CAUTION: Discussions of depression and suicide in this piece may be triggering to some.
Following high school, when I was preparing to move to London, Ont., I packed all of my belongings for the cross-country move. As I was going through my bedroom, I had two major realizations: the first was that I decided I was finally going to rid myself of this silly phase, this unrealistic fantasy. I donated all the female items I had accrued in secret. I cut my hair, shorter than it had been for eight years. More comfortable with the idea of destroying a part of myself than the idea of being shunned for who I was, I decided to be a man. The other was that I found a folder, pillaged years ago from my grandparents’ house shortly after my grandfather died. Having been long abandoned in my closet, and this being a nice folder, I decided to bring it and to look inside. Inside, I found notes that I had written in fifth grade.
Eight years later, I read the notes, and in them was a simple desire: the desire to be dead. The note had a simple plan. At that age, I was already planning: walk into the forest, and die. At such a young age, I had resigned myself to die. As early as my first encounter with death, I knew that I wanted to be dead. To this day, I always have a plan.
This desire has been inside me for as long as I can remember. It has been sewn into the fabric of my being, which I would unravel without. It is a part of me, as much as my interests, my ideas and my personality. And it always will be.
Throughout high school, it stayed under control with only a few attempts, but in university, it became so much worse with the workload of a first-year engineering student, with living away from home for the first time, with having a dearth of friends and with the intense personal cost of being a closeted queer person. Intrusive thoughts that usually would come once or twice a day would now hammer me constantly from the moment I woke to the moment I fell asleep, causing me to sleep for 15 hours or to not leave my house for weeks at a time – anything for relief.
And then the school year ended. I finished exams. My grades were good. My desire to die subsided. But it wasn’t gone. I knew that. Because as much as the adage “This too shall pass” aids us in times of suffering, it also whispers to you on your happiest days and tells you your joy shall pass.
The summer passed and the next year returned in full force, and this year, I knew I faced an ultimatum. To myself I posed that I needed to transition or I would kill myself. I decided to transition. The sheer prospect that I could have a future as I wished to be seemed to be enough. I did everything I was supposed to. I went to therapy. I went to support groups. I made friends. I got medicated. And I did get better, but the desire to die stayed. I didn’t act on it, a skill I had honed over my life, but the desire didn’t disappear. And it never will.
I have many friends and family members whom I truly love and whom I know that my death would adversely affect, but having that knowledge all my life didn’t remove my desire to die. It just added guilt to it. I often think it would be easier if I just got murdered. How hard can it be to get murdered as a trans woman of colour? You just need to walk on the wrong street, sleep with the wrong guy or be in the wrong bar. But one family member has given me pause.
A decade ago, my cousin had a child and named them the Cree word for eagle. A few years later, I heard that the child was a girl and wanted to live as one. This was before I truly knew what to live as transgender entailed. I only wished I could be a woman, and here was this child, too young to know the implications of living as a transgender, indigenous girl in small town Alberta or Northwest Territories, but knowing who she was nonetheless.
Always hearing the news of the death of another trans woman drains the life out of me as an adult. As a member of a community constantly rocked by death and violence, I feel for the loss. I selfishly feel for myself, for how easily I could have been in the same situation but wasn’t. It is very cruel knowing that these women, many of whom life had just recently seemed to be worth living, are killed with such malice, such torture, such inhumanity. With how much I am affected by the news of a stranger’s death, countries away, I cannot imagine how it is affecting this little girl. But I do know that if I had an aunt who was native like me, was transgender like me and was barely 10 years older than me and that she had violently died in her teens, in her twenties or at nine years old like my original notes, that would destroy me. So now, I live with a compromise. I keep my deepest desire; my oldest desire; and the thing that I wanted, still want and will always want: the desire to die. And pair it with a need: the need to not destroy this little girl.