How do we talk about queer suicides?

GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
How do we talk about queer suicides?

A friend of mine's youth group lost a queer kid (teen) to suicide. And be clear that this is not a rare issue. By all accounts they were a wonderful person who was an asset to the world, but they're dead. The Trevor Project* estimates that at least one LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13–24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S. My friend lives in a conservative area where probably quite a few people could be found who would say they are glad this child is dead. And of course such people are part of the problem. But many more quietly wish that they didn't have to think about inconvenient queer stuff. They say things like "Can't they just keep it to themselves?" They're part of the problem too. And part of me wants to shove this brilliant creative person's death in their face.

But tactically that would be a terrible idea. The last thing I want to tell queer teens is that suicide is a great option when you're in agony. Suicide in the news is dangerous. I don't want to tell anyone suicide is a good way of reacting to emotional pain. Other people have lost someone to suicide and should not have to have such things thrust in their face. I even debated how to title this thread to avoid giving pain. (ended up opting for clarity)

*For another first person source, made by queer people and including accounts by teens, I recommend the It Gets Better project. It has its issues of course, but it is a good place to find people's accounts.

Comments

  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    Are you asking how do we talk about queer suicide with queer youth or how we talk about queer suicide in general? Or both?
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    edited October 2021
    Whenever we talk about it anywhere queer youth are around hearing us, so I think it has to be both. In fact, while I think everyone speaking here has said they were 18, there could be youth reading without posting and of course some of us have been queer youth.
  • Might be worth looking at these too https://www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/media-guidelines/media-guidelines-reporting-suicide/ because posting on here is a form of media / publishing.
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    On the other hand, there is evidence that discussing these things in ways that listen to people can actually help. Celebrity deaths create emulation, but that doesn't mean discussing the topic does.
  • I completely agree.
  • We are all less than perfect, whatever our sexuality. Is not judgementalism about this not a manifestation of spiritual pride? Let us all confess imperfection and leave it to our maker to do the judging - and the forgiving.
  • A dear cousin of mine died young many years ago. His death still echoes in our lives. He too was a very creative person, studying music when he died. He was about my age, and we hung around together at family dos where we were one of about 30 cousins. Two large families of cousins who lived near each other and went to the same schools really struggled with his death.

    I can't really contribute further to the topic than to say that my cousin was known, loved and mourned by many people.
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Admin
    edited January 9
    ((Simon)) it’s so hard to lose someone that way.

    (I have a copy of a Church of Scotland prayer I’ve always found very comforting - I can’t find an online link, but pm me if you would like a copy.)
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited January 9
    FWIW, here is a BBC News article about a spate of teenage suicides in South Wales some time ago:

    https://bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-50793589

    The reasons for these tragedies were numerous and complex, with sexuality being one among many, alas.
    On a very personal note, I am still occasionally haunted by the suicide of a boy at my School, many years ago.

    Whether or not he was queer (we didn't use the word *gay* in those days!), I couldn't say, but it's possible that he was. At any rate, he was bullied, and I, to my everlasting shame, took part in the bullying from time to time.
    :disappointed:

    I do recall our Religious Education teacher - a most kind and saintly man - assuring us of the love and mercy he believed God would show towards the boy who died. That, I'm sure, was the master's way of trying to comfort us...
  • ((Simon)) it’s so hard to lose someone that way.

    (I have a copy of a Church of Scotland prayer I’ve always found very comforting - I can’t find an online link, but pm me if you would like a copy.)

    Cheers. I'm good. The post prompted some prayer yesterday, mainly about my cousins who were closer to him than I.
  • PomonaPomona Shipmate
    I hope it's not falling afoul of the rules to mention the Current Plague. I feel like it's difficult to deal with the kind of compassion fatigue that comes from the treatment of LGBTQ+ suicides vs deaths due to the pandemic - I mean I guess it is natural to care more about the people you know who die, but it doesn't seem very Christian. You then have the issue of being expected to empathise with bereaved people who would really not empathise with yout bereaved loved ones if you died by suicide as an LGBTQ+ person. I know that Christians should have empathy regardless of whether the other people would have empathy back, but also LGBTQ+ people and our allies have to bear that burden in a way those who oppose us simply never have to. And that's very tiring and frustrating.
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited January 11
    I'm not sure about there being a requirement for empathy, generally speaking, upon Christians. I think we are called to love, and empathy is an aspect of that. But we are called to love in accordance with our capacity, which is contingent upon many things both personal to us and situational. We can't love beyond our capacity at any given moment.

