No More Suicides!
It was an ugly death for such a pretty boy. Neighbors complained of the smell. Police clambered into the canyon and soon found the corpse, rotting in a heat wave, a distilled water bottle between its knees. The body was dressed in jeans and a shirt printed with tiny Carmen Miranda banana ladies. It wore an unusual, heavy gold ring, which was shown on local television in the hopes that someone would recognize it and supply information to ID the body. Someone did see the ring and knew enough to send the cops to me. When the coroner finally knocked on my door, he told me that animals had munched on the body. I wish he hadn’t said that.
John was bisexual, slender, and with his Black Irish and Arab heritage, was better looking than anyone has a right to be. However, he was also gentle, artistic, and “walked funny,” so naturally he’d been abused throughout his childhood and twice kicked out of his mother’s home, first at age thirteen and finally at fifteen. That’s when we started living together, pretending we were married and lying about our age to rent a cheap apartment. I didn’t know it, but John soon went back to selling himself in the park, something he’d had to do when his mom first kicked him out.
He boasted that he “ate ground glass to prove it couldn’t hurt you” (my first hint that something was amiss); later drank Drano (it ate holes in his esophagus); and eventually became a regular in the local ICU and mental ward. Though I lost track of the number of his suicide attempts, I still hoped my love would save him. It didn’t work. The devotion of one teenage girl hardly counted when compared to years of abuse and abandonment. About a hundred pills finally did him in, sold to him by a “friend.” The corpse still held the jug containing the water used to wash down the pills.
The period between August 15th and September 1st can be tough for me, and some years are worse than others. This time frame marks my annual observance starting with the day John left my apartment to die, the time he was missing, the time I spent scared and not-knowing, and ending the day the coroner knocked on my door. Years later a merciful cosmos would give me children born a week apart, their birthdays book-ending September 1st. These happy anniversaries allowed me to replace my previous dread with the joys of birthday parties and the smiling faces of two little beings whom I hoped would never, ever want to kill themselves.
I mentioned parts of this story in two previous CarnalNation columns, Reflections on the Gender Mandala and Seventeen Reasons Why. John’s suicide was number fourteen of my seventeen reasons for becoming a sexologist. There is no question in my mind that John would not have taken his life if he hadn’t been spurned by his own mother for being queer and then mostly rejected and abused by the rest of the world for the same reason. He would have lived and we would have had tea together from time to time, and we would have traded stories about our loves and our lives, and I think he would have found happiness.
I’ve carried John’s story in various ways ever since. He died. I survived. I owe it to him to make his life and death count for something. So it’s natural to feel that part of my mission as a sexologist is to advocate for understanding, acceptance, justice, and tenderness for queer and gender-nonconforming people, especially for the kids. Volunteering on a suicide hotline is part of that mission.
Sexology Meet Suicidology
I am enraged. How many heinous acts and preventable deaths have to happen before we call a stop? No more. No more homophobic and transphobic bullshit. No more sexism or racism. No more isms at all. No more pretending we’re better than someone else and no more thinking we have a right to bully, taunt, dis or destroy. Just—stop it—now.
However, rage won’t get us far enough. I suggest growing great, big sensitive antennae in order to sense the suicide-prone in our midst. And superpowers! Something to neutralize bullies—“freeze, asshole!”—and zap secret webcams would greatly help. However, we’re not able to mutate superpowers at warp speed, so let’s just begin with what we’ve got. Getting trained, getting smart, being generous in intervention and preventative acts—these are important actions we must weave into our collective anguish.
What we’ve got are a collection of community resources and a science of suicide: who does it, who wants to do it, and how to prevent it. We have micro-counseling skills for effective intervention on local and national crisis lines, and those same crisis lines, every single one of them, are desperate for volunteers. If you really want queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming youth to stop killing themselves now, get thee to a crisis line and sign up for training and a regular shift. Or if crisis line counseling isn’t your thing, reach out to your community and teach. The Trevor Project offers free, downloadable educational programs that you can present to school age children and college-age youth.