Max Black is an activist. They were 20 when I interviewed them in Seattle, WA, on February 29, 2016.
This is me being out of my comfort zone. I am probably going to start in the middle because I don’t know where the beginning is yet.
I’ll give a little background first. I have struggled a lot with a good amount of things. It feels like I picked all of them: being trans, chronically ill and disabled, queer, mixed, and other things. My parents had rough childhoods, my mom in particular. I don’t think [she] really learned how to parent even though she took care of two kids really young. I sort of ended up doing the same thing for her.
I started out as a kid taking care of some other kids. I feel like my childhood was cut so short. I don’t even know what kind of impact that had on me, but I can feel it a lot of the time. My parents struggled with substance abuse issues and I picked up on that, for sure.
I wanted to be like, “Fuck that,” because they were so shitty when they were drunk or high. It was not fun to be around that. It was a really toxic and violent environment in my house. It was unstable. We went through a lot of different abuse and shit growing up.
That lasted until elementary school. [I] started taking alcohol from my dad and smoking and, eventually, doing other things. I smoked weed frequently, which I still do. It helps with my pain and my anxiety so, yeah, I’m going to keep doing it.
There were other things I did. There was lots of different alcohol and drug stuff as a kid. It was lot of experimenting, but the other kids didn’t black out so hard when we were in middle school.
I struggled with that ever since I can remember and am still struggling with that. I think that’s the background. Oh, and I went through some foster care for a while. I’ve lived on the streets quite a few times. I’ve just had my share of childhood. That was that.
Now, back to the beginning, or to the middle, I guess. I’ve struggled with mental health stuff a lot. I know that I have depression and anxiety. I know that I have a lot of trauma and PTSD or CPTSD. Aside from that, because the trauma is something I’m still working on and really working through, I don’t know what other stuff is going on in my brain. A lot of it, the doctors say that it looks the same as trauma. The personality disorders, et cetera, a lot of those effects are the same as severe trauma effects. So, we’ll see.
Along with that, a definite passive suicidal ideation that’s gone on for a while. Many times in my life since I was a little kid, since I can remember. I was a runner as a kid. That always seemed like the ultimate escape—to run. Not a runner as in track, I mean a runner as in AWOL-ing from group homes and shit.
I guess I had been close a lot of times before the first time I actually ever attempted. There’s probably too many times to even talk about. But there’d always been something stopping me. Probably fear or maybe a little bit of hope got through. I don’t know. Something made it hard. Acquiring things sometimes [made it hard]. Or getting high so you don’t have to deal with it until you wake up in the morning. Even today [I'll] smoke a lot of weed if I’m having a rough day, just trying to fall asleep. I don’t think that’s nearly as bad, but it’s not a great solution to that problem.
I’m actually surprised that it took so long. I had self-harm as a kid and that’s what it was related to. I don’t like that word either. I don’t know a better word for that, though. I don’t really like “cut.” It just sounds so…
Des: The researchers call it “self-injury.”
Max: I don’t like that either.
Des: Non-suicidal self-injury is the [formal term].
Max: It’s so unrelated to that that I don’t even want to group them together—for me, at least.
Des: I feel like the language that we use around any of this [works].
Max: It’s so medicalized and shaming.
Max: It’s the same thing around the words “transgender,” “homosexual,” and “lesbian.” They’re not pretty words. We try to make them pretty, but they’re not. They made those words like that, you know? I don’t know what I think.
Des: I don’t know. It evolves.
Max: All that came from the DSM originally.
Des: Yeah, the diagnoses. I don’t know. At this point, I think they still have self-injury under borderline personality disorder, you know? [Ed. note: The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) was released in 2013. It lists Nonsuicidal Self-Injury Disorder as a “condition for further study,” meaning that they’re not considering it a formal diagnosis, but they have pulled it as a symptom that occurs mainly with borderline personality disorder. “Personal history of self-harm” is also listed as a V-code. V-codes are defined as “other conditions or problems that may be a focus of clinical attention or that may otherwise affect the diagnosis, course, prognosis, or treatment of a patient’s mental disorder.”]
Max: Yeah, I don’t know what to call it. I guess I need to figure out what I want to call it. I “roughed myself up a little bit.”
Des: I like that. Keep that one.
Max: Roughing yourself up. It doesn’t sound too tense or anything. It still gets the message across.
