no longer an affordable luxury, and self-respect is on the “endangered species” list, what is the “socially acceptable” way to ask for help, especially when one is perilously close to the proverbial “end of the rope”?

    To attempt to explain the myriad of day-to-day challenges one is faced with can easily exceed the average person’s limited attention span, and that’s assuming they wanted to hear about it in the first place, which is a rare occurence in and of itself.

    If kindred spirits can somehow begin to show EMPATHY (as opposed to “sympathy”) to one another, I would argue that this action alone would be a HUGE step forward.

    On the other hand, if you are one of the self-absorbed legions that places “political correctness” above all else, PLEASE resist the reflex to smile and nod should you find yourself confronted with the plight of one of your so-called “friends” (who is probably naive enough to think you really care).

    Just walk away, because NOBODY is served well by such hypocrisy.

    TRUST ME on this.

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