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The Difference Between Her, Me and You

By Ryan Ellis
On April 24, 2017

Photo Courtesy of:  Open Minded Health 

On April 18, 2017, a friend of mine committed suicide. Her name was Danielle, but her birth name was Ian. She was transgender. That was the only difference between her, me and most of you. Inside, Danielle was searching for everything that we search for: companionship, comfort and happiness.

Inside of her was a storm, and it was seemingly never-ending. This storm was unseen by everyone but her, and it was terrifying. The storm eventually caused her to take her life.

Some people do not see mental illness as an actual disease. They see it as an excuse for someone who is looking for attention or someone who is just trying to find something wrong with themselves. But that is not what mental illness is; it is a debilitating, arduous and exhausting battle that never ends.

Mental illness is more than simply not wanting to leave your bed in the morning. Mental illness, in some of its worst cases, is a deep desire to stop existing. The thought eats away at your mind and affects every aspect of your life. It changes some of your happiest daily moments into sorrow in a moments notice, and it can make life seem empty.

It makes life’s happiest moments ephemeral. It is not something that can be changed by simply adjusting your mindset, and sometimes there are no reparative strategies that can be implemented.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has stated that transgender people are dramatically more likely to experience depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. In a hostile culture, minority groups are prone to experience bullying from majority groups. This hostility often results in an absence from reality and it is likely to cause self-abhorrence.

Most people do not realize the effect that simple words can have on an individual. The way that we talk and the messages that we create are more impactful than we can ever realize. Our actions, our words and our behaviors can dramatically shift the life path of an individual and transgender individuals experience these disruptions almost daily.

We are in a world where the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities are becoming more accepted. Gay marriage has been legalized nationally and there are protests to end LGB discrimination everyday. For the most part, these protests are working. That is not where the protests stop, however, and they are excluding members of their own community: The T.

Transgender individuals face widespread bullying in schools, discrimination in the workplace and they experience legislation that is created to allow for homeowners to evict their occupants based on gender. Transgender people even have trouble using the restroom.

Black and Native American transgender individuals are the most likely to commit suicide within the LGBTQA+ community, with 45 percent and 56 percent respectively. According to the Williams Institute, 45 percent of transgender individuals between the ages of 18-44 years old have admitted to attempting suicide. states that 82 percent of transgender youth feels unsafe at school, 67 percent has been bullied online and 44 percent has been physically abused. The effects of bullying and physical abuse dramatically increase chances for clinical depression, anxiety, truancy, substance abuse and suicide attempts.

How can you find happiness in a nation that constantly threatens you, bullies you and tells you that you are not allowed to use the restroom that you feel comfortable using? How can you find comfort in a school where students shout derogatory words at you on a daily basis, or in a workplace where the constant threat of being terminated from your position looms above your head, or in a family that looks at you like a stranger? How can you find happiness in a world where your human rights are decided by a panel of judges?

Danielle was kind; she had a witty personality and she was deeply empathetic to other people. It was so easy to strike up a conversation with her and she loved to make other people laugh. I remember talking to her at work about five years ago, and she was so excited to turn 18 and start taking hormones to begin her transition. It took her years to find out why she never felt comfortable in her body and she was excited to finally find harmony in her body and mind. It was inspiring to see her so excited for life.

Then I remember scrolling through Facebook and stumbling upon a post wishing Danielle peace in the afterlife. I felt numb. It felt like I completely left my body. It hurt to accept that such a kind soul could be led to do what she had done to herself. It made me furious. It made me furious that she had to live in a world that caused her to feel so poorly about herself. It made me furious to think that such a beautiful, kind, loving, empathetic, smart person could live such an unhappy life.

The most tragic thing of all is knowing that hate speech toward transgender people will continue to happen. This one event will not change the course of history, and all the bullying will continue to exist. Danielle’s story won’t be the last tragic ending, and we will continue to see events like these happening every day. Each headline will be just as tragic, heartbreaking and exhausting as the last. Danielle’s family will live out the rest of their lives hearing the same hate speech that took their daughter and that should simply be unacceptable.

The passing of Danielle has built up rage in my body. At first, I felt ashamed to be angry. I thought that anger was only used by oppressors as a means to make their victims submit, but that is not the case. I will harness this rage because it will allow me to speak up for Danielle and her community. The only way to stop tragedies like this from happening are to use your rage and stand up for those who need help.

Danielle was human. She was one of us. Her loss was more than just a loss to the LGBTQA+ community; it was a loss to humanity. In this ever-changing political world, social rights are always at stake. With the issue of transgender rights, gay rights and women’s rights in the political limelight, we can finally start up a conversation about these issues.

These issues can be frustrating to talk about, especially with people who are ignorant to the topic. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have them. If we don’t have them, people like Danielle will continue to feel worthless and they will take that last step.

We are all human. We are all deserving of companionship, love, comfort and a pursuit of happiness. A small difference in our personality does not change our core, and being transgender does not make us any less human. Mental illness is not any less severe than physical illness and it deserves the same amount of attention.

I hope that Danielle has found peace, and I hope that her story can inspire people to fight for her. I hope that one day we can all realize our interdependence and can use our rage to fight for the rights of our fellow human beings.

Ultimately, I hope for a future where empathy outweighs politics and a world where human rights are not decided by a room full of people who will never experience the life of the person whose rights they are removing.





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