    There is a hope that we will grow in our capacity, as we reflect upon our own awareness of God's unconditional love. For me, that begins with an acceptance of my damaged and damaging self, which is ongoing. It blossoms if I can open myself to continuing divine forgiveness.

    Social expectations can eat my shorts.
  • Pomona wrote: »
    I mean I guess it is natural to care more about the people you know who die, but it doesn't seem very Christian.

    But isn't the empathy that you might have for some total stranger who dies a bit theoretical? What does it mean, in practice, to empathise with someone you've never met who has lost a relative to Covid? I don't think you do anything different, do you? The people you're going to actually express empathy to (or not) are your friends and neighbours who have lost people. It's Bob from your church who you're going to check in with to make sure he's OK, because he just lost someone, and not some stranger whose name you read in the paper.

    And if you don't really know Bob, or you and Bob don't like each other much, it's OK not to be the one checking in - if Bob doesn't like you, he probably wouldn't appreciate you asking after him much either.
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    edited January 11
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I'm not sure about there being a requirement for empathy, generally speaking, upon Christians. I think we are called to love, and empathy is an aspect of that. But we are called to love in accordance with our capacity, which is contingent upon many things both personal to us and situational. We can't love beyond our capacity at any given moment.

    I'd somewhat disagree with you there. I think that is the kind of love we are called to show as Christians. Not the empathy, I agree that we are not required to feel such love. But isn't that what the Good Samaritan is about? To go practice love even on those we don't feel it to?
  • Gwai wrote: »
    But isn't that what the Good Samaritan is about? To go practice love even on those we don't feel it to?

    I don't think we're ever invited to consider the Samaritan's feelings. We're just invited to do what he did.

    But I don't think that's exactly what @Pomona is talking about. I didn't think he was talking about being expected to care for Bob the Bigot in the next pew who just lost his wife to Covid so much as he was contrasting the general attention and handwringing paid to Covid deaths with the looking-the-other-way and whistling response that LGBT suicides often get.

    You can feel wearied by public/media concern over majority-group deaths whilst that same public/media ignores minority-group deaths whilst still making dinner for your bereaved majority-group neighbour. And I don't think that's inconsistent with the Good Samaritan at all.
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    edited January 11
    Fair. I certainly agree we need to attend to lgbt suicides!
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited January 12
    Gwai wrote: »
    Simon Toad wrote: »
    I'm not sure about there being a requirement for empathy, generally speaking, upon Christians. I think we are called to love, and empathy is an aspect of that. But we are called to love in accordance with our capacity, which is contingent upon many things both personal to us and situational. We can't love beyond our capacity at any given moment.

    I'd somewhat disagree with you there. I think that is the kind of love we are called to show as Christians. Not the empathy, I agree that we are not required to feel such love. But isn't that what the Good Samaritan is about? To go practice love even on those we don't feel it to?

    I don't think we are required to do anything by God. We are required to believe some things to be Christians, but if God wants us to do anything, it is to share in God's being. That doesn't require "doing" in the sense we are discussing.

    God loves us, and fully knows us. God as lover does not want to change us in any way. When we grasp that truth at our core, there is no judgement. There is no right or wrong. There is no sin. There are no duties. But this isn't an end-state, at least not in my experience to date. It's transient for me. As anxiety, worry, pressure, judgement crowd in on me, its harder to remember that feeling of bliss, that unity. But with practice, experience, maybe age, I have found that the times when I forget the relief which comes with the experience of love are shorter. But tomorrow, that might be different. I don't know.

    When I discovered that God didn't care about my failures, about the hurts I inflicted, about the continuing pain I cause others, it helped me stop inflicting the pain of guilt on myself. It helped me to gradually stop whispering my judgement of myself in my own ear. I'm still gradually stopping that, but I no longer have the self-loathing, the fear of inflicting hurt that drove me to seek destruction.

    I am much less sure about what we are to do with ourselves as Christians who know the salvific experience of divine love. Our religious traditions codify love, and a large part of me calls that unacceptable. The code is so universal, so lacking in nuance or consideration of circumstance. But God's love is the opposite. God's complete knowledge of me and my situation grounds the validity of God's invitation to love.

    We are called to emulate the love we have from God to the extent that we can, in the moment. We can't put our selves aside to love. Its impossible, and damaging. To condole with a bereaved person is a social duty, perhaps. But is it an expression of God's love? That's not rhetorical because I think the answer is, it depends.

    I reckon the Good Samaritan just helped someone. They didn't think about whether they should. They just did it.



  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    edited January 12
    @Simon Toad perhaps we should start a Purg thread on Christian obligation. I can't right now, but I'll join if you do. I do not fully agree with you, but I think your words are interesting.