Des: Do you know how many times you’ve attempted?
Max: Well, the time that I was talking about, I wasn’t attempting to. That’s why I don’t call it an attempt. I roughed myself a little rougher than I meant to. Then I didn’t really try to stop it, but it ended up being okay. I was close, and I wasn’t the one to make it better. So, there was an “almost” before, but it wasn’t really an attempt. It was more like an apathetic, “Okay, I guess this is going to happen,” which is the same apathy I feel in my everyday passive suicidal thoughts.
When I’m crossing the street and I don’t look for cars, my friends are like, “What are you doing?” Sometimes I do look, but I definitely don’t really care about getting hit by a car. Still, I don’t know why that is. I have a song called “Death Wish” written that maybe says something about it. I have to look it up in my notebook.
I still definitely struggle with the passive suicidal feelings. It’s not like it’s a lot different after I attempted, after everything that happened with that. But I still struggle a lot with that. I thought it somehow would magically just go away.
Maybe I should tell you what happened.
Des: If you want.
Max: It was a couple summers ago here in Seattle. My partner, ex-partner, queer whatever—I don’t know what the fuck we were at that point, but anyway—they were out of town. They had broken up with me and we were having problems, obviously, with our friendship because of that. They had gone to Montana for the summer for a radical internship or something. I was having a really rough time. Before that, we were really codependent.
I had drifted away from a lot of my other friends, because my depression and anxiety had gotten really bad. That had caused me to just hang out with my ex. Also, I lived with them for a little while. Our mental health stuff definitely fed off of each other. They struggle with some of the same things I do.
They were gone and I was really struggling with that being alone thing. I wasn’t actually alone, though. I was crammed into a little studio with two of my friends, who are not trans. They’re queer, but they’re not rad. They’re just queers. Which is fine, but it’s hard to live in a studio when I’m a radical. It was really hot. I wore my binder all the time because I was hella dysphoric around them. I was having a rough time.
I was working. I was even trying to volunteer, doing some orientation plays for Seattle University. We were talking to the new freshman about the important issues via skits. I was helping out with things like that, but I was having a rough time. I don’t really remember much before [it happened], because it’s just really vivid during and after, I guess.
At the time, I was feeling really, really depressed. I was really struggling with gender stuff because I was realizing I couldn’t fit in the binary. I was sort of trying to fit in the binary before that. I was realizing, “What the fuck is going on with gender?” I was also just dealing with getting out of that relationship where we were really codependent. They had broken up with me, and I didn’t exactly want that to be the case.
[I] must have talked with them about being upset or something. They asked my two roommates to keep an eye on me. I don’t know what exactly they told them, but it seemed like they knew what was going on later.
I was really struggling and didn’t want that to be the case. My roommates wanted to go to the store. They were like, “You’re going to be okay?” and I was like, “Yeah.” I was convincing enough that they went to the store. I don’t think I tried that hard.
People don’t really understand suicide or anything around it, and don’t understand what people mean when they say they’re struggling with those things. [There's] a lack of education in general around that and what to do for your friends or your comrades who are struggling. Due to that, they left.
I think that I expressed to my ex that I had been hanging out on the roof. Whether it was that morning or the week before, I don’t really remember. But I expressed to them that I was hanging out there. Actually, I think that it was that morning or that day, though, thinking about it now. It’s been a little bit since I’ve thought about those details.
I guess it was probably that day. That makes more sense since they figured out that I was hanging out up there, and brought me back down to the apartment. They were like, “Let’s hang out down here.” I didn’t tell them, “Hey, I was about to jump off,” but I was sitting up on the roof just hanging out. You have to hop a little fence to get over there, so it’s not exactly where people hang out. You’re not supposed to. They brought me back down to the apartment, and that’s when they had the conversation with the ex, who said, “Don’t leave [Max].” Then, they left.
I don’t actually remember the details, but I said, to my ex, something along the lines of, “Wow, they left already.” Something sarcastic because I’m really sarcastic and dark, and I joke about death a lot—I think it’s a coping mechanism. My ex did the little video, FaceTime, thing because they were probably worried or whatever. One of us did it. I’m assuming it was them. I don’t know why I would have done that. Then we were on FaceTime and they were telling me not to hang up, probably texting the friends or calling them, telling them to come back. I don’t know what was going on on that end.
