Nearly half of living trans people–surviving trans people–have attempted suicide.
Nearly half of those of us who did not succeed in killing ourselves have tried.
Nearly a tenth of us will be murdered. Nearly half of us will be raped. Most of us will experience violence from loved ones and almost all of us will be denied homes and jobs. This is not hyperbole. These are the numbers as the world currently stands. But the most devastating one, as far as I am concerned, is that first one. Nearly half of the living have tried not to be. That is: let’s leave behind all the nearly. More than half of us have tried to end our own lives and many of us have succeeded. We are a heartbroken people.
This is not arbitrary. This is not a mistake. This is not for no reason. This is because we live in a world that has systematically forced into us the falsehood that we are unworthy of the basic consideration of humanity. This is because we–and we are a beautiful people, a powerful people, a beloved and phenomenal people–have been fed falsehood after falsehood until we were convinced that we were the problem, and not the campaign, from the institution on down to the individual, to erase, denigrate, break, and murder us. This is the failure state of the communities we live in: our families, our religious communities, our political leaders, our movements, our governments, our cultures. This is us–trans people–as a people–being forced to carry the weight of an entire world’s failure.
If we are so desperate to escape this world–if we see no other alternative, or worse, loathe ourselves so very much–it is because our communities have failed us. They can do better. We can do better. We deserve better. We are not so full of self-hate because something is wrong with us. We do not do such terrible violence to ourselves because that is what we deserve. We do not abdicate the belief in our own inherent dignity and worth lightly or easily. It is torn out of us, little by little, in daily, tiny murders. And every time we cringe and scrape and apologize for breathing, for taking up space, for speaking, for loving, every time we ask for forgiveness just for being what we are, every time we internalize story after story about how we are dead to our loved ones, ask to be brutalized, need to expect that what we are will merit every door closed in our faces, we are participating little by little in our own suicides.
I am no longer interested in sweet words about this. We convince ourselves we are the problem because we are taught to do so, and we are all taught this, minute by minute, even those of us who mostly don’t believe it. We are reminded every hour how low and vile we are despite our best efforts. If you have for an instant believed that you are unworthy of love, that you are wrong, that you are anything less than a person, it is very simply because your community has failed you.
When you have been told you are less than human–less than sacred–less than beautiful–your community has failed you. When you believe it, it is because your community has failed you. I do not intend to mince words.
If you are out there believing that you are less than other people–that you are unworthy–that those who love you are settling, or tolerating, or deserve your apology–that those you love are not lucky to have your love–your community has failed you. Your family has failed you. Your faith, if you have one, has failed you. Your leaders have failed you. If you or the people around you are using words that make you feel like a thing; if you are frightened to have basic bodily functions in public; if you talk about yourself like a disease, not a person; if you see nothing ahead in your old age but the bleakness of despair, isolation, and abuse; if your youth is a neverending desperation to get out and away to somewhere you cannot trust exists; if you are quietly taking your bag out from under the seat another has taken from you and moving on instead of asserting yourself; if you are telling yourself it is excusable for other people, even loved ones, not to afford you the basic respect of your own name; if you are believing this is the best you can do, they have let you down.
You deserve better. Because you are not the problem. You are not broken. You are not worthless. You are not a problem and you are not a mistake.
We talk a lot about principles and rights, but I am not talking about rights and don’t want to. Rights are the purview of politics and I don’t want to talk politics. I don’t want to talk analysis or discourse or theory.
I want to talk morals. It is a moral issue that our community is full of despair and self-hatred and self-disgust. It is not a matter of rights. It is not a matter of laws or votes or commandments. It is a moral issue. It is a theological issue. It is an issue of fundamental, basic human-ness. And I think sometimes we, as a community, especially those of us so proud to be radicals, forget that sometimes we rush ahead of the community, the culture, the people to whom we are connected, and want to talk about our rights before we talk about what we deserve and why we deserve it. We want to talk about protecting our own before we give each other reason to believe we are worth protecting. We want to jump in with both feet and spread the word about what we ought to have in society without convincing our people that we are worthy of not just full participation in society, civil or social, but of love. Of beauty. Of truth. Of basic humanity. Of self-respect.
