According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 40 percent of trans people have attempted suicide at some point during their lives, and 48 percent have seriously considered it. A more recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms this high risk even among transgender adolescents. Nearly half of adolescent trans guys reported having at least one suicide attempt in their lives, with more than 40 percent of non-binary adolescents and about 30 percent of trans girls reporting the same thing.
What’s interesting to note is how much trans boys are at a great risk of suicide — higher than trans girls and non-binary adolescents — but the study doesn’t explain why. Are there unique obstacles young trans men face that other trans-identified people don’t?
Perhaps surprisingly the answer is yes. “I think one of the obvious risk factors that trans men experience is sexual assault and violence,” says trans blogger Sam Dylan Finch of Let’s Queer Things Up. “Not that we don’t see this happening to folks of other genders, but people perceived as girls and women have a categorical risk for sexual violence that makes them vulnerable early on in life.”
Add racism to the mix and it’s worse. The 2015 US Transgender Survey revealed that 51 percent of trans men, 58 percent of AFAB non-binary people and 37 percent of trans women have been sexually assaulted. The survey breaks it down even more and reveals that Indigenous trans men are more likely to be sexually assaulted at 71 percent, followed by Middle Eastern trans men at 67 percent, multiracial at 58 percent, and white at 52 percent. “Patriarchy, generally, has a profound impact on anyone who is assigned female at birth, regardless of how they identify later in life,” Finch says.
Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, Executive Director of the Vancouver-based Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre (SARAVYC), not only noticed the increased odds of suicide attempts among trans men of color, but also bisexual and pansexual trans men. Several past studies have revealed higher rates of suicidality and poor mental health among bi+ people than gays and lesbians. This is because bi+ people not only experience bigotry from straight people, but also from gays and lesbians. Researcher Tangela S. Roberts told the Daily Beast in 2016 that the bigotry coming from heterosexuals is only “a decibel higher” than biphobia from gays and lesbians.
“This study [from the American Academy of Pediatrics] was one of the first I’ve seen that was large enough,” Saewyc says, “and diverse enough, to actually look at intersections of gender identity and sexual orientation and ethnic diversity, while at the same time accounting for geographic location, and other social locations.” The result is more evidence of how intersecting identities impact different people in different ways, and how various forms of oppression interlock with each other.
So what can be done about it? “We need mental health professionals to commit to educating themselves about the unique issues and needs of trans men, which means first, reading the research out there, but even more importantly, listening to trans men about their experiences, and what will help support them in their lives,” Saewyc says.
She also says LGBTQ organizations need to recognize how interwoven systems of oppression impact LGBTQ people in different ways. “Clearly,” Saewyc says, “if half of trans men in this nationwide study of young people have attempted suicide in the past year, and those odds are even higher if they are bisexual, multi-ethnic, or live in rural areas or small towns, this is a serious concern. Communities should be working to ensure all our young people live free from discrimination and violence.”
Finch agrees. “I think one critical thing that both clinicians and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole need to do for trans men/trans masc folks is not to assume that ‘male privilege’ has shielded us from the devastating impact of patriarchy,” he says. “Even for those of us who have medically transitioned, we still bear the scars of what happened to us before transition.”
Finch also wants to remind everyone not to use these statistics to pit trans men against trans women.
“The reality is, access to privilege and power is very individual,” he says, “especially when someone is transgender. We are an incredibly diverse community.”
He further points out that this recent study doesn’t say trans men have it worse than everyone else, but that it’s a subject that both mental health professionals and the LGBTQ community needs to talk about.
“Data examining one population is not inherently saying something about another,” Finch continues, “and these are two distinct populations with complex challenges. In the end, this says more about patriarchy than it does about trans men or women.”
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