How I Learned To Live, Wanting to Die

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. I stand in my basement bedroom, a cord in my hands. The most insistent thought beats like a drum in my head- Die, die, die. I wrap the cord around my neck and I pull. I pull, hoping to strangle myself. I don’t think through the fact that even if I could make myself pass out by this course of action, once I passed out my grip would release and I’d be able to breathe once more. It’s hard to think clearly when all you want to do is die.

That was the first time I tried to kill myself. Over the next decade I’d try or begin to try many more times. I tied belts around coat hooks and door knobs and attempt very slow and ineffectual hangings. I’d linger for a while at the edges of cliffs or on the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library, while a small voice would say “Jump!” In September of 2011, I drove my mother’s car into a rocky slope on the side of a highway in Idaho, going 87 miles an hour. I survived with just a few scratches.

These urges were overpowering before I transitioned, before I started treating my ADHD and my bipolar disorder. They’ve reduced over time, but sadly they haven’t ever completely gone away. I’ll go a week or two now without considering it, which was unfathomable to me only a few years ago, but the urge still crops up from time to time. I think the reality is the urge may never really go away.

This morning I found myself pondering it a moment. Some voice in my head says “just end this sordid tale, here and now.” But I managed to ride out the impulse. There’s no one magic fix to suicidal ideation. Having supportive people to talk to helps, certainly, as does therapy, but the ideas will still crop up, and they are alarming and discouraging, especially when one is otherwise on an upwards trajectory.

So, how do I cope with occasionally and persistently wanting to die? Ironically, I’ve embraced Death as a kind of deity, and a source of joy.

I had a realisation walking in the Salt Lake Cemetery (which is my favourite place to stroll); that all of us are fated to die, and that is a very good thing. Death gives life its meaning. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “it is the scarcity which makes anything precious.” Death is the one true unifying characteristic of life, and indeed of the universe itself. Everything will eventually decay and die and run out of energy. Our story has an end.

Knowing this, accepting it, I realised that more than anything I want the story of my life to be an interesting one. It doesn’t have to be a happy story, and hell it probably won’t be, but I’ll be damned if people don’t have a lot of good tales to tell about me at my funeral.

So how does this help when I feel suicidal? My life’s been pretty interesting so far- what would be the real harm in writing that last page myself? Setting aside the grief it would cause those who love me (because once I’m dead that won’t really affect me), it would make a bad story if I took the shortcut to the end. It’s not how I should end my story, plain and simple. I may die the second after I post this from an aneurysm, later today in a freak accident, or in 75 years in a bed surrounded by close friends and family, but all of those, I believe, would be better than if I’d killed myself this morning.

Death is universal and unavoidable. She will take us all into her cold and tranquil arms one day. But I firmly believe that the moment anointed should belong to her, not to me. So I breathe deep, I text or call some friends, and remind myself that the urge will pass. That I don’t have to take that grave responsibility onto my shoulders. Because Lady Death is the one who should write those closing words- “And then, Beatrice died. The End.

Until those words are written I need to live, to write, to laugh, to love, to cry, to drink, to dance- all the pain and joy of life is still mine to experience. I’ll keep writing my story, and when Lady Death comes for me, I’ll embrace her as an old and cherished friend. When she wants me, she’ll have me, but the choice will be hers, not mine. What peace it brings me to know that.

The Facade – Excerpt From An Unremarkable Girl

This comes from Chapter 2 – “When I Knew”. It is the story of how the real me began to disappear into the male facade that I would wear for more than a decade until I was finally ready to come out. 

When I was in third grade I told a friend at recess about my wish, about wanting to be a girl. She was always a sweet friend, but she looked at me with a side-eyed glance when I revealed my innermost desire.

“That’s weird,” she said, the word “weird” delivered like a shoe stamping on a bug.

