Not sure how to start retelling this story; it’s been haunting me for years. But it needs to be told.
“Simon” was an unassuming young man. Short in stature, long messy hair covered with a toque, overly baggy clothing with lots of layers, and holding a lot of books across his chest. Immediately I got the sense he was hiding something. I could never have imagined what he was about to share.
Student: Simon* (He/Him/They), Age 16
“Can I talk to you, Sam? I need someone to talk to.”
I often see a crowd of students gather to chat with me after such events with questions and comments. Equally common is that one or two remain on the periphery of the crowd until there’s a more quiet and private moment to speak. Simon was one of those.
“Can I show you some of my drawings?”
We moved away from the group and he allowed me to leaf through a sketchbook he had been clinging to dearly. It contained random anime-style drawings of various subjects in no particular order or theme. That is until I got about one-third of the way in when I noticed a series of violent images of a character in various stages of undress, clearly highlighting blurred-out genitals.
The one that shocked me most was an image of a character with its legs spread wide and a bloody dagger over the genitals.
I hesitantly asked why this particular image was drawn and, was something he wanted me to know?
(NOTE: I’ve shortened this portion of his story. For his sake – and yours – I’m only sharing the main points to give you the essence of his story.)
“Well, maybe I should first say that my birth name was “Maggie,” I was born in the body of a girl. I'm transgender. I always knew that I wasn’t a girl; my earliest memories were of feeling different, uncomfortable, and odd. When I started high school, I finally realized why: My body does not match what was inside. My family is from South America and very traditional, very religious. And I knew I could not talk to them, so I turned to sketching as an outlet for my feelings. The first two years of high school were terrible. I knew I was ‘not right,’ but I was afraid to say anything; I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. And I was scared of what would happen if I did. I was so isolated. I couldn’t make friends as everyone thought I was moody and weird. By the age of 16 I was severely depressed and twice attempted to end my life. My parents forbid me to tell anyone at school, but that made me feel even more alone. Thanks to some oneline resources, I decided to change my name and identify as the sex I believe I am; I gained a little confidence. Some of the kids accepted me, others were mean about it, but I could handle that. I felt - finally - that I was in my right body. My parents didn’t understand, and we had big fights every night, I was beaten often. I was kicked out of the house many times; I slept in the backyard or at a friend’s house. Sometimes, I ran away, but there’s no place to go out here in the prairies and I don't have money to move away.”
At this point, Simon started to whimper and shake. I could tell he was trying to say something; he was beating around the bush. I allowed him the time to find the courage to say what he wanted, and then he dropped the bomb.
“My dad doesn’t believe me. After one of our really big fights, he pulled off all my clothes and raped me to prove that I'm a girl.”
I suspect your reaction right now is pretty much what mine was at the time…shock and disbelief, except that we were along a wall in a big auditorium with hundreds of people watching us talking. I had to hold it together.
At this point, he broke down completely, fell in my arms and sobbed uncontrollably. I now understood the symbolism of the drawings he wanted me to see. The release of this information was painful and cathartic for Simon. He found the courage to reveal the crime that had been committed against him.
[I’ll stop the story there, except to say that a few teachers and a counsellor ran to us when they noticed Simon breaking down and took the appropriate actions. The case is ongoing.]
I’m retelling this story to highlight that, for many, there’s more to suffering from depression than the anxiety, poor grades, psychological or physical harm that often comes with it.
There’s another aspect to Simon’s suffering; transgender and LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to be physically victimized by others who simply don’t understand their plight. Or who don’t know how to process it and turn to violence to try and quash it.
That’s one of the reasons why the statistics all show that more than 50% of those suffering from depression never share their feelings or struggles, according to Darrel Burnham, CEO of Coast Mental Health, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization supporting those with mental illnesses.
STUDENTS: There’s no question that there are many communities and cultures where identifying as LGBTQI+ – or even just the association – will elicit strong emotions. There’s not enough room on this page to provide the support and guidance you need and deserve (Check out Free2Luv.org for more). What I can tell you unequivocally is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE, YOU ARE NORMAL, YOU ARE OK.
If you are or feel like family or friends will harm you for being who you are, knowing others do accept you, seeing you, and acknowledging you without prejudice. Please seek out those resources.
PARENTS: Clearly, there’s never a justification for such a violent act (or any level of violence) against any child, let alone yours. This case is being dealt with by the local authorities, but the effects will be long-lasting for this poor young man.
I’ve posted this plea previously and will share it again here: Are you more interested in having a child who’s failing, struggling, suffering from depression, and likely have life-long issues but fit into a mould that suits someone else’s beliefs?
I’m not here to tell you what your opinion or cultural/religious beliefs on sexuality need to be. That’s your business and your right. However, given that LGBTQ kids – or those labelled as “gay” by their peers – experience stigma and discrimination across their life spans and are targets of sexual and physical assault, would you not instead guide your kids in a way that doesn’t force them to hide from you? Further, add to their anxiety?
You must parent your child; however, from lived experience, I can tell you that I’d rather than a child with two heads than a teen buried in a crypt at the age of 19. You don’t have to agree with all their decisions, but you have a responsibility to ensure they live. Allow them to share without judgement.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Simon’s story is one of the hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone.
If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911. If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada | USA
*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed.