The pity narrative? No thanks!

The mainstream media have a tendency to finish every story about trans people with suicide statistics in our community, as if they’re asking their audience to be nice to us out of pity. It’s a narrative that some trans folks have also adopted. I reject this pity narrative, and so should you.

I’m not minimizing the challenges that trans people face. Things may be better than they’ve ever been, but they’re still not good enough. Major issues like trauma, abuse, rejection, and fear are common for trans folks, but day-to-day minor stressors take their toll also. It isn’t easy being trans, but a pity narrative by its nature frames you as a helpless individual. We may have been victimized, but it does not follow that we need to be victims.

It’s easy to put together a long list of successful trans people who did not buy into the pity narrative. You may not see yourself in Rachel Levine, the US Assistant Secretary of Health and a four-star admiral; or actress Laverne Cox; or Aaron Devor, who heads up the largest trans archives in the world at the University of Victoria. You may not think you have any special talent that will elevate you above the feeling of being beaten down, but don’t sabotage your resilience by not believing in it.

Your reality is that you live in a cisgender world. You need to accept that, and deal with it. You have two choices on how to do that: you can hide from it, or you can face it.

Hiding from it feels at first like the safest bet, but over time it will drain you of your dreams and will wither your soul. Facing it may feel like an impossible task, but don’t punish yourself if you can’t do it right away. You need to find patience and take the long view. What you’re doing is hard, doubly so if you have little or no support. Some things take time while you work at them. Don’t give up. Acquire a skill. Whether it is being a barista or a computer programmer or a hair stylist, it will always serve you well. Find allies. Put in the work to know yourself, and make that self a reality.

In a Huffington Post article on the rise of gay suicides, epidemiologist Travis Salway noted that many of the people he interviewed who had attempted suicide told him that they had walked right up to the door of a support group and then turned around. Don’t let fear or shame stop you. Push the door open!

And to trans people in general, I say stop sniping at each other. It’s childish. You’re all in this together.

Many of you may find this pep talk trite, or even irritating. You don’t see how talk can turn into action in your own lives, but I’ve been there and can assure you from personal experience that moping will get you nowhere. Attitude is important.

I don’t see trans people as pitiable beings. I see them as dragons fiercely defending their identities. Your life is an act of resistance against a culture that says you can’t exist. As writer and feminist Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

If you see yourself as a victim, you’re undermining your own ability to face the challenges in your life as a trans person. Reject the pity narrative. Live.

Think you’ve got it rough? Here’s a story about Alana McLaughlin, the second out MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter, that left me in awe of her resilience and courage. Alana McLaughlin was victimized repeatedly, but she’s no victim.

We’re human and all feel vulnerable sometimes. There is no shame in seeking help. For 24/7 bilingual, crisis support, call the Child Youth and Family Crisis Line at 613-260-2360, or 1-877-377-7775 (outside Ottawa) or call the Crisis Line at 1-866-996-0991.