How You Can Help Save a Trans Child's Life

It's the news no parent wants to hear, and yet I am one of the most likely to hear it. 

This past weekend, another trans child took his own life. Another mother's heart broke in the most unthinkable way. Another deep wound was carved into a family that will never fully heal. 

Every time this happens - and it happens far too often - our global community of trans people and the affirming families who love them goes into mourning. We share the hurt, the anger, the shock of another young light gone dim. We reach out to the family, if we can. We change our profile pictures, use hashtags, and post statuses of compassion and awareness in solidarity.

And I don't know for sure, because I've never asked, but I bet a lot of parents do exactly what I do: check in on their own trans child. I will find her in her room, or meet her as she's coming home from school. I'll try to act casual, but she'll be able to read it all over me. 

"What's wrong, mom?" she'll ask. "You look upset." I look at my mostly happy, mostly free of depression, mostly okay-these-days daughter. A world away from where she was before she came out and shortly thereafter. But as I'm learning, never really out of the woods.

"Just seeing how you're doing," I'll say, as casually as I can. "How are things? How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine. Why?" 

"Just because... Well... It's just... I just read about another kid who took their life. A trans kid."

"That's awful," she'll say, lowering her gaze and shaking her head. She feels it, too. "I'm sorry." 

"Yeah, me too. And I just want to know how you're doing, you know? You'd tell me if you were unhappy, right? We would find help together if you weren't?"

"Of course." 

"Promise?"

"I promise," she'll say. And I will hug her, knowing full well there's another family aching to hold their child. It's so unfair and it's so scary. Because, really, it could be any of our children. It could be mine just as easily someone else's.

It could be mine. I, and just about every other parent of a trans child, carries this knowledge with them every day.  

I get so angry when I see politicians drawing up bathroom bills and stalling human rights laws in the name of "safety." Want to talk safety? How about the attempted suicide rate in trans youth? In some places, it's as high as 50%.

The numbers are highest in youth who live with the following obstacles:  

  • Families who will not affirm the youth's true gender ("Get over it! You're a boy! You were born with a penis. That makes you a boy.")
  • Communities that do not support their trans community members. ("Sorry, you can't join the boy's basketball team because you're not really a boy." "Dad, why are the neighbours still using my old name and calling me 'she', even though we've told them not to?")
  • Schools environments that will not embrace a child's true gender. ("They won't let me use the girl's bathroom." "The teacher won't respect my pronouns." "The kids are bullying me on my way to school every day.")
  • Political climates where trans people are treated as second class citizens. (Bathroom bills, religious freedom acts, countries where violence against trans people is not considered a hate crime, etc.)
  • Medical environments where youth cannot access the life-saving affirming care they need and are sometimes given conversion therapy instead, where they are forced to try and live as the person they're not.

In those environments, our children suffer. Imagine carrying the weight of not being seen for who you are every. single. day. As parents, we try. We love and nurture and affirm and support and advocate. And we wait for society to catch up.

Please, we beg, please catch up before it's too late. We can't do this alone.

Because as politicians posture righteously at desks with hateful bills before them, our children fall. As people who have likely never loved a trans person stand in front of cameras touting religious freedom and women's safety above all, we bury our kids.

So if we're talking safety, let's talk about how unsafe these laws are for our children. Let's talk about how people's ignorant comments all over the internet eat at our youth's self-esteem and erode their joy until there's nothing left. Let's talk about how schools and school boards will sometimes still turn a blind eye to harassment, or refuse to implement trans-inclusive policies because they fear backlash. 

Want to talk religion? Every major religion in the world preaches peace and love for your fellow human being. Denying someone basic human rights and treating them as lesser beings goes directly against those teachings. What would Jesus do? Not that. 

Safety? Religious freedom? No. This is oppression. This is hatred. And it's killing our children.  

In the three years we've been on this journey with Alexis, I've watched too many children fall. I've lost count of how many, which really tells you how bad it is.

I know a lot of you read my blog for the happy stuff; you love seeing how my family of five is thriving with two trans people and a finally-out lesbian in it. But if I don't talk about this stuff, I'm not telling you the whole story. Because we are the fortunate ones. We are the ones who haven't lost someone - yet. 

Yet.

Because it's the news no parent wants to hear, and yet I am one of the most likely to hear it.

We need to stop the hemorrhaging in this community. And the only way to stop it is to get help from outside of it. Help from YOU.

So if you want to save lives with us, here are some concrete steps to help:

  1. Educate yourself. The best place to do that is direct from the source. Find some trans writers, bloggers, activists and politicians. Follow their feeds, read their books, and watch their videos. Nobody knows trans issues like trans people themselves.
  2. Write to your political representatives. In Canada, Bill C-16, the trans rights bill, is being stalled by Conservative members of the senate. The bill could die in the senate if we don't urge it along. Please write your senator. If you want a form letter, you can find one here. In the US, new discriminatory laws are being drawn up and old ones are being repealed that protected trans youth and adults. Get active and let your representative know this is unacceptable. 
  3. Stop transphobia in action. You are likely in situations where people will say things they would never say around a trans person or their family member. If you hear hateful language, stand up where we cannot. Those ideas need to be challenged because they trickle into schools, workplaces and voting polls.
  4. Be a safe space by being an ally. Once you've educated yourself, let people know you're a safe person. If you have an office or cubicle at work, put up a rainbow sticker. I have a rainbow sticker on my car. If I'm in a parking lot and someone is feeling unsafe, they know they can approach me. We have a sticker on our front door, letting everyone who visits know our home is welcoming. Some of my kids' friends have less-than-supportive parents; they know when they come through our door, we'll be using their proper name and pronouns and respecting their sexual orientation.
  5. Plant the seed. Ask your child's school if they have a good policy in place for supporting trans students. Ask your doctor or child's pediatrician if they've received training in how to medically support trans people. Get people thinking about how they can be better allies.
  6. Donate. Give to causes that fight for LGBTQ rights, big and small. There is benefit in supporting large organization as well as local ones. National and international ones help get laws passed, while local ones work on the ground to make our communities better. (Need some ideas? Here's a link to several in Canada, and some in America. I have not checked out every organization on these lists and therefore can't endorse them. You'll have to do your own research into them before making a donation.)

These are all things we can do to help save vulnerable kids. Let's stop feeling helpless and start doing something. Anything.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go check in with my daughter, and hug her fiercely.

Amanda Jette Knox