We’ve talked about it, obviously. We’ve processed, but not enough, probably.
Then I took a fuckton of pills and some other things. I did the things that I’m not going to go into detail about because I don’t really feel like telling people how to prepare themselves to do things like that.
Des: I don’t put those in anyway.
Max: I did the things. Then, I swallowed a lot of pills. Still, I immediately started feeling woozy, and was kind of sick. I don’t know how long it was before [my roommates] came back.
I was on FaceTime when I did this because [my ex] wouldn’t let me hang up. So I just was like, “Fine.”
This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s the thing that I regret most and hate myself for. Not that I did it at all—I was hurting—but that I did it on the video. I wish that I hadn’t involved my friends so much. I wish I would have gone off into the woods or something. I don’t know. I don’t regret the attempt, but I really, really feel awful about that, especially the video.
That’s the worst thing I’ve ever done, for sure, in my life. I’ve done a lot of shit, too, but I consider that the worst. How do you get over that? I’m pretty sure they still loved me at that point in time, even though they had broken up with me. I definitely still loved them—still love them now.
I don’t blame myself for the [attempt]. That’s hard. I don’t blame myself because it’s not my fault that I was having the feelings. Then, society was making me have the feelings. I don’t know. I just wish I would have… I guess you’re not really thinking very much about anyone else when you’re thinking about doing that, though.
I wish they hadn’t seen it, I guess, because it was probably like they were there, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Thinking about it in reverse, I just don’t know how I would feel, really.
We are not together. We’re actually not in contact right now. It’s not directly related to this incident but, in my opinion, I don’t think we could [get past it]. I mean, I think we can. We could work past it, if we took our processing time. But we couldn’t get past that is what I think.
That’s something that I’ve definitely done a lot of processing around. I feel like I’ve come to terms with most of it, but I still kick myself for just that part. For the effect on that relationship that it had. I think that they felt pressure, since they were my ex and I still had feelings for them, because they had broken up with me, or because they weren’t there. I was telling them I missed them, and they knew that I wasn’t really hanging out with many other people.
I don’t want to quote them because I can’t remember things from that long ago well enough, and I don’t want to fuck it up. I’m just going to say what I think, and some of it’s based on our conversations.
I think they must have felt really guilty and bad. I don’t know how they feel now, but I think they definitely thought that wouldn’t be happening if they hadn’t broken up with me. I didn’t say that, but probably my actions, feelings, and behaviors that I was presenting implied it, though. That’s not on them. I definitely feel weird thinking about my behaviors right before it. They were hell.
I’m an asshole. I don’t really smile at people. I hate cops and I get in fights and stuff, but I’m not an asshole to people who don’t deserve it. I’m not a fuckmunch. I’m just angry about things.
That really fucked up that relationship. That’s what I feel really bad about. I think that, even though we had other struggles, I don’t think it can pass that. I don’t think I really did enough reparations around that because I really don’t know what to do. I don’t know how you come back from that.
I feel terrible when I think about it, you know? Not about the rest of it, but exclusively that part. I’ve definitely done a lot of work around not feeling bad about the rest of it, and de-stigmatizing myself around that stuff.
I was expecting something entirely different. I probably had some idea that it might not work, but that was not a repercussion I had thought of at all. I didn’t really think about it budging between relationships. I’m sure I didn’t think too much about those alternatives because I had already thought about them all the time, since I had clearly made up my mind or whatever.
I felt like I had thought it through a lot, but now I did not. I was thinking a lot, but I was not… I don’t like the terms rational or irrational. The dialectical behavior therapy terms for it are “thinking errors” and “black and white thinking.” I was definitely not thinking how I do when I’m more level-headed. Level-headed isn’t a good term either—all the terms are awful—but anyway, I was not thinking like I usually do. I was way more extreme.
[My roommates] got back in time. They tried to make me throw up and stuff, and I wasn’t really throwing up. I don’t really know the science behind that stuff, but they found me in enough time that I wasn’t down for that long. My ex got a hold of them quickly and they came back around the same time as the ambulance.
They brought me down there. I don’t really remember much of walking down there. All I remember was being so scared. I don’t do well with hospitals. That was not a thing I expected, riding in an ambulance. I just didn’t consider it at all, that someone would call and do that.
