'Social shame' heightens transgender suicide
Recent Ontario study of transgender health issues points to alarming trend
Numbers from an ongoing health study of transgender people in this province show that rates of suicide and attempted suicide are significantly higher in the trans-population — and trans-youth are especially at risk.
After sifting through the findings of a landmark 87-page research project looking into transgender health issues, Greta Bauer is sad to note the suicide numbers from the TransPulse report are staggering.
"It's higher than any other group that I've seen research on," said the epidemiologist, who's part of a team working on Ontario's first and only comprehensive study into transgender health.
"We've found that 43 per cent of trans people had attempted suicide at some point in their life and 10 per cent in the last year."
If Bauer and the TransPulse team are in the right ballpark with estimated trans-population numbers for Ontario, that means about 2,000 people in the north alone have attempted suicide at some point — and about 480 in the last year.
Bauer noted survey respondents aren't suicidal because they're transgender; rather, it's the social shame and isolation that gets to them.
That’s an issue with which 73-year-old Darlyn Hansen, a transgender woman in Sudbury, is all too familiar.
"Because you don't belong here … you don't belong there," she said. "So where do you belong?"
Almost half of study participants aged 16 to 24 say they've "seriously considered" killing themselves in the last year — and 19 per cent have tried.
Lack of support
A sociologist at Laurentian University who researches trans-issues said social exclusion and isolation is especially acute for people who feel they can't "pass" in the eyes of others.
"For class reasons, for poverty reasons, physical appearance, or perhaps they could never make the arrangements," Gary Kinsman said.
"Either [they can’t] afford to or make the right medical connections to actually get gender reassignment surgery... they're pretty isolated, they're pretty visible, they're pretty left out."
One trans-health official called access to trans-competent health care and support north of Toronto "a black hole" in service. That lack of support can lead to acts of desperation.
"If we want to try and reduce those official suicide rates, we've got to really get creating more acceptance, more tolerance," Kinsman said.