[CN: suicide, suicidal ideation, transphobia]
In 2010, I almost killed myself. I was living in a foreign country, deeply depressed and anxious, and not handling any of it well. I’d taken the job because the money was good, and didn’t think about the emotional and mental cost of living in a country I wasn’t even all that excited to visit. My mental health deteriorated, and I found myself looking for any way out.
The depression is something I never want to have to return to. I’m on good medication now, my anxiety is under control and I’ve developed healthier coping mechanisms to deal with it when it does arise. I’m not just okay now – I’m actually happy.
A major part of that happiness involved a deep spiritual and theological shift in my life. It’s no big surprise that my major depressive episode corresponded with a grave disillusionment with the purity culture in which I’d been raised. I was 24, living in another country, single, never been kissed, and with no prospects. This was not how I’d been told my life would turn out.
Suicidal ideation is not something to mess around with and it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. You look at the world differently when you experience episodes like that, and I have to constantly be on watch for those thoughts to creep back in. Indeed, when I was in Minneapolis recently, I walked on a pedestrian bridge above a large section of freeway. And I noticed immediately that there weren’t any fences or protections to keep a determined person from flinging themselves into the fast moving traffic below.
These are the things you notice when you’re shaking off depression, when you’re moving yourself away from a world of concentration on how to best hurt yourself. Like an alcoholic giving up on drink, even after years of sobriety, you’re never as far away from the tipping point as you’d like to be.
And you learn to get really angry any time someone uses your battle to advance their own agenda.
This week, there’s been no lack of commentary on transgender identity and marriage equality. With Bruce Jenner coming out on Friday and the Supreme Court of the United States hearing arguments about marriage equality on Tuesday, the Christian blogging world has been abuzz, with sermonettes, listicles, and videos about why in God’s name all of these identities are wrong and sinful.
And a comparison has arisen in a not insignificant number of cases that should be worrying to people who deal both in sexual and gender minority advocacy and mental health advocacy. And let’s face it, if you’re advocating for LGBT people, you need to be advocating for access to mental health services as well. That’s part of what intersectionality means.
In both Owen Strachan’s post on Bruce Jenner this week and Pastor John Piper’s commentary about pastors asked to preside over same-sex marriages, self-harm and suicide are prominent narrative analogies. Transgender identity, Strachan argues, is akin to self-harm, to allowing a friend to continue in radically damaging behavior. Blessing the marriage of a same-sex couple, Piper likewise argues, is placing your blessing on two souls joining in a suicide pact.
Both statements are deeply callous, especially considering the rates of self-harm and suicide amongst LGBT people. Transgender people are 12 times more likely to commit suicide than the average cisgender person. Sexual minorities are likewise four times more likely to commit suicide. Sociologists trace this behavior in part to the negative responses LGBT people face with coming out, and in the case of trans people, the intense depression that is often concomitant with gender dysphoria.
To invoke either self-harm or suicide in critiquing the LGBT movement is to turn one of the movement’s greatest problems back in on itself. Instead of recognizing how such comparisons actually aggravate mental health problems for LGBT people, these pastors are deliberately, maliciously poking at an open wound, reaching for the salt.
Their “solutions” to the theological problem we pose would have us all dead within the year. There’s a perverse satisfaction with imagining our bodies mangled and destroyed, our souls burning in hell for all eternity. These analogies are not accidental. We asked them to stop comparing us to alcoholics and drug addicts, so they went for the jugular. We are their prey, and they will not rest until we are dead and gone. And their continual poking at our mental health, the continued degradation of our life experiences, and the reminders of hell are sending us there.
We have to think carefully about our language. You cannot consider yourself loving if you are comparing our identities to very real mental health struggles. You cannot love us if you say that our love means committing suicide. You absolutely cannot say it is in Christ’s love that we are mutilating our bodies if we become who God created us to be.
You are not loving us. You are not kind. Stop lying.