Suicide Among the Transgendered and Dealing with Complicated Issues


Among the protest signs present at the entrance-exam-day protest at Mount Saint Charles Academy was one with this message:

41% of Trans Individuals Attempt Suicide In Their Lifetimes. “Accommodation” Cannot Wait

The 41% number comes from a study of survey results by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute, but looking through all of the numbers shows that the issue of transgenders is incredibly complicated even on a personal, individual level, let alone on social, political, and theological levels.

No matter what cut of the data one views, the rate of attempted suicides is horrifyingly high, but it’s not a simple matter of intolerance leading to suicide, and with the elevation of public discussion of transgenders in the United States toward the top of the subject list, reducing it to simplistic declarations about discrimination is unproductive and could, in fact, be harmful to the very people whom activists claim to be supporting.

As a baseline, one should note that the only broad groups that report less than a 30% rate of lifetime suicide attempts are those with incomes over $100,000 (26%), men who characterize themselves as only “cross-dressers” (21%), and those over 65 (16%).  Moreover, some of the outcomes are surprising and raise questions about the actual cause of the attempts, and even the triggers for them.

Looking at Table 7, for example, shows that transgenders in the female-to-male group are just as likely to attempt suicide whether they think people can tell that they’re different or not.  Among the gender non-conforming (GNC) group born female, the suicide-attempt rate is actually higher when they don’t think people can tell.  (Generally, those who are genetically male or female have inverted results.)

One point that’s especially relevant the Mount Saint Charles controversy is related to negative work experiences (Table 16).  The suicide-attempt rate among those who think they didn’t get a job because of their status is 53%, but the rate is higher for almost every other work-related experience.  That includes “denied access to appropriate bathrooms,” which showed a suicide-attempt rate of 59%.

In other words, based on this one survey (which is limited, but probably more than most people attacking the school have reviewed), a workplace or a school that expects transgendered students to face some sort of difficulty may actually be reducing the incidence of suicide attempts by having a blanket policy excluding them.

But the important point — the very important point — is that the question of what is best for any particular person who self-identifies as transgendered depends hugely on that particular person and on the environment that he or she intends to enter.  It might be too much for an institution like a school to implement an absolute and unchangeable policy, but it’s definitely too much to issue blanket social edicts that exclusion is always and everywhere pure discrimination based on bigoted animus.

Given the complexity and personal nature of the issue, the best attitude for society to take is one that allows all people and organizations to assess their own conditions and to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.  From the outside, some decisions may seem arbitrary, and people won’t always make the right ones, but that’s a risk of living in a free society that prioritizes a right to come to one’s own conclusions about reality.

This observation applies much more broadly, encompassing other social debates as well as business and employment regulations.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    41% of Trans Individuals Attempt Suicide In Their Lifetimes. “Accommodation” Cannot Wait

    First question, are they very troubled individuals in which “gender identity” is a problem, among many others? Not an isolated cause.

    Are they male, or female? Attempted suicide is much more common among women, although the m,ale “success” rate is much higher.

    I fear “advocacy statistics”.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Yes, be wary of all statistics, but these numbers look like they’re about as legitimate as they come on this matter, and some of the findings don’t really fit an agenda.

      To answer your questions, from the numbers in the study, one can infer that 31% say they have some sort of mental health disability that’s severe enough to affect their lives. In general, female attempts are 44% versus 38%, but what’s peculiar is that female suicide attempt rates are higher when they don’t think that others pick up on their transgenderism. For men, it’s higher when they do think others pick up on it.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Probably advocacy statistics:
        But figures jumped out at me, for every suicide,there are 25 attempts among youths. Males “succeed” 3.5 times as often as females. These and the guidelines below do not seem to reflect in this survey.

        Some other “facts”. 494,169 people visited a hospital (annually) for injuries due to self-harm. This number suggests that approximately 12 people harm themselves for every reported death by suicide. However, because of the way these data are collected, we are not able to distinguish intentional suicide attempts from non-intentional self-harm behaviors.

        Surveys suggest that at least one million people in the U.S. each year engage in intentionally inflicted self-harm.

        Females attempt suicide three times more often than males. As with suicide deaths, rates of attempted suicide vary considerably among demographic groups. While males are 4 times more likely than females to die by suicide, females attempt suicide 3 times as often as males. The ratio of suicide attempts to suicide death in youth is estimated to be about 25:1, compared to about 4:1 in the elderly.

  • stereorealist

    It used to be said that the cause of gay and trans people unhappiness was “social oppression,” which was undoubtedly true in an earlier time that equated queer behavior with sexual perversity. You literally had to hide your behavior and your thoughts. But in today’s more open environment, that is a truism, and can no longer be as valid as it once was. Acceptance of gayness as a normal expression of sexuality identity returns us to the serious question of why young gay and trans people are so depressed and suicidal, and it can’t be blamed on solely on discrimination as it was in prior generations.

    I’ve theorized that many people develop a negative self-image early in life that causes them to seek fundamental alternate identifications such as gay or trans-gender. If this identification can lead to intimate friendships in a small counter-culture group, as was the case throughout the latter half of the 20th century, then the queer individual can find solace with other queers in the new identification. “Coming out” became a new form of this expression and encouraged many to become self-assertive and self-liberating.

    But here we are, in post gay-marriage society, where being gay is no big deal — celebrities do it all the time — and most people regard gay or trans just as “normal” as being straight. Life has suddenly gotten more hopeless and existential for young queers who have no place to go with their feelings.

    Where is the counter-culture for today’s gays? Instead of endless bathhouse parties, you find that gay relationships, just like straight relationships, are difficult and full of broken hearts. Being negative, sex obsessed, and having no social skills don’t make you more attractive. Coming out is no longer a catharsis if you came out at ten and your parents, teachers, and classmates accepted you. You can’t even claim the moral superiority of being a victim of social oppression if the law and media are on your side. How do you deal with your sense of abnormality, your negativity, your self-hatred if being “gay” doesn’t have the capacity to make you happy? Who will help you to find your true self and succor your inner pain?

    I hope they find the help that they need. It is a long hard journey.