Clinging to the edge of the abyss

(Trigger warning: depression and suicide.)

People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

These are the words of  Leelah Alcorn, who killed herself a few days ago.

I remember feeling this way, and I didn’t have a tenth of the cause that Leelah did. I don’t think it ever even occurred to me at 16 to wonder what it would be like to also feel alien in my own skin on top of all the other trials of adolescence.

Could it have gotten better for her? Sure. I know enough successful transgender programmers to know that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel. Although it’s a hell of a long, steep, uphill tunnel.

We are failing transgender kids. We are failing gay kids. But I feel like in a larger sense we’re just failing kids, period.

If you’re on the fringes of society for any reason, the years between 13 and 21 are the worst, as Liz Lemon would say. You’re coming to terms with who you are and how you are different, and you feel everything 10x as keenly as you ever will again. And you have zero personal power to change anything about your life. And even if you do have a modicum of power, you don’t yet have the emotional tools to exert it in any kind of directed, constructive way.

Also, people are probably more horrible to you than they ever will be again.

In my mind I see adolescence as rope bridge over a deep chasm. For every generation that crosses it, a fraction of them step on a broken slat and find themselves clinging for their lives to a few strands of fraying rope. It can happen for any number of reasons. They watch, helpless, as the rest of their cohort walk on and disappear over the horizon.

If you’re one of those kids, you might know that “it gets better”. You might have heard that help is on the way… eventually. One of these minutes, one of these hours, people in orange jackets are going to appear and extend a lifeline to you, and you’ll be saved. Carried away, finally, to the land of relative stability and empowerment that is adulthood.

But it’s not enough to know that “it gets better”. Because the question is, will it get better soon enough? Your hands are numb; muscles are in agony, and your grip is slipping. What does it matter that it gets better, if you can’t hang on that long?

It felt endless and excruciating to me, and relatively speaking my emotional wounds were shallow. My legs were dangling through the rungs of the bridge. I wasn’t hanging on by a thread.

I made it; and it got better. And for a lot of other kids it got better. But my one of my best friends didn’t make it; he plummeted into the abyss before help could arrive.

It gets better. But they shouldn’t have to hang on so long.

It needs to get better faster.


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