This is not about self-esteem. This is not about self-help. This is a moral issue. This is an issue of the basic liturgy of human interaction–because it is our daily rituals that define the four corners of the world and the arches of the sky, it is our stories that tell us how to recognize our own faces, and we have been denied our place in the human liturgy for far too long and it is long past time to erupt up from the landscape that conceals us and demand, not just our rights, but the basic essential core of worth and decency that makes us people and therefore worthy of rights in the first place. We have been denied this and we have been told we are the problem. Those of us who are political, like me, hear often about ourselves as a cause. Those of us who are academic, like me, hear often about ourselves as a concept. But we have gotten ahead of ourselves because too many of us–leave alone everyone else, us!–have not heard about ourselves as people. We have been excluded from our own landscape of story and ritual. We have been ejected from our own moral universe. We have been torn from our own regard. And we are killing ourselves by degrees because of it. At eight years old I put a kitchen knife to my chest and pushed, and it was only a miracle that caused me to falter and fail. That eight year old child was not the problem. I was not the problem. A world that taught me that I had no place in it, that taught me to look away from my own holy truth and afford myself not even a scrap of the respect I agreed all other people merited, that taught me that nothing done to me could be wrong because my own moral universe did not include me–that world was and is the problem.
If for a moment in your life you have spent a breath or a thought hating yourself, looking on yourself with disgust and contempt, it is because people have let you down, and those people were wrong. You deserve not to submit to them. You were never the problem. If for a moment you thought your family, your friends, your lovers, needed to compromise to love you, thought they could do better and have a real person instead, it is because your community has let you down, from the top to the bottom.
If our leaders cannot tell us this–if we as leaders cannot tell each other this–we are fundamentally and profoundly abdicating our responsibility to our people, who are crying out for justice. If you run a church or a support group or a political faction or a newsletter or a website. If you speak to our people in public, if you guide young people or those just discovering themselves, if you are entrusted with the responsibility to guide any of us, and you do not make it clear that we are whole, we are real, we are worthy, we are beautiful? You are letting us down and you can do better. You can do better than letting that lie go unchallenged. Our people are hungry for the truth. We are starving. If you deny them that food, if you feed them garbage instead, it is on you.
This is not politics, or theory. It is a moral issue. We are under the arch of the same sky, and yet we are denied the sight of it, leave alone the hope that we might be virtuous enough to share in holding it up.
We are not the problem. We are not broken. We are not dirty. Wrong is not our name. We are not wrong. It is long past time to recognize that though we may lose much from truth-telling, when it all burns away, everything that is left is true.
Do not trust me because some great Word is in me. Trust yourself and the Word in you. Trust that you are brim-full of truth. Trust that there is a mighty and lie-less core within you that from birth has told you that you are full of what is good, and trust that the fact you cannot hear it ringing out over your landscape is because it has been buried by other people in a landfill of falsehood.
The fact that you can doubt the truth within yourself is because your community has let you down. And we can do better. We deserve better. We are better than that. We are not wrong.
I do not intend to mince words. Whatever there is in you that tells you that you are not worth loving, not worth living, not worth fighting for: burn it. Burn it down and dig for the truth underneath. Dig down through the ashes of all those lies until you hit bedrock and then, pushing off from it, rise up. We walk in places much too dark and terrible to deny ourselves this. In a world that sanctions and blockades our sources of spiritual nourishment, we carry too much already to weaken ourselves by collaborating with this enforced and unjust impoverishment. We deserve to rise up, and, even if only in ourselves, nurture revolution.
We are real people, beautiful people, and we deserve families, communities, movements, and cultures that honor us. I think we can have them. I believe we can make them. We are part of this human family, worthy, complete, pure, and mighty. And we ought to be able to say this out loud and to ourselves until we know that it is true.
Welcome to church.