I have finally gathered the courage to read about the suicide of Riley Matthew Moscatel, a 17 year old transgender teen in Pennsylvania. I choked down tears reading from his suicide note “You say she/her/daughter and I say nothing” because for me, out of every point he raised, this is the one that I see as being at the heart of so much distress for transgender youth.
Imagine if you referred to your child constantly as “idiot”. Think of the effect on a young person to always be referred to in such negative terms. Their self worth measured by a derogatory term, no positive reinforcement. A child raised in this way would have to be extraordinary to rise above such verbal abuse. The normal child, the everyday child would wither, depressed, lack confidence, slide to the bottom of the academic pile. In some small way I think this must be how a transgender child feels each time they are misgendered. It’s like a knife in their heart. A knife that a parent can plunge into their child over and over again simply by not listening, by not consulting, reading, respecting what they are being told.
So I have no option. Maybe other parents have options, but I don’t see that I do. Nearly two years on Jeremy is who he is, this is no passing phase or cry for attention.
Does that make it hard for you? I can’t stop to care about how you feel. I will explain and then I have to move on, you can accept Jeremy or not. It is not my role to make you feel comfortable about my transgender child. I can’t change your embarrassment or pre-judgement of your friend’s reactions or whatever the particular issue is that makes you pull away, or hesitate, or start to apologise and over explain my child.
Just like a parent that will seek out therapies and treatments for their seriously ill child, like a parent who will fight service providers and government departments to access services and products for child with a disability, I see my prime role as creating an environment to support my child.
I thought this journey would get easier instead I find that as Jeremy moves towards 18 and he steps further away from me there are new terrors. Do you worry about your child being grabbed by louts on the street, feeling between his legs to humiliate him? Or being forcibly ejected from toilets? Sideways glances, rude comments, deliberate misgendering are all daily grist for a transgender young person’s mill. I have talked before about the challenges that Jeremy had at school, that it was not the overt but the covert reactions that Jeremy found tiring, the teachers that looked past him uncomfortable in addressing him, the other students ignoring him. Had his emotional foundation been less stable he would have slid further into depression. Our story would not be the positive one that it is. But I can’t be there all the time, I can’t manage the whole world much as I want to. I am in terror that Jeremy will have one of those dreadful physical confrontations that so often seem to be a result of a group of “lads” fueled by ignorance and alcohol. A recent incident at LGBTIQ venue “The Beat” has hit home that even gay nightclubs are not a safe environment.
Straight kids get into trouble, straight kids get assaulted, straight kids commit suicide. I get it. Statistically though transgender young people are over represented in assaults, depression and suicide.
Riley’s parents have suffered the worst pain in the world, the death of a child. But unlike a parent who has lost a child through disease or misadventure there was something of which they were in control. Riley’s parents, even in death, referred to him as “she”. That may not have been enough to change Riley’s mind, all I know is that Riley felt that pain.
So I am taking control of what I can when it comes to Jeremy. I will not leave him wallowing in a pit of despair, unable to balance what he sees with how he feels. I will help him have a voice. I will show him respect, because his smile is a treasure. I can’t manage your feelings too.