The ambulance was scary as fuck. I already fear stuff but, immediately, I was like, “Fuck, I feel awful. I feel really sick, and I also think I’m going to live through this.”
I felt, not necessarily awful about living, but awful about what might happen, what people were going to do, what my dad was going to do, what my friends were going to say, and my ex… That was immediate. I was worried about that and I was afraid of what was going to happen next. My thoughts were, “Oh, now it’ll be hard somehow, harder to do it after [this].” I wasn’t sure what was going to happen.
I was scared and I just wanted to go home. I was wearing trans stuff, like a binder, and they were really shitty about that. I was conscious and trying to talk to them, but they didn’t care what I had to say because of what had happened. They didn’t trust anything I had to say, so they sort of ripped off my binder and wouldn’t [listen]. They were just being real shitty about it, so I was having a hard time with trans stuff. It was making me feel worse. I didn’t want to be in the hospital.
All these thoughts, like the fear and stuff, this was all running through my mind, but wanting to die wasn’t really in mind at all at this point. I was just so scared or mad that I didn’t even really think about that. I just wanted to get out of there. I had failed, I guess, is probably what I was thinking, originally. Now I had to deal with the repercussions.
I somehow convinced them to let me out of the hospital by dawn or so the next day. It had happened probably in the afternoon and I was there for maybe twelve hours. I wasn’t there long at all. I convinced them of what I just told you. The feelings of being really down, wanting to die, and all that were still there, for sure. I knew that. I knew that I should be in the hospital.
Not “should have.” I don’t think anybody should or should not go to the hospital at all. Fuck the medical-industrial complex. That shit does harm to a lot of people but, for myself, I felt like I should have been in the hospital at that time. I convinced them otherwise because I didn’t like hospitals, but also I just wanted it to be over as soon as it could.
I wanted it all to be over. I wanted to take it back immediately. It was such an awful thing that I felt like I did. I knew what other people would think and what they were going to say. I think it’s really sad that that’s the first thing in my head when I tried to kill myself, but that is what society does. Yeah, fuck stigma.
I got out of the hospital, walked my ass back to that apartment. I told my friends the same thing I said at the hospital, and they were like, “Alright.” They were still skeptical and weird for a little bit. They didn’t know what the fuck to do.
One of them definitely has talked to me about how they struggle with depression and anger, so that would make me think they’d be more understanding, but I think, particularly with things like suicide—or borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia and other things like that—those are hot button issues, like, “Don’t talk about them,” and, “Those people are hella crazy.” Nobody’s talking about them, and that’s the only reason that everybody’s coming to this conclusion. I feel like it won’t fix everything, but not talking about it is definitely not helping.
I’m not sure what would happen if we Googled, “What’s suicide?” right now, but if we Googled borderline personality disorder stuff, for example, the majority of what would come up would be books with titles like How to Deal with Someone Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder or Getting Out of a Relationship with Someone Who’s Borderline, How to Survive This 101, or, “Just found out you’re borderline? Look at all these things that are wrong with you. This is a fucking death sentence.” That’s with very few things that are talking about the experience at all. It’s mostly really awful stuff.
I wish I would have had someone there for me for that. I wish someone would have been with me when I Googled that for the first time because that was rough. I felt like the worst, awful person.
I’m sure they have some skim-the-surface resources of what to do when people are suicidal. “Ask someone for help,” or, “Call 911,” type things.
No, you fucking shouldn’t call 911 if that person hasn’t stated that it’s okay, because you don’t know what trauma they have. You don’t know what status they have in this country. You don’t know anything about their situation, so you should never jeopardize them and their safety like that, especially if they’re a marginalized person and will probably face things by police, et cetera.
That’s one of the main things that they tell you to do. What the fuck? 911? What are they going to do?
Des: Sometimes they’re going to shoot you.
Max: It’s ridiculous. Yeah, sometimes they’re going to end it for you, Dallas Winston-style. Sometimes they’ll end it, and sometimes they just come and make it worse.
They have those hotlines. I’ve tried to call some of those hotlines.
Des: Which ones?
Max: Now they have tons of text ones, and Trans Lifeline and shit. But the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the local county resources that they hand out, all the ones that they give to people at hospitals—the main accessible ones that you know about, basically—are all really fucking terrible. Especially if you talk about things like the schizophrenia or borderline stuff. Immediately they react really harshly towards that and treat you differently. It’s very apparent, even on the phone. I think they also follow a little note card thing.
