I’m a non-binary transgender person. And when I was struggling to come to terms with my identity, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety. But these struggles with my mental health weren’t because I was being bullied or because my parents weren’t supportive. It was because I didn’t see any other people like me.
I felt invisible and I felt alone. I didn’t know that I had permission to be who I wanted to be: to cut my hair, to have top surgery, or to wear a button down from the men’s department.
I know many transgender youth across the country feel that same way right now. These youth were the first people I thought of when I saw the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month saying that nearly two percent of high schoolers in the U.S. are transgender — a higher number than researchers previously estimated.
Trans folks have been saying for a long time that in order to be seen, we need to be counted. Now, people can look back at their own high schools and see that out of 50 of their classmates — the kids that they played soccer with, the kids that they sat with at lunch, the kids in their algebra class — at least one is trans.
Giving a voice to trans youth
This is doubly important considering that it seems like only yesterday the CDC was banned from using the word “transgender.” At a time when trans people feel as though the government is singling us out and further marginalizing us, it’s important to be reminded that, on some level, trans voices are being heard and our needs are being articulated.
Trans people struggle with unique obstacles and have unique needs, as the new CDC report went on to demonstrate: 35 percent of trans high schoolers have attempted suicide in the past year alone.
As a volunteer recruiter at a suicide prevention organization, I’ve witnessed firsthand how imperative it is that trans youth feel comfortable enough to reach out for help. The troubling statistics from the CDC report emphasize the urgent need to address young trans people’s concerns specifically.
Data drives policies
There’s a reason trans folks have been advocating for more data on our community’s issues and needs. We need data and numbers if we want to drive policies that will improve trans lives.
For example, we’re only now starting to fill the data gap for trans people living with HIV. Thanks to a 2015 survey, we now know that trans people live with HIV at nearly five times the rate of the general population, with trans women of color being the most affected. But HIV isn’t the only health issue trans people face, and subsequent studies have highlighted even more gaps in data about the health of trans people.
As it stands, trans people aren’t even counted in the Census, which recently added an option for same-sex couples to be counted, but not unpartnered gay and bisexual people or any trans people. In other words, the vast majority of our community. If we aren’t being counted, we can’t bring our myriad concerns to policymakers, concerns like employment or housing discrimination, things we know are happening but are still grossly under-researched.
It’s true that the CDC findings confirmed what many trans people already knew: that there are more of us than previously thought, that we are neighbors, classmates and friends, that we face disproportionate rates of bullying and that, due to discrimination, we are more likely to struggle with self-harm. But the fact that we now have concrete data we can use to advocate for ourselves is a major step forward.
As a kid, I learned what it meant to feel alone. To feel alone is to feel unseen. I feel more alone in spaces where people don’t see me for who I truly am than I do just being by myself. But we exist, as the numbers show, and we’ve been here all along. I hope young trans people feel a little less alone as a result, and a little more willing to stand and be counted.