Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sticks and Stones

This letter is from TransActive Education & Advocacy, a group supporting youth of all genders in Portland, Oregon.

As a parent of a son who struggles with gender roles and the constraints of society, I needed to share it.

The next time you hear someone called he-she or tranny or freak, remember words can hurt a lot more than sticks and stones.

They can kill you.

“Dear Friends & Family,

Late Monday evening I received the news that I have dreaded since beginning my advocacy work on behalf of transgender children, youth and their families. I knew this day might, indeed would have to come, but I hoped with all my heart that somehow it would not happen.

Ian, a 16-year old transgender boy committed suicide yesterday.

As sad as the death of any child can be at any time, in any way, the loss of this child, in this way at this time is particularly painful for many of us.

It's painful because I knew Ian, his mother, father and younger brother personally. At one time, I considered myself part of their extended family.

Ian's death is particularly painful because he was one of the lucky ones. He was loved and cherished for who he was by his family. His mother and I, along with others, co-founded TransYouth Family Advocates in the hopes of providing help to Ian and so many other transgender and gender non-conforming children and youth. He had every good chance of overcoming the 50% suicidal ideation rate that is reported for transgender children and youth. And yet, with the most loving and supportive family imaginable, the sun rises today on a world missing another treasured child.

I liked Ian very, very much. He was a sensitive, thoughtful, incandescently intelligent young man. His mind was swift, taking in everything around him, though he rarely commented aloud about what he observed. When he did though, it was always worth hearing. Ian was painfully shy in many ways, and for that reason I took pleasure in making him squirm with the occasional non-sequitur, which he enjoyed and he would often toss one back at me with a sideways smile. I will always remember him with that sideways smile...

I loved making him laugh, and I loved his dry wit...it was an honor to know him and his life enriched mine.

As someone who once considered myself part of the extended (...) family, I send them my deepest condolences. I send an embrace from the deepest part of my soul not only to the (...) family, but to Kim Pearson, Shannon Garcia, "Just Evelyn" and their families as well.

From all of us at TransActive Education & Advocacy, I pledge our ongoing committment to work on behalf of the thousands of children and youth who, like Ian, struggle to fit into a world that far too often sees only their difference and ignores their gifts.

Please join us in sending your prayers, positive thoughts and support to Ian's family, extended family, friends and classmates. Join us and others who are working to create a more loving and nurturing world for transgender and gender non-conforming children, youth and their families. Hug your children and let them know that they are loved for exactly who they are...not in spite of who they are.

I wish Ian the peace he was unable to find in this life. And I believe that wherever his spirit, soul, energy force or consciousness is now, he is free of such insignificant limitations as gender and any other pain he may have experienced in his life. You were loved, Ian...and you still are.

Your friend,

Jenn Burleton

Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy
Co-founder & Past President
TransYouth Family Advocates
West Region Coordinator & Board Member
PFLAG-Transgender Network

Hayley Klug
Associate Advocate
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Kaig Lightner
Associate Advocate/Technology Coordinator
TransActive Education & Advocacy

Cathy Zellmer-Jackson
Associate Advocate

Brooke Haight Turpen
Youth Advocate

Tracie Stratton
Family Coodinator"


Blogger praenomenal said...

Thanks for the post.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Preemie Twins' Nanny said...

Thanks for sharing.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Jenn Burleton said...


Thank you for passing this along. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for your child, or any child you know of.


Jenn Burleton
Executive Director
TransActive Education & Advocacy

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

OMG.....how sad

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very sad and my sympathy goes to all involved...but I feel very strongly that the tag line about words killing people is absolutely the wrong message to be sending to trans people, especially trans youth...

If anything, transpeople need to hear the message that there are ways of dealing with insults short of self destructive behavior and that they can develop the inner strength to overcome taunts and other forms of verbal hostility and abuse...not the message that words are so inherently powerful that they can make people kill themselves.

Implying that words can make kids kill themselves or that there are taunts so powerful or in such quantity that people are powerless to deal with them in any manner short of suicide is ill-conceived hyperbole that can end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If a kid came to you saying, "people are so mean to me that I have no choice but to kill myself to make it stop" no thinking person would EVER say to him, "you may be right, because some words can't be dealt with any other way"...but that is precisely the message being sent when you say that words can kill.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Jenn Burleton said...


I appreciate your sentiment, but I believe that what the original post intended to convey was that the non-accepting attitude of society, sometimes expressed in words, contributes to the isolation and pain that many trans people, particularly youth, experience.

That being said, I hope that we don't turn dear Ian's tragic death into a debate...at least not this week.



9:48 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Yes, Jenn, you read what I meant the right way.

And no, this is not the week or time to fight about it.

Ian committed suicide.

Today that is not about learning or discussion or appropriate measures...

Today that is about grief.

12:17 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home