No parent who has lost a child to suicide ever predicted it happening. Parents and caregivers with LGBT children: Please face the sad truth that your son or daughter may be eight times more likely to attempt suicide. The holiday season, celebrated in a religiously- and politically-charged climate, is difficult for many, but to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons they are extra challenging. Unconditional love strengthened me, and it may provide the same for your child.
After devouring the offerings of Thanksgiving, while still seated at the table, time came to fulfill a family tradition born of my mother's early '90s new age focus on the importance of sharing our feelings. We each awkwardly crammed a year's worth of gratitude into a 30-second impromptu monologue. When the warmth of the spotlight focused on me, I disregarded the patience of the less emotionally in-touch family, so obviously seated in frustration, let the estrogen flow, and offered a rambling exposé on how each of them contributed to my happiness. I saved my mother for last, articulating how her always steadfast and unqualified support is to what I owe my successes. After concluding my long-winded response, she reflected appreciation by sharing how, when meeting another parent, she tells the account of why, if not for her, I might not be alive today.
As those that know my mother will attest, she, in only the best way possible, sees no boundaries with whom and in what manner she should interact, paying little attention to social normative behavior that interferes with meeting her goals. So, when she says every mother, she literally means EVERY MOTHER she encounters. From the unfortunate woman tending the checkout at whichever retail establishment she finds herself, to her seamstress that barely understands a word of English, to random women at the mall with strollers that seem to beckon her to approach and offer unsolicited motherly wisdom. When mentioning her children to new acquaintances, in what I suspect is a personal campaign to educate the planet on gender psychology, she shows a glamorous photo of me at a highfalutin event, and, after allowing a moment for remarks on owing my looks to her, quickly swipes to my senior prom photo and proudly exclaims, "she was my son."
Growing up in the overcrowded town of Conservative-Christian-White-Middle-Class-America-Ville, I struggled down the road of self-discovery. Challenged by typical teenage concerns, confused by my sexuality and gender, and appalled by my future as a non-conforming oddity, I plummeted into an inescapable pit of despair. This hopeless struggle climaxed when I scaled the rafters of our garage, tied one end of a rope around a beam, and the other around my neck. With intentions of sealing this chapter, after saying my tear-filled prayers for forgiveness, I realized I could not do it. The thought of my mother suffering the agony of discovering my lifeless body was the only thing preventing me from jumping.
Not until the drive home from the Thanksgiving dinner was I able to ask my partner for her take on my mother's sharing of my story, and inquire into whether it served any purpose. Resolutely, she said, "It describes how a parent's love can so dramatically impact the lives of their children," and that my mother has assuredly affected the futures of many families. I only understood my mother's pride in this narrative in terms of her joy for how much I love her, but seeing it from this perspective taught that my mother's love for me was what fostered my love for her, and what inspired me to change my course that fateful night.
The tools necessary to tackle all life's challenges are not standard equipment, but generally developed through experiential learning. If repeatedly we fail to overcome an obstacle, giving up may seem like an option. The clichéd understanding of suicide as a permanent solution for temporary problems aims to undermine its viability with logic, yet it presupposes clarity of mind. Depression, chronic and situational, distorts rationality, preventing sight of this decision's obvious shortcoming. However, this consideration of permanency extends beyond the one suffering, and reminds us of the tremendous responsibility for those within our influence.
This account makes no assertions about the relationships among parents and children that have taken their lives. Although suicide is not seasonally dependent, the festivities may bring many LGBT persons more dread than cheer. Reflect on your relationship with your child this holiday season. A parent's assurances of unconditional love can be the difference between life and death.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or contact The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.