I just haven’t experienced those to be helpful. I know that maybe those do help some people, which is why I’m not saying that all of them are terrible. But [for these to be] the main resources that they’re passing out? That’s bullshit.
Des: There’s nothing else.
Max: I know.
Des: It’s a fucking shame.
Max: There needs to be posters in schools like there are with sex education. That even took a little while for people to say, “Okay.” That’s going through a similar struggle, but completely different because of the different stigma around it. It’s death, not pregnancy and STDs. Sometimes those things can cause death, too, but this is just straight up death. I just think that it’s a huge issue, and it’s growing.
It’s a huge issue among trans people. We have days of remembrance around people being killed or killing themselves, et cetera. It’s definitely being studied. It’s known that these things are happening and that more resources are needed, especially for trans, POC, queer, and disabled folks, sex workers, and drug users.
I don’t know. Like I said, I haven’t studied this, so I don’t want to make up a proposal plan right here, like, “This is how we solve this,” because I don’t fucking know. I’m just a kid.
Des: What would have helped you?
Max: There are some things we could do for resources around suicide stuff. Awareness is probably one of the biggest pieces of that—just talking about it.
I think that also there’s all the intersectional pieces of it—all the things that lead up to suicide and the other issues that are causing that. I’m sure they’ve got the statistics for which ones are the most pressing issues. I don’t want to say one is more than the other.
One of my favorite things to talk about is the isolation, especially the isolation faced by queer, trans, disabled, crazy, drug-using, sex-working, and other folks. I think that contributes directly to the suicide rates in those communities. I think that people know that, but I don’t think they’re really like, “Fuck, we need to go to [work].”
There are some things to do on the surface, in the moment, but just like with homelessness and other things, you can’t exactly eradicate what the issue is. Some people choose that also, so it’s not always an issue.
Like I said, I’m working on that rad care thing. Even though I spend a hella lot of time alone, I think that community and collectiveness is the only way we’re going to fucking do anything. We can hold each other up.
I don’t know what the key is besides spreading awareness. The way that we talk about it needs to change from shaming the person to blaming society for what’s going on. Maybe there is stuff going on for the person in their head or in their family, but it’s also related or intersecting with things going on in society.
What about framing like we do with sexual assault stuff? It’s not something that person chose to do because they wanted to. For suicide and for sexual assault, they didn’t choose that. There’s a similar thing there. Both of them are impacted by society because the person who’s doing that is probably someone who was traumatized, abused, or affected by society, or isn’t given the proper resources to cope with things that were going on for them. That’s why they’re doing that. They’re not just some asshole…
Des: That’s exactly how it should be framed, “This is a thing that happens.”
Max: It’s a thing that happens. Shine lights on people who have survived that experience, like we do with sexual assault survivors in giving them microphones to talk in front of kids about, “This is what happened to me, and this is how it affected me. This is what you need to watch out for. This is what could [happen]. This is what you need to do if you think it's happening”—just, anything. I know that they talk to kids about stuff, but they don’t talk to kids about what to do when your friend’s on the roof and is freaking out. You don’t know what to do when you’re smaller than them and you can’t physically take them away from it.
There have been multiple times in my life where I have stopped people from attempting suicide—some radical people have the belief that you shouldn’t physically engage people like that, but these were people that I was close to, and I did it anyway. When I was younger, I stopped my girlfriend. I also tackle-grabbed someone from being hit by a car that they wanted to be hit by.
Those two experiences, I was never fucking taught how to deal with those. I wasn’t taught how to deal with a lot of things by the school or the system or anything. I was taught in other ways, but I feel like I would remember if they had some nifty education about what to do in those situations. They definitely didn’t.
Even in places like at the group homes, the shelters, and hangouts for kids like us, they still didn’t talk about it. These were places where it was happening all the time. They had to have known we were dealing with these thoughts with the things that we were all going through. Where were those posters?
Fuck jails. Abolish all prisons and juvenile detention centers—but since they exist, put some fucking posters on the walls talking about that shit. Those are places where people deal with that a lot. Not just the posters. Like with the sexual assault stuff, have seminars, talk to people, have workshops, and collaboratively get together like, “Hey, let’s talk about suicide. Let’s talk about how you feel about it. Do you think anyone around has ever exhibited feelings of this? Have you ever felt like this? What do you do when this happens to you? What do you think we should do for people?”
