This article originally appeared on Palo Alto Patch.
I was browsing the local news the other day when I came across this headline: “Apparent Suicide With Chemicals Forces Evacuation in Redwood City.” It seemed so innocuous. A small bit, really. Not even worthy of an obituary. But I knew better. It was what the story didn’t say and what it got so very wrong that haunts me.
The article indicated that a 17-year-old boy had committed suicide by inhaling chemicals. This part was factually true. What it didn’t say was that the boy, named Geraldo* at birth, wanted to be a girl. She preferred to be called Gennie.
She always knew she was different. She told her mother she hated her body, hated who God made her. She longed for a sex reassignment, but her mother’s salary as a house cleaner would never cover the bill.
Her parents had divorced long ago under the strain of raising a transgender child. Her father couldn’t understand her. He believed God made his son perfect and that wanting anything else was a sin. Gennie’s mother could not follow God’s rule if it meant rejecting her beloved child.
Gennie was bullied on the playground and in the classroom. School officials tried to intervene, to no avail. No surprise there. She transferred schools in an effort to make a clean break and start anew. The bullying continued.
Finally, at the age of 14, Gennie decided she couldn’t be a he anymore and made her first attempt at suicide.
That began a long vigil of worrying, watching, waiting. Gennie’s mother kept a constant eye on her, as did Gennie’s older brother. But it wasn’t enough. It took Gennie three years and many attempts until she finally got what she wanted. In this case, we are not left to have to ponder why.
Sadly, Gennie’s situation is not rare. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths are up to six times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. I applaud the work of the Trevor Project and celebrate the It Gets Better Campaign in support of LGBT youth. Unfortunately, it only gets better if teenagers live long enough to see that it will.
Our children—all of our children—can whither under the stress of living up to someone else’s expectations. At the very least, let’s honor them by telling their stories with respect and honesty.
“A 17-year-old transgender youth committed suicide” is Gennie’s story, and so much more.
* The names have been changed out of respect for the family.
After this article appeared on Palo Alto Patch, I was honored to hear from Gennie’s brother. He wanted to clarify that his father and mother did not divorce because of Gennie; their marriage broke down long before. Gennie’s father, according to her brother, loved his child to the best of his ability. I thank him for continuing to honor his sister and working to make sure her story continues to be told as truthfully as possible.