New York Times Magazine has delved into the newest CDC study on the health risks of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students. I would like to have said LGBT students, but there was apparently nowhere on the survey where a participant could identify as transgender or gender nonconforming.
It’s easy to assume that now must be a better time than ever to be a lesbian, gay or bisexual teenager. We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Our culture has grown more accepting, too; one of the most anticipated albums of the year, Frank Ocean’s, embraces his desire for men. These factors work together to create the illusion that as a society we are barreling toward a world of complete liberation, where everyone is truly free to be whoever they are.
--Jenna Wortham, author
The survey confirmed that sexual-minority youth still face challenges that their straight peers do not. LGBT students, who make up about 8% of the high school population (roughly 1.3 million students), suffer substantially higher levels of harassment and physical and sexual abuse than their straight counterparts.
12.5% of LGB students said they had skipped school because of safety concerns in the last month, compared with 4.6% of straight students. 34.2% of LGB students said they had been bullied on school property in the past year compared with 18.8% of heterosexual students. 17.8% of LGB students had been forced to have unwanted sex, compared to 5.4% of heterosexual students. 22.7% of LGB students had experienced sexual violence while dating in the past year, compared to 9.1% of heterosexual students. 42.8% of LGB students had considered suicide in the past year compared with 14.8% of heterosexual students. Finally, 29.4% of LGBT students had attempted suicide in the past year, as compared to 6.4% of straight students.
The numbers are heartbreaking: Lesbian, gay and bisexual teenagers were more likely to have been in a fight; they were nearly three times as likely to skip school out of fear for their safety. About a third were bullied, both at school and online; nearly half said they had seriously contemplated suicide in the last year. Almost a third had tried it at least once in the same time frame. High school is already an academic and social pressure cooker, and the forces that make it stressful are amplified for queer students. Difference is prized, but only up to a point, and the social order determines your quality of life. Your placement within this cruel, arbitrary system can be a source of tremendous angst. Kids who don’t fit in are prime targets for all sorts of inventive ridicule and torture, made all the more easy by social media.
To her credit...and the shame of the CDC, Wortham reached out to interview some transgender kids willing to talk.
Zeam is an 18-year-old trans man from Minnesota and a recent high school graduate, who uses the pronouns they and them.
Zeam says their days were filled with "accidental" body checks in the hallways, "crying fits in the guidance counselor’s office," and self-harm habits like cutting and eating disorders.
Many of Zeam’s friends had experienced homelessness, kicked out by their families. One of Zeam’s friends committed suicide. Even at a school that was nominally welcoming, and where Zeam’s teachers and fellow students made efforts to be accepting, Zeam still felt alienated.
I had this rage. My issues are a lot deeper and more systematic than pronouns.
Laurel is a 17-year-old living in Minneapolis, who ultimately found herself represented on the Tumblr.
Laurel had felt alienated and had been hospitalized for anxiety and depression. Laurel, who prefers the pronouns they and them, told me that Tumblr helped them understand genderfluidity and learn how to talk about it.
Our health classes don’t even talk about homosexuality, let alone gender, so it’s a very hard thing to talk to people who have no concept that you don’t have to be the gender you are assigned. I would look for terms I felt like I connected with,” like “pansexual” and “nonbinary."
Laurel identifies as non-binary.
Social media doubles as a means for students to find solidarity outside their schools and to communicate what they’re experiencing back to their peers.
Gabrielle Gladu first attempted suicide in 8th grade. She came out as transgender as a freshman. She now has a popular video channel on Youtube.
According to The Advocate, Gabrielle lives in Ottawa, Canada
Even though she was an anomaly at her school, the internet reassured her that she was not alone. And eventually her online popularity changed what her classmates thought of her. It made her, well, cool.
Her videos offered her the perfect comeback to those with probing or invasive questions.
If you want to know everything, you can go on YouTube and follow my story.
In the past the CDC has classified transgender women as "men who have sex with men," even if they do not engage in sex and/or have never had sex with a man.