Written by Nillin Dennison
Today, I was absolutely devastated to learn of the suicide of a junior derby skater from West Bloomfield, Michigan named Sam Taub, who also happened to be a young trans man, on April 9th, 2015. Known as Casper in the derby community, Sam skated under #57 alongside his teammates in the Darlings of Destruction Junior Derby League out of Roseville, Michigan. My sincere condolences to all of those affected by this tragic loss, who knew and loved Sam.
Sam’s tragic death highlights one of the most important issues and struggles that trans people face, that of suicidal thoughts. Over the past several months, 12 other trans individuals have taken their lives for a variety of reasons including bullying, abuse, depression, forced conversion therapy, as well as the general fear, loneliness, and hopelessness that also comes with being closeted. These are hard things to think about, let alone recognize, but they are important nonetheless as they are literally leading to the deaths of people who are trans. It is also important to note that approximately 62% of the reported trans suicides that we know about were of trans boys between the ages of 15-24.
Last year we learned of the reported suicides of 17-year-old Riley Moscatel on August 18 in Croyden, Pennsylvania; 24-year-old Andi Woodhouse on December 13 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; 23-year-old Jay Ralko on December 24 in Warren, Michigan; and 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn on December 28 in Union Township, Ohio. 2015 has since seen the reported suicides of 23-year-old Eylul Cansin on January 5 in Istanbul, Turkey; 19-year-old Melonie Rose on February 11 in Laurel, Maryland; 15-year-old Zander Mahaffey on February 15 in Austell, Georgia; 22-year-old Aubrey Mariko Shine on February 24 in San Francisco, California; 16-year-old Ash Haffner on February 26 in Charlotte, North Carolina; 18-years-old Taylor Wells on March 15 in Springfield, Illinois; 18-year-old Blake Brockington on March 23 in Charlotte, North Carolina; 16-year-old Taylor Alesana on April 2 in Fallbrook, Carolina; and now 15-year-old Sam Taub on April 9 in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
One of the unfortunate issues following the murder or suicide of a person who is trans is that they are often misgendered by media, police, friends, and family. In almost all of the above cases, the individuals who died were originally reported on under their birth names, not their real names, and were misgendered as their sex assigned at birth. That is to say that young trans men were being remembered as girls, and young trans women were being remembered as boys. Misgendering is often one of the most hurtful things that a trans person can experience in their life and the act of misgendering is often a core part of the bullying and abuse they experience prior to their deaths. To misgender somebody is to invalidate their identity, to undermine their self-concept, and to disregard their existence as a human being worthy of respect. While it may be difficult, please ensure that you are making every effort to not misgender a person who is trans in life or in death as doing so just leads to perpetuation of the harmful behavior.
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In response to this growing concern, the trans community has decided to remember those lost through a hashtag campaign which reaffirms their identity. It looks a little something like this:
#HisNameWasAndi #HisNameWasAsh #HerNameWasAubrey #HisNameWasBlake #HerNameWasEylul #HisNameWasJay #HerNameWasLeelah #HerNameWasMelonie #HerNameWasTaylor #HisNameWasTaylor #HisNameWasZander #HisNameWasSam
The greater derby community too has created a campaign called #doitfor57 which calls on all skaters bouting this upcoming weekend to wear turquoise as tribute to Sam and to discuss the epidemic of bullying in all communities.
How You Can Look Out For and Support Your Leaguemates Who Are Trans
1. Reach out to the nearest LGBTQI+ centre, or pride organization, to inquire about Safe Space training or general sexual and gender diversity training. Make it mandatory for all members of the league to participate in this training.
2. Call out ANY homophobic and/or transphobic insults or harassment that you see either on the track or off of the track, even if the people doing it “don’t mean it”. Do not stand idly by while this behavior happens. Reality is that there are likely MANY people who are trans in roller derby who are not out to their leagues for any number of reasons, possibly even because they do not feel safe being out in such a sex segregated sport such as roller derby. As such, allowing the use of anti-LGBT language is just going to further hurt those people who are trans and reduce the likelihood of them ever feeling comfortable with being out.
3. Many mental health service providers offer suicide awareness, prevention and intervention training as well. Consider seeking out this education by contacting your nearest Canadian Mental Health Association, or health care provider.
4. Always use the name and pronouns that a person who is trans provides you.
5. If a person who is trans comes out to you, recognize what an incredible gesture they are making having shared such a sensitive, personal thing about themselves. Never out them to others by introducing them as being trans. Furthermore, if you suspect that somebody is trans, never ask others what they think. That creates an environment of rumors. Instead, if you are unsure of a person’s gender identity, speak to them privately and ask what their pronouns are.
If you are transgender, gender non-binary, or gender nonconforming, or gender questioning, and you are experiencing a crisis or you have been contemplating suicide, PLEASE call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860 (in the US) or 1-877-330-6366 (in Canada). This is a FREE, non-profit helpline service dedicated to the well being of transgender people, staffed by transgender people.
UPDATE: a follow up Call to Action has been posted. We have the chance, right now, to legitimately take profound steps toward TRUE inclusivity, support, respect, and acceptance for people who are trans in the sport of roller derby, to be a trailblazer in the world of athletics… but we have to do a lot more than just wear teal and #doitofr57 stickers. We have to start having the hard conversations required to actually address these overwhelming issues.