I Survived Suicide

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Michael Mantenuto. Stephen Wooldridge. Aaron Hernandez. Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Those are the names of the five celebrities that committed suicide this year. Everyone has read about them or watched the news, describing what happened. Some people can even tell you where they were when they heard the news of at least one of their deaths.

Do you remember where you were when you heard about Leo Etherington? If that’s not a name you recognize, what about Leelah Alcorn? They were two young students, who took their lives because they were lacking the support and resources that they needed in their lives, simply because they were transgender. Leelah was 17 years old, and Leo was only 15.

The statistics of 2016 is that someone dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes. That’s almost 43,000 people a year. 1 of 6 students nationwide seriously think about committing suicide.

I had three suicide attempts in 12.5 months. My first was November 27, 2013. Approximately one month after telling my grandparents that I was transgender. Although I would like to say that there was no correlation between the two, I am sure that telling them played a big part in my depression, along with the dysphoria and the fear of the unknown.

I had spent the first 18 years of my life attending church, going to a private Christian high school, and trying to fit in without seeming too “weird” or “different.” My grandparents and I were very involved in the church, and so I struggled with my identity for a very long time. Finally, after graduating high school in 2010, I knew that I needed to start living a true and genuine life and came out as transgender for the first time. I started out by telling my friends, my mom, cousins, and my uncle. I moved away from my grandparents in Southern California to live near the girl I was in love with in freezing cold Toledo, Ohio.

While living in Ohio, I felt as though it was the first time that I was really able to be me. I hadn’t started hormones or changed my name yet, but I had so much support in my girlfriend at the time and her family. Everyone called me by my preferred name and pronouns, so I felt like I was on cloud nine. Yet the weight of not telling my grandparents weighed heavily on me. I typed out an 11-paragraph letter and sent it to them on October 20, 2013. I asked for them to be patient and take time with their responses, which I received 4 days later. They were obviously not thrilled, but as supportive as they could be. We talked about it maybe one other time, and then it wasn’t talked about again until 2015.

Although they weren’t necessarily harsh in their response, some of their sentences stuck with me for awhile and I was afraid that they wouldn’t support my decision to medically transition or legal change documentation. I became depressed. Each suicide attempt involved me being in the hospitals main floor for 3-4 days to ensure that I was medically stable, and then was moved up to the psychiatric floor for 3-4 days. Finally, at the end of 2014 I decided that it was time to move back to California.

Two months after moving home, I made doctors appointments to start my medical transition, and kind of threw it at my grandparents the day before my appointments. I started hormones in April of 2015 and had top surgery 2.5 months later. Having top surgery was kind of the turning point for my grandparents, and I think that’s when reality kind of hit them that this is who I am and they can’t change that. They started using the proper pronouns and the name that I prefer, Justin. We’ve finally got to a good point in our relationship!

Two years later, and I am embarking on my next milestone of my transition. I have had a consultation in San Francisco for phalloplasty. For those who don’t know, phalloplasty, also known as bottom surgery, is a gender reaffirming surgery where surgeons form a phallus from the patients thigh or forearm. Not every transgender person gets gender reaffirming surgery, but I have decided that it is something that is right for me and it is what I need to do to help with my dysphoria and better my life.

Although my grandparents may not understand everything that I have done medically to be where I am now, they still support me to the best of their ability and I am so thankful for that. Not everyone is as lucky though, as we saw with Leelah Alcorn, where her parents did not support her at all. So, I ask everyone, regardless of race or color or gender or sexual identity or anything else that is just a logistic, to love and support one another when its needed. And for anyone that is struggling to reach out to a friend, or teacher, or doctor, or even me. Your friends can become your family, as I am now living with friends who have become family, where I have more support than I thought possible. You can and will get through anything and everything, even if it doesn’t seem possible at the current moment. I am so grateful that I survived my darkest 12.5 months, and I promise that you will be to.

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