Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Who is killing New Zealand’s transgender people?

This is the script for the talk I gave at the Transgender Day of Remembrance service at St Matthews-in-the-city tonight. It's not exactly what I delivered but is pretty close.

Hi. I’m Julia Clement and I’m a transgender woman.

Before starting, I’d like to acknowledge Zena C[5], a 21 year old transgender woman from Wellington who was strangled in February, allegedly by her boyfriend. She has the dubious honour of being the only known transgender person murdered in New Zealand in the past year [1]. I didn't even know she existed until I read about her yesterday while researching this talk.

We hear a lot about levels of violence against transgender people from overseas. Especially American statistics. Strangely, not Latin American statistics. Brazil had 167 murders and Mexico 71 between them about ten times the USA’s 28 [2] Add those three numbers to Columbia’s 21 and you have more than half the world’s murders of transgender people. New Zealand had one, as did the UK. Australia and Canada had none.

Who is killing New Zealand’s transgender people? The simplistic answer is we are killing ourselves.

The New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey 2012 found that 20% of transgender adolescents had made a serious suicide attempt in the previous year compared to 4% of non-transgender adolescents [3] Why so high? NewstalkZB presenter & psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald says
“When we crush someone's identity, we crush them. The experience of being not able to naturally express who we are is one of invalidation: We feel as though what we think and feel is wrong, and that therefore who we are is wrong. Policing people's identities just doesn't work, because it creates another very dangerous problem. When we invalidate someone's identity, especially something so core to their identity as their gender, we kill their spirit. It makes sense that someone then feels the next natural step is killing their body.” [4]
What about the adults? This is anecdotal. I’m 60, I can think of one, possibly two, cisgender heterosexual people I knew who have suicided. One was a former co-worker and the other was the teenage son of a friend. These were both over 20 years ago.

Outside of Genderbridge I don't socialise with other transgender people very much but in the 365 days since last year's TDoR two of the small number of transgender women I've met face-to-face died suddenly. Nobody is saying out loud that they were suicides, but nor is anyone saying they weren’t & when it's not suicide people do say what it was.

Shelley T.W.H.[5], the first of these deaths. I knew her slightly, she was a good friend of an old friend from long before I transitioned. A former army officer who was making a living as a bus driver. We met on one of my few trips to Wellington & had a small amount of facebook interaction. She was often annoyed by casual transphobia from passengers and occasionally lifted by support from the least likely of her passengers but I never spotted anything that indicated she was in any special trouble.

Amanda A[5] was the second one. I knew of her as she was instrumental in forming & running the Rodney Area Rainbow LGBTQ group. I may have interacted with her a little on-line through groups and met her about 5 weeks ago at a photoshoot for Hauora Tahine. We became facebook friends then. After that day I never saw her again in the flesh, but her facebook posts showed she was a troubled soul. One day I thought she had come through a crisis, had had appropriate professional help and was OK, the next she was gone. Would better care from the crisis team have saved her? I’ll never know.

That’s one murder out of our entire community and two “sudden deaths” out of the very small subset I know.

The prime minister has said she wants a zero suicide rate [6], and this seems to be a government aim [7] we are the ones killing ourselves and we need to encourage the government to urgently address the societal pressures against us and to improve mental health services for the whole population but especially for troubled transgender people.

Sources & Notes:



[3] The Health and Well-Being of Transgender High School Students: Results From the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey

[4] Why are New Zealand's suicide rates so high among transgender youth?

[5] I've redacted surnames as a mark of respect to family members who might otherwise stumble across this page. The names were given in full at the service.

[6] Labour leader Jacinda Ardern tells families of those lost to suicide: 'You will be heard'

[7] Government saddened by suicide statistics

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