There was to be no further discussion of that point. That day I learned that as much as I desired to be a girl, it wasn’t “normal”. It wasn’t “okay”. It was “Weird” with a capital “W.” So I started to push it down. I still admired my female role models, the witches of my early childhood, the Queens of England, the Empresses of Austria and Russia, but I would no longer pretend to be them. I still loved television or films with strong female characters (or even better yet female protagonists), but I was more cautious about emulating them. Being a “boy” and wanting to be a girl was weird.

I began to build a male facade. Though many messages in children’s media and elementary school would tell me “be yourself!”, I knew that to be a polite fiction. “Be yourself” has a big stinking asterisk next to it. “Be yourself; if yourself is a gender-conforming individual who will have the right interests and perform according to societal expectations. Otherwise, be the self we want you to be.”

I worked hard to build the male facade. I tried to follow my father’s encouragement and participate in sports- because that’s what boys were supposed to do. Unfortunately, I am intrinsically ill-suited to physical activity that requires a great degree of hand-eye coordination and concentration. Playing softball I always took the outfield, and never caught a single ball- I’d be staring off into space while it would land with a thud next to me, snapping out of my daze only when a team-mate called out “Get the ball, stupid!”

As I built this performative male facade, the real me grew more and more disconnected. She shone through in her passion for history, in her love of unusual foods (for an American child) such as mussels and escargot, but she went into hiding whenever the expectations of society demanded the performance of masculinity. The older I got, the more performance was demanded of me. This produced a disconnect between the real me, the girl at the centre, and the performative facade, and the disconnect produced dissociation. I have far fewer memories of my elementary school days than most of my peers, simply because I was putting on the facade so much of the time. When I was performing as male, I wasn’t myself, and since I wasn’t myself I wasn’t forming memories, or at least not the fond memories of childish bliss many people form in their elementary days. I remember most clearly moments of pain or great shame, for they lanced through the facade and pierced the girl within, leaving scars that still twinge when I recall them today.

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Thank you so much, dear readers, for your time. Please leave comments and share if you liked the piece or if you have any questions for me about it, and always feel free to sign up for email alerts by use of the button right below this post.

The Question of Genitalia

How many times a day do strangers ask about your genitals? How many times a week, a month, a year?

“So,” he breathes, scanning my body, clad in a dress and stockings, “what do you have… down there?”

The bus rattles over a pothole, shaking me back and forth.

“That’s um really not uh a polite question to ask,” I stammer.

My face turns crimson red, I can feel it, the heat of shame and exposure flooding up to my forehead. Why do strangers feel that they own the information of my body? Why do they perceive that as their right?

“Yeah, but…” he said. But you’re a deviation from the norm. But transwomen are supposed to be a matter of public record. But, are you okay for me to screw, to fuck, to fantasise about, to masturbate over?

“I’ve not had an operation,” I answer.

“Those are real?” he asks with a wave of indictment at my breasts.

I am violated by the words, exposed by them. I meekly nod, my blush burning hotter, deeper.

“Nice,” he says. The compliment of reduction. The praise of the attribute rather than the whole. The word ‘nice’, innocent enough, a pleasant thing, used as a whip of control, of subjugation. I did not exist to him as another human in all the complex multifarious meaning of humanity, but as a set of sexual and social status objects, a fetish or a taboo.

I will later say to others “that’s impolite to ask,” and drop it there. Or ask pointedly if they want to have sex with me, to reflect the awkwardness of the question back to them, to make them confront the invasiveness of what they’re demanding of a stranger.

But now, on the bus, I just blush and squirm, and lay myself bare, because I don’t know a better thing to do. I am at the mercy of strangers, hoping that they will just accept the presentation and move on. Hoping that the cues alone will say that I am a woman. And hoping, fiercely hoping, for a day that I might be left alone. That no one on a bus would ask me what’s between my legs. That I could ride over the bumps and through the sluggish traffic to therapy, unmolested by the insistent curiosity of strangers- left in peace from their avarice to know the secrets of my body.

Since this website is not a public bus, and I’m putting myself out there to educate the general public (to what degree I can) about transgender issues, please feel free to leave a comment with a question you would like answered either about the transgender community or my own personal experience as a transwoman. Thanks for reading!