On December 8, 2016, a popular, bright senior addressed her classmates in the chapel of her prestigious private school in Connecticut. From the pulpit, she spoke at length about two personal burdens that she has been privately bearing. "Let me explain myself to you," she said. "Not as Carl, the experienced senior giving a chapel talk—but as Carl, the really scared child who is worried he may have waited too long to get real."
Her first admission was the fact that she suffered with depression, the severity of which was known to no one, except perhaps one person, she said. "Second—and certainly less unfortunate—I am transgender," she stated. "I puzzle every day why I came out a boy, and I think about the big, astrological coin flip and wonder what would be different if it had come up with an X chromosome."
Standing at the front of the room, she looked striking: tall and attractive, with a cropped haircut, in a suit and tie. "I feel uncomfortable in my own skin and, honestly, if everything goes according to plan, I'm going to look very different in a couple of years," she continued. In her obituary, she is referred to as CarlEmilia, having apparently chosen a name for herself before taking her own life on January 28, 2017.
Suicide is a blight on the transgender community. Teenagers may be especially vulnerable, especially if they have lived with their gender dysphoria in secret and suffered from severe depression, as CarlEmilia explained that she did. Her mother, Reverend Elsa Worth, told Broadly that she has "nothing additional to say about our profoundly thoughtful, caring, and generous child. Her own words speak for themselves."
After I first wrote to Elsa, she urged me to include resources in this article for trans teens who may be struggling with depression on their own. "The Trevor Project stands ready to support transgender teens in crisis," Worth said. "If your article should stir up despair in anyone—which you, of all people, should know that it might—you really must give them an option of somewhere to turn." (If you think you may need help, please call the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386.)
There is a 41 percent attempted suicide rate in the trans community, and even writing about the subject can be dangerous. "More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals," according to the Trevor Project.
For the people who might be working through similar journeys: don't go alone. There's a whole community around you that wants to help.
As a transgender person myself, I feel that it's crucial to emphasize the incredibly personal and gravely serious nature of this story. I, too, have struggled with suicidal depression. It was the worst when I was a teenager: when I felt like I had no future, no meaning in my life, and no perspective on who I really was. CarlEmlia told her peers in the chapel that she "was having more and more trouble making myself smile," and I remember feeling that way, too. CarlEmilia also explained how she had lived her life as if it were a movie in which she was a secondary character in the intersecting storylines of other people. "I thought I could be happy with a supporting role," she said. For many years, I viewed myself the same way.
"I was losing my true self as I let my character become more and more insignificant in the grand narrative," CarlEmilia said. But, by speaking her truth to her classmates, it seemed she was making an earnest attempt to survive: "I have to cut my losses here and try to make the remaining runtime of my movie, as meaningful as possible," she said.
"I wanted to give this talk because I don't think I'm unique in being transgender, being depressed, or being at a loss for the meaning of my own life," CarlEmilia said. She hoped that by sharing her story, she could help other people to overcome similar burdens in their own lives: "People go through things. And sometimes, you never know."
We lose trans teens every year, and many of them do not have the supportive community and family that CarlEmilia had. Her parents loved and accepted her. Her friends, family, and broader community—including camp counselors—wrote Facebook posts after her death, sharing their profound grief about losing her. "CarlEmilia was an exemplary member of our St. Paul's choristers for several years and a bright, talented, articulate, and faithful teen member of our parish," the rector of St. Paul's Cathedral told Broadly.
"The incidence of teen suicide, and especially among LGBTQ youth, is alarming and continues to reflect the intolerance and oppression these young people face," he continued. "I fear that the current trend in our country towards exclusion and xenophobia will exacerbate this tragic phenomenon. My understanding is that CarlEmilia's suicide was the result of serious depression, another issue all too common in teens, often related to the challenges they face.
"As the community of St. Paul's grieves the loss of this CarlEmilia, we continue to offer a radical welcome to all—regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation—and offer LGBTQ teens, adults, and their families and friends our deep affection and support," he said.
By all accounts, CarlEmilia seems to have been a beloved young adult with a bright future. But although she appeared confident, inside she was constantly confused and uncomfortable, as she said during her speech. CarlEmilia had offered an important message for anyone who is suffering: "For the people who might be working through similar journeys: don't go alone. There's a whole community around you that wants to help," she said. "And for the people who don't feel burdened with pressures like these, be aware that some people—especially those you'd never expect—might be dealing with them. Be supportive."
There are warning signs for suicide. According to the Trevor Project, some of these include "talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated or recklessly."
Depression and gender dysphoria are treatable. Untreated, we know that gender dysphoria can cause many psychological problems, including severe depression and suicidal behavior. Mental health intervention, and transgender health care, can save the lives of vulnerable people. According to the American Medical Association, suicide is a public health issue and should be treated that way. "The long-term goal of public health is to reduce people's risk for suicidal behavior by addressing factors at the individual, family, community, and societal levels," the AMA reports.
Many resources exist for people who are suffering. In addition to the Trevor Project, the TransLifeline (877-565-8860) is available to transgender people in crisis. "While our goal is to prevent self harm, we welcome the call of any transgender person in need," the TransLifeline website reads. "We will do our very best to connect them with services that can help them meet that need. If you are not sure whether you should call or not, then please call us."
After her death, CarlEmilia's father shared a video on Facebook of his daughter speaking at the chapel. "Her story. His talk. May we all write as powerful a story as CarlEmelia did in her short eighteen years," he wrote.
"Write your own story in a way that shows who you really are, and make sure you get as many people as possible to read as much of it as they can," CarlEmilia said during her speech. "Because no matter how skilled a writer you are, you can't create meaning alone. We're in this together."