    To make sure I don't start a tangent, let's bring this back more directly to queer youth: I would say that the church itself has a major obligation toward them. We owe it to them to make a world where they know they belong, a world where they feel safe. And I say that starts with talking about it, with making it clear that everyone belongs before they do. Similarly, we need to have many more queer people in ministry. Both of our priests are lesbian or gay, which just isn't a big deal in my circles. But that still shocks people when it comes up in conversation, so I know our work isn't done.
  • I agree, although I suppose it's true to say that the *church* should be welcoming and inclusive to all, all the time (I know that doesn't often happen!).

    As regards queer youth, or perhaps queer people in general, it's not always evident within a church community/fellowship that a particular person is queer, or is having problems because of that or other reasons. Some people do compartmentalise their lives, so how can anyone (pastor/priest etc.) deal with such issues if they aren't aware of them?

    Not sure where I'm going with this, but I did know a person who was ambivalent as to their sexuality, and I never realised this until the inquest - they had other issues as well, but kept everything under wraps, as it were.

  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    I think that's another reason we need to be having these conversations, @Bishops Finger If there is a trans and allies group at a church for instance, someone who wonders whether they are trans may go even if they aren't ready to talk about being maybe trans. But if there is no one discussing the issue ever then it's harder for the person who wonders. Also, I think that many people, certainly me, find it easier to figure out about themselves by hearing/seeing other people exist. Sometimes it's the rest of our job just to be and live openly and in a caring way to be there if we are needed.
  • Leorning CnihtLeorning Cniht Shipmate
    edited January 12
    As regards queer youth, or perhaps queer people in general, it's not always evident within a church community/fellowship that a particular person is queer, or is having problems because of that or other reasons. Some people do compartmentalise their lives, so how can anyone (pastor/priest etc.) deal with such issues if they aren't aware of them?

    There are lots of reasons that people don't talk about their stuff, whatever their stuff is. Some of them you can lump under the general heading of "privacy", which is sort of the compartmentalization you're getting at here, and that's OK. And sometimes they just don't think it's very relevant - you probably wouldn't talk much about your soccer game at the chess club, because the other chess players probably aren't full of interesting soccer-related conversation.

    But the problem we have is that, from the outside, a person who just doesn't want to talk about their stuff looks the same as a person who is ashamed of their stuff, or is scared that their stuff will make people reject them, or that their stuff isn't welcome in conversation. And that's the challenge for the church, which has historically, and is not generally perceived to be a welcoming place for LGBT people - we have to break down those barriers so that, for example, a boy in youth group is as comfortable talking about issues with his boyfriend as about issues with his girlfriend, or someone who is unsure about their sexuality can raise the issue, and get support and not criticism.

    And that's a steep hill for the church to climb, because there's a lot of bad history to overcome (even assuming the church had managed to get rid of all its current bigots, which it hasn't.)

    I think one of the things you can do is be careful with language. A lot of people think that they are supportive and welcoming of LGBT people but have their language riddled with unnecessary straight-default assumptions. They'll talk to a group of boys at church, and assume that they're all interested in girls: not with any kind of malice or thought that being gay is wrong, but without any kind of thought at all. That doesn't help.
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    And that's another reason that churches need to include queer leadership in various positions. A man who is married to another man is safely one of the people who won't assume that all boys are straight.
  • Well, yes - I agree. Alas, the Church of England is *ahem* not too keen (to say the least) on That Sort Of Thing, officially, at any rate.

    Unofficially, and below the radar, there are (I'm sure) examples of queer-led churches which are welcoming and inclusive.

    None in this area AFAIK, though...
    :disappointed:

  • The idea Christians aren't required to do anything is beyond weird to me. Is this a result of an extreme anti-works-righteousness that wants to prevent even the appearance of requirements on human behavior for salvation? There are plenty of things we are told to do in Scripture. Were these only meant metaphorically? The mind boggles. We need that new thread Gwai mentioned.
  • I shall start that thread today. I'm not sure how to do the system thing where it moves posts into a new thread.

    I put this mystical view of Christianity and obligation because I find it useful as someone who has known the urge to self-destruction, and who has been down an alternative path to destruction, addiction. If I know for certain that I am both fully known and fully loved without condition, then I have value no matter what I might do or have done.

    I have value even though I have disappointed my family. I have value even if I have hurt my partners. I have value even though I have let my colleagues down. I have value even if I have abandoned my life. I have value even though I have stolen, lied, or copulated without discretion or responsibility. I have value even though I have violated every standard I have ever held. I have value if I do these things and worse tomorrow.

    I have value and I am loved, and I will always be loved.
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