A life lost too soon
Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. I was tempted to share a meme or article and say something about the tragedy of suicide and depression and how we need more people to learn to recognize symptoms. And I am grateful to everyone who has done that today and many other days of the year. But today, I feel like I need to share something more. Last month was the six year anniversary of my friend's suicide. He lost his battle with depression even though he had many friends who loved him, a loving family, and the support of his church. But he had a secret that only a few people knew. He struggled with his gender identity. I only know part of his story. I know he loved music and theater and online gaming. I know he loved science and theology and was the only person I could geek out with about both at the same time. I know he was incredibly smart and also quite funny. I know he could sew and could put together my 20 piece desk without directions. I know he felt called to be the pastor of a church and he would have been so good at it. I know he sang beautifully and gave wonderful hugs - the kind you would never forget because you felt truly held. I know he was kind and generous. I know I trusted him and loved him. I also know that he struggled. I didn't realize how much soon enough. I spent the first several months after his death enraged like I have never been before because we live in a culture where he felt like it wasn't okay to live as himself. No one should ever have to feel that way. And to a large degree because of that, the world lost one of the sweetest souls I've ever encountered, to a death that was preventable. And I lost my friend. I will never be able to help support him in his discernment about gender identity. I will never know if "he" would prefer to be called "she" or "they", or something else entirely. I will never know if he would have chosen to identify as trans or to go through some form of transition. I will never know how I could have supported that decision or that process. I will never get to say, "look how other genderqueer and trans persons are being supported by the church in their call." Or "look how much the church is learning and growing because people are insisting on living as themselves." It wouldn't have been easy for him; I know that for sure. But I also know I wouldn't have been the only person in his life to offer unwaivering support and unconditional love. You have probably noticed that I haven't named my friend. I don't stay in touch with his family, but last I knew they weren't ready for his identity struggles to be public knowledge. I want to honor their desire to deal with things in their own way. However, his story is too important not to tell. Not because it so unique, but because there are so many people struggling for the similar reasons and so many of them losing their battle every year. The suicide rate for LGBT identified people is much higher than the average and those who are trans have the highest rate by far. I'm not going to post the stats here. You can look them up easily enough if you need to. But they are astonishing and heartbreaking. Another friend of mine recently reminded me in a conversation that for each oppressed group a depressed person belongs to (based on race, gender, sexuality, etc.) their struggle with depression increases exponentially because they are battling all the messages from our culture that they are not worthy of being treated with basic human dignity and respect. Their lives do not matter in the same way as others. So I'm telling this story because in addition to being depressed, my friend lived with the knowledge that he would not be valued in the way that he deserved. That's a terrible burden to bear. Every time I see my trans friends, I am aware of the courage and fortitude and support that is required to face this world authentically as a trans person and the everyday fight they must endure .And it's a reality we need to talk about more if we are committed to preventing suicide among persons with the highest risk. This is a conversation for communities of faith. This is a conversation for schools. This is a conversation for families. This is a conversation that needs to happen more often. These stories should not be silenced because we don't want to face them. We should honor the lives of those we've lost by doing the thing that is hard for us to do, because they can't do it themselves anymore. We should honor the lives of those with us who are still struggling, because they shouldn't have to do it alone. With God's help, may we make it so.