Again, I don’t really know what the solution is, but how the fuck are we going to figure it out if no one’s talking about it? If we had those workshops with lots of other brains who do know lots of things about suicide because they’ve experienced it or they’ve seen it for themselves in their friends… these people—some of them, at least—have important things to say.
Des: Talk to me about trans issues and how we can pay attention to trans issues in relation to suicide.
Max: First of all, trans kids are really fucking important, and so is protecting them. When kids are really young, allow them independence and freedom in their gender expression, however the fuck they want it. [Don’t] enforce these rigid gender binaries and gender norms that we’ve had for such a long time.
That’s [what’s] really important. Protecting the kids, being there for the kids, and giving the kids resources. I didn’t know what trans was until I was way too old. I’ve heard so many kids talking about how much worse it is to struggle with gender when you don’t know [trans is a thing].
The first time I ever thought about wanting to be trans was when somebody taught me about reincarnation. I thought, “Oh, cool. I can be reincarnated into a boy, or a frog, or something else,” not this horrible whatever. That was the first experience I ever had. I don’t believe in religion and didn’t at that time, but I thought that. [It was something I could hang onto.]
I still struggle with gender all the time. I still struggle with how society treats me because of the way I present my gender. I struggle with my body and how it presents itself. I struggle with the idea of the gender binary and people yelling slurs at me when I wear lipstick.
I struggle with gender, but now I know it’s mostly society’s fault for having all this ridiculous gender binary stuff and cispeople bullshit to begin with. [It has been valuable to learn] about all the different cultures that have people who identify as other genders, people who are highly respected, or even respected more than the men in some cultures.
Hearing things like that, or hearing stories where parents are accepting of their children, or hearing about resources that they have now for trans kids, like small packers and binders, et cetera… I think that those things—they don’t fix it—but they make it so much better. That’s people showing their solidarity and saying, “Hey, we still love you.”
When you don’t see those things, it’s like, “Where’s the love?” That’s that isolation thing I was talking about. You could be saying, “I’m okay with that. I’ll respect your name,” or whatever, but people [need to be] out there saying, “I’ll help you get money for surgery. I believe that you deserve this and you have the right to make decisions about your body. You don’t have to say you’re a boy just to get this surgery. You can get top surgery. Then, you can get chest surgery again if you want to.” Those are some of the ways that people need to show their solidarity with trans people.
[This community] struggles with one of the highest suicide rates. Forty-one percent of the community struggles with it. That’s way too fucking high. Every year at Trans Day of Remembrance, I can’t make it through. I’ve run events for the last few years and I always have to stop reading names and pass. I have to pass it off to someone because I lose it a little bit on that day.
I don’t know. It’s a day where we’re talking about it, but even then, we’re reading the names of people—or mostly butchering the names of trans people of color—in religious or religious-affiliated spaces where they wouldn’t even have wanted that to happen. Aside from the religion part, it’s mostly them saying these names, reminding them, “Look at all these fucking people that we’ve lost.” Yeah, we do need to remember that, but now what?
Now, they need to do something about it. Now, they need to look at why this is happening for trans people. If you do the little Venn diagram thing, trans people struggle with gender dysphoria and social things because of gender, isolation, et cetera. Things that aren’t at the same level of intensity for cispeople. Cispeople can struggle with isolation, but…
Des: [Not with] being completely kicked out of their families.
Max: Yeah. People rip on people who do the online dating stuff, but that’s one of the only ways to find out about and connect to other people who are queer and gay. In Seattle, people don’t even think about it, maybe, even though lots of people still use it, but in places like Utah, where I first started coming out? Fuck. When I found out about [dating websites], I was like, “There are queer people around me? That person kind of even looks like me, or has cool hair.”
It helps just seeing other people who are existing like you are and resisting like you are.
People rip on those [sites], but you can’t just go around saying, “Hey, you gay?” It doesn’t work like that. I wish. I do that sometimes to people, but mostly because I know them and I know they’re gay, or I’m teasing them or something. You can’t just walk up doing that, unfortunately.
