With Dr. Lydia Foy’s 21-year legal battle coming to an end and boxing supremo Frank Moloney re-emerging as Kellie Maloney, 2014 was the year we finally talked transgender says Caomhan Keane.
If we held a minute’s silence for all the people murdered because of their gender identity since the first Trans Day of Remembrance in 2008, we’d be mute for 27 hours. At least 1,612 people in 62 countries have been killed as a result of transphobic attacks. While none of those deaths were Irish, in the recent ‘Speaking from the Margins’ report in Ireland, 20% reported experiencing domestic abuse, 16% said they had been hit or beaten up, 12% had been sexually assaulted and 6% had been raped.
Last month, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) launched a ground-breaking report ‘Being Trans in the European Union’. In the Europe-wide survey, Ireland holds the ignoble distinction of having the second highest prevalence (13%) of hate motivated violence in the last 12 months of EU Member States. This is significantly higher than the EU average of 8%.
The EU average when it came to the hate-motivated harassment was 22%. In Ireland, it was 31%. Some 43% of Irish trans people said they avoided expressing their gender for fear of abuse or discrimination and 66% stated they avoided certain places. Again, Ireland fared poorly as the EU trans average was 32% and 52% respectfully.
As of two weeks ago, when the government published the Gender Recognition Bill, Ireland is the only country in the EU that has no provision for legal gender recognition. While the bill marks progress, it perpetuates the pathologisation of gender identity in Ireland, with the requirement of a certificate from their primary treating medical practitioner for those 18+. A further certificate, from an endocrinologist or psychiatrist, is required for those aged 16 or 17, while no provisions are made for children under that age.
It’s a grim situation, especially when you also consider that, according to the Trans Mental Health and Well Being Survey, 78% of respondents considered ending their life at some point, 63% of those had considered it in the last 12 months and 40% had actually attempted suicide. On the flip side, 81% of those surveyed said that they thought about suicide less after they began the process.
In Ireland, mental health figures and suicides are underreported. Add the transgender component and it becomes even harder to garner just how many trans people have succeeded in taking their own lives, as many may not have been open about their struggle with those around them.
“If I would have taken my life, no one would have known the reason why,” says Vanessa Lacey, health and education officer for the Trans Equality Network Ireland (TENI). “There are people out there living in stealth who are not engaged with the community, who are not linked into health or trans services, who are dealing with it all on their own.”
There were two confirmed trans deaths in Ireland from suicide this year, one of whom TENI had no previous knowledge of.
Both women were mourned at the recent Trans Remembrance Mass, which took place last month at the Unitarian Church in Dublin. The community gathered to commemorate those who lost their lives because of their gender identity, to acknowledge the hardships many of them had endured in their journey towards being themselves, and to celebrate ever-improving conditions.
“I had the idea for the trans remembrance mass after the death of a close friend,” TENI’s founder Lynda Sheridan says. “At 93, she was the oldest person I knew who was like me. I visited her whenever I went over for checkups after my own surgery in Bristol. It was her big wish was to die an equal citizen in the UK, something that became a reality with the passing of The Gender Recognition Act 2004. Six months later, she was found dead, with a smile on her face, clutching that birth cert emblazened with her chosen name on it.
“We said a few prayers and spoke about all she had been through in her life. It was such an uplifting experience, I decided I wanted to bring it to Dublin so trans people from all walks of life could come together and share their stories and encourage others to live on.”
Lynda’s own experience was a hard one. She first came out as trans to a Christian Brother during confession, aged 11. “Instead of comforting me, he dragged by the ear into the sacristy and told me I was forbidden from repeating what I had told him.”
That day saw Lynda’s first attempt at taking her own life. “I had this fantasy that I was Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz and that I would wake up in my bed this perfect little girl. That my nightmare was just a dream.
“So I closed my eyes and walked out into traffic.”
Cars beeped and people swore but Lynda wasn’t killed. She left school soon after. Soon after, she met Carmel, the woman with whom she would fall in love and bring two daughters into the world. “It might have been selfish. But we wanted to have children. And my daughters, they love the bones of me.”
When Carmel died, Lynda again attempted to kill herself. “I went out to Howth Head in my van, a place we had been very happy together and just let myself fall off.”
While her children were aware that their father was trans, the family had made a conscious decision for her to delay transitioning until they came of age. “It was killing me to live a lie, but I loved them more.”
In the ‘Australian Courier Mail’, the Bogert family issued this announcement as a ‘retraction’ of a birth announcement of a girl, Elizabeth Anne in 1995.
After her second suicide attempt failed, Lynda began the act of transitioning, with her daughters support. “I told them I would be no use to them if I continued to live a lie. And they were there for me 100%. They weren’t afraid to be seen with me and even helped me dispose of my wardrobe.”
“I’ve made a success of my life. I have eight grandkids, one of whom I delivered. None of which I would have seen if I had succeeded in killing myself.”
“Things have significantly gotten better,” says Lacey. “I still get self-harm and suicide prevention calls every week. But that’s a positive thing as they are reaching out for help. TENI is now supported by the National Organisation of Suicide Prevention, have been delivering training to the HSE, and are hoping to regionalise this training so that all GPs will have sufficient awareness of what services to refer trans people to.
“Trans adolescents no longer have to be travel to the UK. And since August, we have been contacted by seven schools to help them with a child who is transitioning.”
“It’s not a terrible thing to be trans,” concludes Broden Giambrone, chief executive of TENI. “There are terrible things to it, but it, in itself, is not inherently terrible. And if we lived in a more accepting society it wouldn’t be terrible at all.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved