Earlier this year, after Caitlyn Jenner revealed that she is transgender, the 65-year-old Olympian said she hopes to use her celebrity status as a platform to help others. The article below is part of an on-going original series written by Jenner for WhoSay called "The Real Me," which will explore issues and people in the LGBT community. This week, Jenner is focusing on the suicide rate and how it affects trans youth.
"One Tremendous Problem" by Caitlyn Jenner
Hi, Caitlyn here. This week we're going to talk about a very serious issue in the transgender community.
One tremendous problem, especially for trans youth, is the suicide rate. A recent study of nearly 100 transgender youth, ages 12 to 24, found that 51 percent reported thinking about suicide, while 30 percent had attempted it at least once in their lives. In San Diego alone, over the last several months there have been three transgender kids who've died by suicide. The latest you might have heard about last night on my show—Kyler Prescott, a 14-year-old trans boy who not only dealt with trans issues, but also suffered from severe depression. Sadly, he wasn't able to make it between the combination of the two.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Kyler's mom, Katharine Prescott, in San Diego. She was (and is) absolutely amazing. She loved and supported her trans child in so many ways, including getting Kyler's name and gender marker legally changed. Sadly, he died by suicide two months ago. Three days later, Katharine received his updated birth certificate in the mail. Talk about hard stuff. But this is the reality for far too many in the transgender community. And it's not because trans people are somehow inherently unstable—it's because we live in a world that makes it very, very difficult to be trans. Many people, especially kids, can't see how they can live as their authentic selves and keep their family, their jobs, and their homes.
My brother died in a car crash when he was 18 and my family never really recovered from it. I can't begin to imagine the Prescott family's pain. I want to give the floor to Katharine—a brilliant and articulate woman—to tell her and Kyler's story. Needless to say, it's a powerful one that will resonate with families across the world.
When I first met Caitlyn I was very impressed by her sincerity. I could see right away that her desire to help further transgender equality in society is authentic. She is delightful.
Kyler was an amazing person. He really cared, not just about his own identity being respected, but about all transgender people receiving that respect. He was very confused by the lack of understanding he saw in society; it just didn't make sense to him.
People usually assume that the teasing is from other teenagers, but that wasn't the case for Kyler. He had a lot of friends. The only real disrespect was from adults—and that was pretty severe, like referring to him as "she," even when it had been made very clear that he was a he. He had already had his name and gender changed legally, yet there were adults who were very disrespectful of his gender identity.
To the parents who are already supporting their kids: Just keep fighting for them. I definitely did. I fought a lot of battles on his behalf, but he also had to fight his own battles—and it was very hard. Never give up. Be firm with people and help educate them. Even something as simple as using the pronoun that the trans kid asks you to use is so important and can make such a big difference in that kid's life.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of children who have expressed that they are transgender and their parents are not recognizing or acknowledging that shift. To me, that's tragic. I think parents absolutely need to get on board with what their kid is telling them. They need to do their research, which is exactly what I did when Kyler came to me. The best outcomes are when these kids are fully embraced.
This is not something to be taken lightly. If someone we see as a girl says, "No, I'm a boy," we need to listen to that and respect it right away—and vice versa, of course. So many parents fear that their kid is just acting out or going through a phase. But once someone has expressed his or her gender dysphoria, it's something that is completely real and will never go away.
Love and embrace your child. Studies show that family acceptance is one of the most critical factors in trans kids being happy and healthy.
The tragic part of Kyler's story is that even though his family fully supported him 100 percent and beyond, it ended in suicide. I can live with myself now because I know he knew how much I loved and supported him.
There are a lot of kids out there who are not receiving support and that's a real tragedy. That's something that we have to change—and we have to change it now. These kids can't wait. There's nothing more terrible for a child than his or her own parents rejecting who he or she truly is. That's devastating. Every child wants to please his or her parents. And if parents are saying, "You can't be your authentic self," a lot of people will try to live the lie and suffer because of it.
The wonderful thing is that people like Caitlyn are starting to spread the word. This isn't just a passing thing. This is forever. We need to help every transgender person be their authentic self. Nobody should be denied that.
For more information on the transgender movement, see a list of resources at CaitlynJenner.com.
I Am Cait airs Sundays at 8 p.m., only on E!