Paris Lees on trans teen deaths: ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’

Blake Brockington was homecoming king. Blake Brockington was 18. Blake Brockington was found dead last Monday.

He’s the latest transgender teenager to take his own life, but I doubt he’ll be the last. “Throughout my life, I haven’t really been treated equally as a male, so I’ve always wanted this, always, and everybody has always told me I couldn’t do it,” Blake told local news last year. He used that short life to campaign for greater acceptance of trans people, but reading back his words of hope today breaks my heart: “Even though you go through some things, and you have some negative encounters in your life, anything is possible, you can do anything you set your heart to.”

Sadly, despite such messages of hope, too many trans teens feel like they can’t carry on.

In February, 16 year-old Ash Haffner stepped in front of a car after years of bullying. He, too, left a note: “Just remember me as someone who understood and stayed strong for as long as I could.” Ash was lucky enough to enjoy love and support from his family. When he started a relationship with a girl, his mother offered support, telling her child: “I will not love you any differently. I will not look at you any differently.” Even with this family acceptance, though, life clearly seemed too much Ash.

More wasted life. Leelah Alcorn, whose death deeply affected me back in January. Melonie Rose, a 19-year-old trans woman. Eyelul Cansin, 23. Twenty-two-year-old Aubrey Mariko Shine. Or how about Riley Matthew Moscatel. Ran into traffic. Seventeen. How many more must there be that we don’t even know about?

blake-banner-2                                                                                    Pictured: Blake Brockington.

Being gay or trans or different for whatever reason can be a living hell during puberty. Can you imagine how much harder it must be when you don’t even have the love of your family? Maybe you don’t have to. Many gay and trans people know all too well what it feels like to be rejected by the very people who are supposed to love, care and support us. Take Zander Mahaffey, who was bullied by his family according to his suicide note. He was 15. Fifteen, for fuck’s sake. We’re not just talking about tormented adults taking their own lives here – we’re talking about kids. All these young people killed themselves within the last 6 months.

Research conducted by mental health charity Pace reveals that 48% of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide. Half. Unsurprisingly, those who have suffered discrimination or violence are at highest risk, according to researchers from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Out of those who had been turned away by a doctor because they were transgender or gender-nonconforming, make that 60% said they had tried to kill themselves. Made homeless for being trans? Make that 69%.

Suicide is never, ever the right option. It does get better. It feels dangerous to suggest that anything good could come out of highly publicised suicides, but if there is a silver lining, it’s the sympathetic media coverage, and subsequent public awareness, they’ve helped generate. Like the problem of gay teen suicides, the issue of trans youth taking their own lives has become an increasingly mainstream talking point. MailOnline has covered many of these deaths, and everything I’ve read so far has been sympathetic and respectful. It’s a shame it seems to takes a suicide to illicit responsible reporting, but credit where it’s due.


Pictured: Leelah Alcorn.

Still, some people question whether covering trans suicides can ever be considered ‘responsible’, no matter how respectfully written. Especially now that suicide notes are becoming increasingly public affairs. Columnists worry about “copycat suicides”, but without a public debate about these suicides and why they happen, the prevailing culture of prejudice that caused them will never end. Trans suicide may be a troubling trend, but teenagers aren’t killing themselves to be trendy, they’re killing themselves because they are lonely, desperate and tired of living in world hostile to who they are. They’re killing themselves because people are treating them like shit. The only way to change that is through honest discussion.

The most frustrating part of all of this though – as well as the most comforting – is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Take 14-year-old Jazz Jennings. This is what a trans teenager looks like with buckets of love, understanding and support. Jazz is also lucky enough to be incredibly photogenic, and has recently been signed up to advertise Clean & Clear. Not every trans teenager is going to become a product-endorsing celebrity, but Jazz’s story does show us that there’s another way. Not just for trans people to live, but to flourish. Cry for the homecoming king who won’t be coming home again, yes, but remember to celebrate every bright, precious trans life, too. Cherishing our youth and mourning our dead are two sides of the same coin. On it are inscribed three words: Trans lives matter.


Pictured: Jazz Jennings (centre) at the recent GLAAD Awards.

Need help? Information and resources on suicide prevention is available here. Gender identity-specific support can be found here.


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