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.
Think you don’t have the time? Think again. Here’s the extent of the problem.
Teens for Life is an educational program offered by Crisis Support Services of Alameda County . The program is presented at schools all over the Bay Area. The webpage says: “In the United States, nearly 5,000 young people die from suicide each year. For every youth that dies, an additional 100 to 200 suicide attempts are made. In California, suicide is the third leading cause of death in persons between the ages of 15 and 24.” Of those young people, how many were queer, transgender, or gender nonconforming?
The Trevor Project says “LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight peers.” The Jason Foundation  includes “gay and lesbian youth” in their list of groups at “elevated risk of suicidal thought.” A report recently issued by Campus Pride says that “more than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff (43%) and 13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.”
An article written by Paul Cody, Ph.D., says
Cody also states “In general, our society is a perilous wasteland for sexual and gender minority youth. It is a wasteland because the resources that might help them in the developmental tasks of finding identity and establishing intimacy are nonexistent in most places, scarce in others. It is perilous because there are real dangers to their emotional and physical well-being which they must try to navigate.”
A “Preventing Transgender Suicide” brochure lists “victimization and post-traumatic stress” and “systemic stressors” (social gender norms and social disapproval) as additional factors that create mental health problems and add to suicide risk.
A suicidal kid may or may not know to call a crisis line. A queer suicidal kid may or may not have the toll-free number for The Trevor Project in order to get informed, queer-friendly assistance. So while many suicide prevention foundations and community and online resources are aware that LGBTQ youth make up a significant portion of their consumers, not all provide their volunteers with training in LGBTQ issues.
For example, where I volunteer, I have been given a training manual which deals with a number of populations with special needs, but does not mention LGBTQ people as being at higher risk for suicide, in adolescent or any other categories. In this manual, LGBTQ and alternative sexuality issues are only referenced in the section for dealing with “sex callers,” people who try to use the crisis line for masturbation. Because I’m currently training with a group of volunteers who are truly reflective of Bay Area diversity, including folks who, because of background or culture, are not entirely comfortable with queer or trans issues, this seems a grave oversight. I’m not putting my comrades or the agency down—we all want to save lives! It’s just that queer youth, and queer folk of any age, have a need for precise understanding when they’re in crisis. Our training should include all sorts of diversity issues. Otherwise any one of us could come up short as we respond to someone in need. This seems particularly important with high-risk groups, like LGBTQ youth and others.
When an agency provides training which overlooks such groups, sexologists could help. With their extensive training in human sexuality and gender issues, along with their famous sex-positive, nonjudgmental outlook, sexologists could make a contribution to the field of suicidology by creating training in LGBTQI and other alternative sexualities for crisis line counselors, volunteers, and community educators.
Get the Facts About Suicide
Anyone talking of suicide or self-harm or showing any of the warning signs  should be taken very seriously. Contrary to popular belief, talking openly about suicide is helpful, not harmful. The topic’s taboo creates even greater loneliness for the person who is troubled. Therefore it’s important to ask people if they are feeling suicidal, if they have a plan and if they have the means, and then offer the kind of support and encouragement that helps them to remember that they have other options beside suicide.
The American Association of Suicidology  offers these thoughts to help a suicidal person with their perspective:
Suicidal thinking is usually associated with problems that can be treated. If you are unable to think of solutions other than suicide, it is not that solutions don’t exist, only that you are currently unable to see them. Suicidal crises are almost always temporary.
Problems are seldom as great as they appear at first glance.
Reasons for living can help sustain a person in pain.
The American Association of Suicidology is an excellent source of information, including a number of English and Spanish PDF fact sheets. See their “Stats and Tools” links. You’ll also find a list of Suicide Myths and Facts at Healthy Place. 
Clusters and Copycats
Media coverage alerts us to heinous acts and their tragic consequences, but news reports can also provoke copycat suicides and clusters of similar tragedies. The recent news of gay suicides could prompt other despondent youth to take their lives. Responsible media coverage of such tragedies should avoid reporting suicide method details, or romanticizing any aspect of the story, and should always include warning signs of suicide and the phone numbers of local and national crisis lines.
Suicide clusters are an odd phenomenon, noted as far back as 1910. In an article called Preventing Cluster Suicides , Scott Poland, Prevention Division director for the American Association of Suicidology, says that
According to Poland’s article, “circles of vulnerability” (those at most risk for cluster suicide behavior) include those who may have been mean to or bullied the suicide victim, or who may have even encouraged the suicide; other kids who may have been in a suicide pact but chickened out; friends who missed the warning signs of suicide and now wish they’d taken action; kids who have been or are currently suicidal; and those with mental health issues. School administrators are increasingly involved in trying to identify susceptible students and prevent more deaths.
I suppose that copycat suicides, which take place outside of the geographic clusters, may possibly result from feelings of emotional proximity to the initial event. I don’t know if copycat suicides correlate with youth identified as having an “elevated risk of suicidal thought” but it’s a possibility. In addition to LGBT youth, this list  includes kids with perfectionist personalities, learning disabilities, low self-esteem and depression, and a history of drug and/or alcohol abuse. This list also includes kids who have been in serious trouble, who have been abused or neglected, and kids who are loners.
Systems Change, Social Change
If it takes a village to raise a child, it seems it also takes a village to prevent that child from taking hir life. We need to raise consciousness of LGBTQ suicides among existing suicide prevention providers as well as support existing programs and create additional specific vehicles for counseling and support for queer youth. We all need to get involved in these organizations ourselves, through donations of time, money and/or energy. Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project  on YouTube is a brilliant and creative response to crisis that conveys an immediate message of hope to queer, suicidal youth.
In addition to the resources mentioned in this column, below you will find other examples of helpful members of our village of suicide prevention.
- The Trevor Helpline: 1-866-488-7386. 24-hour toll-free suicide hotline for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning youth.
- Nationwide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide 
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center 
- Suicide.org 
California State and Local Resources:
- A list of California suicide hotlines 
- 24 Hour Crisis Hotline, Alameda County: 1-800-309-2131
- Teens for Life suicide prevention education in schools, through Crisis Support Services 
- San Francisco Suicide Prevention : 415-781-0500
Contra Costa Crisis Center : 1-800-863-7600 Youth Services
Young people can call the youth crisis line to report bullying and homophobic behavior, among other things.
Other CCCC numbers: 1-800-833-2900 and 1-925-938-0725 TTD/TTY
- Family Service Agency of Marin, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Hotline : 415-499-1100
- FSAM In-person/telephone Grief Counseling: 415-499-1195
You can also mention sad and/or suicidal feelings to Bay Area health and mental health care providers, and get appropriate referrals if you need them:
LYRIC  in San Francisco sponsors Dimensions Queer Youth Health Clinic , Thursdays at the Castro-Mission Health Center
3850 17th Street, San Francisco, CA
Call 415-487-7589 to make an appointment.
- St. James Infirmary  in San Francisco offers a number of services to sex workers, including peer counseling and psychotherapy. 415-554-8494.
Pacific Center in Berkeley 
Youth who need LGBTQ sensitive counseling can call the Counseling Request line at (510) 548-8283 ext. 250 for an appointment.
- TransVision  at the Tri-City Health Center in Fremont—clinic for trans women.
- 510-713-6690 ex 6121.