Sunday, April 12, 2015

Disposable Teens - Taylor Alesana and Trans Youth Suicide

It's been awhile since I've written anything for my SoCal Fem Feature page but today, upon reading the news of yet another transgender teenager committing suicide, I've decided I need to process my thoughts about this the way I like to best, in public written form.

As a feminist, equality and justice for all are at the forefront of my beliefs, which is why I fully support the LGBTQ movement. As a feminist in Southern California, I'm particularly interested in the human rights issues of my fellow Californians. So when I learned that Taylor Alesana, a teenager from Fallbrook, took her own life because she couldn't deal with the harassment and bullying she was facing at school, it hits too close to home. We have family in Fallbrook, one of whom is a student that attends the same high school that made Taylor feel so awful that she decided death was the best option for her.

Let me backtrack.

Taylor was a 16 year old at Fallbrook High School. She was an outspoken young adult who enjoyed fashion and makeup. She even had a popular YouTube page where she posted informational videos about makeup application; her last video was called "Best foundation trick you will ever learn!". Basically, Taylor was your typical teenage girl. Oh, she was also transgender, which means her gender identity is different from the traditional sex she was assigned at birth. Her sexual identity is the only thing that set this typical teenager apart from her peers at school. That's it. Taylor attended school as the girl she psychologically identified with so she became vulnerable to the devastating ignorance of the Fallbrook High School community, who bullied her until she apparently became desperate enough to take her own life.

People will be quick to blame the other students at Fallbrook High and, sure, they certainly are not free from culpability. But since when have high school students been known for their mature, calm, and collected demeanor? Teenagers have always been confused assholes. Their young life is spent trying to conform to socially-defined standards. They're selfish and immature. They're functioning in a world in which the adults they know have set the standards so they alone can not be held accountable for pushing their classmate over the edge. So who's to blame, because someone needs to own up to this tragedy.

We are to blame. You and me.

Did you know that Taylor is the seventh transgender youth to take her own life this year? Did you know that two out of these seven have been from Southern California, from a state that prides itself on being progressive? Taylor and Sage David, who committed suicide last month, were both active at the North County LGBTQ Resource Center in Oceanside, a safe place in which to connect with others in solidarity and solace, where the staff worked hard to support them. But outside the walls of the Center so many others failed them.

In Taylor's case it seems her high school in particular failed her. She specifically said so in several of her YouTube videos. As a teacher at what I believe is an open-minded and loving school I can not understand how Taylor's teachers and administrators did not do more to make their school a safer place for everyone. It seems her counselor was very supportive but just one supportive adult is not enough, the whole school needs to embrace diversity and teach acceptance. As I mentioned before, the students at Fallbrook High School can't be the only ones to blame for making Taylor feel that her life was too difficult because, as the North County LGBTQ Resource Center wrote "Kids can be cruel, but hate is a learned behavior. Schools that are not visibly supportive of our LGBTQI youth and do not take active steps to educate about gender identity and sexual orientation are inevitably fostering the homophobes and transphobes of tomorrow."

Still, Fallbrook High School isn't alone in the blame either. I failed Taylor without knowing her because of my silence and ignorance regarding transgender issues rather than being an outspoken advocate. And you failed her for the same reason. So did her country, which has not done enough to stop the discriminatory legislation that targets trans identified people. And those that loved Taylor and tried hard to support her and make her feel safe and happy? They failed by association with the rest of us.

It seems we believe the significance of a person's life is in relation to our comfort with their gender identity and sexual orientation and those whom we perceive as non-conforming do not deserve to be treated with basic human decency. Did you know that the suicide rates for LGBTQ teens (especially trans youth) are higher than for those who do not identify as LGBTQ? Some studies claim that more than 50% of transgender youth will have at least one suicide attempt before their 20th birthday.  They think their lives don't matter because we don't understand that whom they choose to love and how they choose to identify is none of our business

Our ignorance is dangerous and it needs to stop and we are responsible for stopping it. You and me. There's plenty of LGBTQ information online and we will all be better people for learning more about it.

So the next time we hear someone make an ignorant remark about someone else's sexuality or identity it's time to get over that feeling of discomfort and stand up for your fellow humans. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to Taylor, and we owe it to our future possible trans sons and daughters.

Have a great week everyone. In Taylor's words "Be yourself, be who you are, and I'll always love you."


Mami said...

This is great Nanita. You made the point very clear and I agree with you 100%. Thank you for being brave and for speaking up for what is right, hopefully others will be inspired by your clear and important message. I'm very proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Wow. All we hear in the news is that the zoo is trying to make a few more pandas, tomorrow it will be lows in the mid-50s and highs in the mid-70s, that the economy is in the tank or it's not (depending on the channel), the worst draught in the history of time!!!, ISIS ISIS ISIS, ebola, terrorism, drones, abortion bad or abortion good, and really, most of these problems can be attributed to the very problem you're touching on here: silence + ignorance leads to people being docile and apathetic. Get alive people. There is no excuse to bury our heads in the sand. If it's not happening to you -- then it's happening to someone less fortunate.

People of all walks and creeds are owed a basic respect and acceptance. As for the kids being assholes problem in particular, I know I certainly was an asshole in high school when given the opportunity (which was often). Youth should be admonished from a young age to avoid this assholery and be educated to avoid the perils of ignorance and silence. Education does not mean only teaching what our parents, and their parents, and their parents were taught (be it science, religion, or history), it means being global ambassadors and learning about everyone. If the internet has taught us anything, it's that simplistic ways of looking at things are antiquated (borders between countries, sexual orientations, gender roles, religions, etc).

Which leads the tragic story at hand. How many more will be disposable? Difficult to give an honest appraisal, really. The only way to right these wrongs, however, is to talk about them like you have here. Bravo. Starting the discussion is only the beginning. Next up: change the system.


Anonymous said...

Good discussion Nana and C. "Hate is a learned behavior". That means it is also a taught behavior. Stop teaching the hate towards everything that is different from us. Countries have thrived on teaching hate too much. Shameful, horrendous, and criminal. Let's get over it and evolve.

Kallmen said...

You are all correct, h
ate is learned and so is intolerance. Kids are just curious about differences not afraid until they are told or shown how to be. I know I see it in my K/1 students.
Ana you are right that it is so disturbing when it is so close to home. Obviously more needs to be done!

Carol said...

This is so sad. Thank you for writing about this because I didn't hear about Taylor anywhere else.