mourning the death of transgender teen activist blake brockington
Why are so many transgender teens taking their own lives and what can we do to prevent it?
A few months after Blake Brockington became North Carolina's first transgender homecoming king, we must have been in the same light-filled convention hall. We were both attending the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. We might have passed each other, I might have even heard his voice, but I have no memory of him.
Yet now, less than a month after he committed suicide on March 23, a week before Transgender Day of Visibility, a day he wrote about on his Tumblr but never lived to see, he seems to be everywhere. And browsing his Tumblr I keep seeing and hearing him as I scroll through years of words and pictures, of smiles that seemed determined to be happy, even as his eyes showed glimpses of sorrow.
Blake's Tumblr, heartbreakingly, keeps publishing, and everything is made more poignant, more tender, by knowing he's dead. Yesterday, there was this: "it all feels like whirlwinds in the calm. everything feels like it is ripping me apart like a lion rips apart his prey. I am falling apart. falling a part."
A part of the body. Just this is enough to determine who someone is and how they should be, even against their will. A part, not ourselves. That's how trans people feel when asked to play a gender role that isn't true. A part, not whole. That's what happens when lives and identities are reduced to the details of bodies, rather than our own perception of what makes us human.
I wonder when those posts will stop, when his words won't haunt from the ocean grave where his ashes have been scattered according to his wishes. Though his family refuses to grant this one wish when they published his obituary: to be remembered by his own name and as his own gender. There have been four other trans youth suicides in the U.S. that I know of since Leelah Alcorn's death last December 28th, the one that finally got people to listen. Zander McAffey, Aubrey Mariko Shine, Ash Haffner and Melonie Rose all took their lives this year, yet none of their graves are marked with these, their real names.
But somehow, it's Blake's death that I can't move past. Maybe something just broke in me after another suicide. And maybe it's also because Blake was so insistent on being an activist, on fighting against a gender system that imprisoned so many others. And I thought that somehow, speaking out, having his convictions known, would have protected him, just as I hope telling others about who we are and what we've been through, creating a community, can help all of us.
In November last year, both of us spoke at our colleges' Transgender Day of Remembrance, him at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and me at Cornell University. Back then, he said: "I'm angry I have to be aware my life is more dangerous because I'm transgender. I'm angry that we have to beg for justice." But in being visible, Blake was constantly misgendered, became the target of insult, called a he-she, and even referred to as inhuman, called an "it" and a "homecoming thing."
I know what that's like, and what it's like for people in positions of power to turn a blind eye, not just to ignore you but to reject and punish you if you complain. I know what it's like to plead just to be treated as human, and for your pleas to fall on deaf ears. I know what it's like to be abandoned even by your closest friends because you're too much of a burden to support and fight for. Too many of us know what that's like.
On top of all this, Blake also had to deal with how America sees black men. He also had to fight that battle, and he did it loudly as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Let's not forget that. Let's not forget that a black man has just been murdered by a police officer in Blake's hometown. There's no question that being a black man also had an enormous effect on his life.
Maybe Blake's death hurts so much because it demonstrates so well that it's not just his parents or family but an entire society who let him down. It shows how even his local and supportive trans community were no match for the wounds that the rest of the world had inflicted on him. And it shows that trans people's efforts are not enough, that we need a lot more help and support.
If there's going to be any hope, many more people need to get involved. It's not enough for us to celebrate activists for their good deeds and share positive stories about trans people on Facebook or Twitter. We have to actively fight against injustices that are committed against trans people, whether it be people who deny our gender and humanity, those who refuse to let us use restrooms that belong to our gender, or institutions like schools and workplaces that either don't welcome us or look the other way when we're discriminated against. Anger isn't enough. What's needed is action and we need this action from many, many people who are not trans.
It's easy enough to cheer us on when we're visible and seemingly successful. Yet so many of us who put on a brave face struggle with so much when we're alone. We need support not just from other trans people, many of whom are struggling too, but also and especially from people who are not trans. This support allows us to feel that those who don't directly live our struggle are willing to fight with and for us. So if you know one of us, call us up, invite us to hang out, check in on us every once in a while. And if you don't know any trans people, help us build a world where we wouldn't be afraid to tell you if we are.
Since I started writing this, Blake's Tumblr has set another post free:
I want to be omnipresent.
I want to float aimlessly in vibrations.
I want to comfort with memories.
I want to leave all that is left of me.
I hope that Blake's death can resonate with everyone. I hope we can remember him even if we didn't know him. And I hope that in leaving all that is left of himself, we can strive for a world where no trans person needs to feel abandoned and left behind.
I keep telling myself and others that if we remain strong and visible, we can fight the pain away. But Blake's death is a reminder that we need help because even the strongest of fighters can lose the battle, against a world that doesn't care enough about transgender people like us.
Text Meredith Ramirez Talusan