Teen suicide is the most horrible thing imaginable, and we all need to do whatever we can to prevent it. Gender dysphoria—the pain resulting from a sense of dissociation from one’s own body and biological sex—is a very real phenomenon, as anyone who has experienced it will tell you. After one of these tragedies, the dominant message is that suicidal ideation in people who are “gender non-conforming” is solely the result of transphobia and the lack of (usually) parental support for “transition.” Parents, family members, and anyone else who was not fully on-board with the young person’s desire or efforts to change his or her gender are vilified, often to the point of death threats and stalking.
But maybe, just maybe, some of these young people want to die because 21st century society has given them the message that they cannot live their lives legitimately and happily in the bodies they were born in if they do not conform to gender stereotypes. That if they don’t like “girly” things or are “sissy boys,” or if they identify with and enjoy pursuits and body ornamentation traditionally associated with the opposite sex, they and their families must push for a medical diagnosis that will commit them to a chronic, expensive health condition involving lifelong drug treatment and repeated plastic surgeries; that they will have to live like Type 1 diabetics, requiring treatment for the rest of their lives. How can all of this pressure to conform not contribute to a sense of hopelessness and despair?
When a young person takes his or her own life, we must absolutely ask “why.” But a teen suicide should not shut down an open-minded discussion about root causes and conditions. Blake was out as trans. While Blake faced a lack of family support for “transition,” things seemed to be improving. The high school was open-minded enough to allow Blake to be their homecoming king. Blake was an activist with a purpose, well respected by many, with a long life to look forward to. Is the reason for Blake’s suicide simply that society or family weren’t supportive enough of the dominant transgender paradigm, or could there be a more complex explanation? Is gender therapy the only answer for a gender non-conforming person in pain?
I write this not to trigger hate or anger against any person, no matter how he or she identifies. I write as the parent of a gender non-conforming child whom I love more than anything on earth. Reading about another teen taking their own life is awful. But Blake’s suicide does not make me question gender politics less: it makes me question more.