I don’t feel people should have to say their gender and sexual orientation stuff. I’m just kidding.
Des: Just wear the labels.
Max: Just say exactly what you are and keep it on you at all times, just like your ID, but before you go to the bathroom. No.
Des: Hand out your gay card.
Max: Yeah, I think that they need to look at those things. We need to focus the energy on those resources, just like I was saying they do with the other, general suicide resources toward kids and stuff. They need to figure out the sources of these issues and work towards them, along with the awareness and workshops and everything. Try to actually stop it from happening. Stop the things that cause this, like, stop people’s depression from worsening and their gender dysphoria from worsening.
Maybe if I can never go to the bathroom at school and I try one time, I get teased or something. Or maybe I don’t. Maybe I just can never go and it’s really upsetting. Whatever. Something as simple as that, maybe that’s the last thing that made me think, “I can’t do this anymore just because I couldn’t fucking go to the bathroom at school.” That’s what makes you want to put a bullet in your head, because they won’t let you go to the bathroom.
That really happens. I’m sure that’s been the last bullet in a bunch of trans peoples’ heads, of names that we’ve said. “They won’t let me go to the bathroom. I just want to pee and they won’t let me do that…” I don’t know. That’s what I think.
Des: Last question. Is suicide still an option for you?
Max: I thought about this because I figured it might come up. I tried to come up with an answer. I want to say no because that was one of the worst things that I’ve ever done. Not the suicide, but adjacent things to that. That time in my life, I was doing some of the worst things out of feelings.
Yeah, I want to say no. It seems like I should, but I still think about it a lot. I think about it a lot differently than I did before, but I still think about it a lot.
It’s really hard to actively want to do it while keeping the memories of that time in my brain. I have to try really hard to block that stuff when I’m having these thoughts of, “This seems like a good idea.” I have to detach from those because that experience feels like it should have been, “We’re not doing that again, right?” Isn’t that what I was supposed to learn from that?
I did learn that it was awful and I don’t want to do that, but I still struggle with all these things that I’ve been talking about. The gender stuff and the isolation stuff, inaccessible venues, and everything centered around alcohol in twenty-one plus spaces. I still struggle with all these different issues enough that I definitely have the feeling that I want to not exist anymore.
Most of the time when I have [that feeling], I have the urge to do something about it, like go to a friend. Sometimes, when it’s really bad and I need medicine or something, I have to go to the hospital. Fuck the hospital, but sometimes you got to go to the hospital if you’ve got to go to the hospital.
I think that, most of the time, I have the experience to say, “That fucking sucked.” Even if it’s mostly the shame I took from that experience. Sometimes, if the shame is all I can hold onto, then, in that moment, I’ll take it. I don’t like that it bothers me so much; I don’t think that should be such a big thing. But in that moment, [I’ll take it].
I definitely still think about it. I had a recent experience where I didn’t attempt, but was feeling really crazy. I went to the hospital for the day and then left because I didn’t want to be there. I convinced them I was okay again. Then my friends helped me. I think that I definitely still think about it. As recently as today probably, I’ve had a thought or something.
I don’t know how to explain that it’s not the same. I think it almost feels like I know what happens, or I’m just afraid. Maybe part of it is that I’m afraid of what would happen with peoples’ reactions since I saw a little bit of how they felt about it before.
Even though everything feels so bad all the time, I mostly know that it’s not me. It’s everything around me. I don’t know. Even as much as I think I’m the problem, look at all the stuff that’s going on. Look at the people that are currently running for president. Look at the current campaigns that are going on around different political issues. I am not the problem.
Sometimes, remembering that I am not the problem [helps]. Even though I don’t want to exist, I don’t want to show them that I gave up and they won. I have to stick it out for that queer, trans, disabled, crazy, mixed trophy. They’re going to give me something at the end. I’ve got all those motherfucking tag teams. I’ve got to represent the statistics.
Des: That’s a good fucking answer.
Max: Maybe I can possibly stop other people. Not stop them from wanting to [not exist], but help them realize that there’s other options, people, and community. Even right now, my personal community’s actually pretty broken. I still know a few places where there’s community. I think we just need a lot more of that. A lot more community, a lot more talking.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world. If you are being sexually abused, call the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network's (RAINN) Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.
Max's story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Rose Armstrong for providing the transcription to Max's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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