“It’s been long and brutal and full of a lot of tears and angst, and it’s finally coming to a close,” she told her friends in a post last week on Facebook. “Ten days ago I purchased a shotgun, and today, after the required California waiting period, I picked up that shotgun. A few of you have seen me offer up countdowns and references to October 1st at around noon; that was my nod towards this outcome.”
With that Kate von Roeder, 27, a local transgender woman, told her friends that she was ending her life last Wednesday.
Von Roeder explained that her decision to kill herself was, in part, because of her struggles to make the transition from a person born as a man to one who identifies as a women. “I shouldn’t have done it,” she wrote of her transition. “Not because I’m not trans, but because I didn’t have a fraction of the personal strength to succeed at it, unlike some of the amazing trans people I’ve been privileged to know.”
Von Roeder also cited her physical struggles (“heat sensitivity, and more recently hair loss”) and her “mental pain (I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.)”
Von Roeder’s suicide is a tragedy that reflects the alarming rate of suicide among a trans people. A study by UCLA’s Williams Institute released earlier this year found that an overwhelming 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide during their lifetimes.
David Bond, the vice president of programs at the West Hollywood-based Trevor Project, said that the lens through which trans people experience the world is “often marked with discrimination, harassment, fear … and even hatred.” Those experiences, Bond said, create “a high level of vulnerability … that really eats away at your resilience” and makes it harder to pick yourself up in times of strife.
“That’s what puts you at higher risk,” said Bond, a licensed social worker. “The transgender population is so consistently met with either face-to-face discrimination or institutionalized discrimination.”
Von Roeder’s Facebook page indicates that she moved to West Hollywood this year, although the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office identified her as a Los Angeles resident. Von Roeder worked as technical analyst for Riot Games until September 2013. She was also for the competitive video game Dota 2.
“I don’t know what comes next, and that’s intimidating,” von Roeder told her Facebook friends. “But I’ve always believed in, well, something. And even if that belief is wrong, and there’s nothing but blackness waiting for me, it beats living day after day trapped in my own misery. It beats being exhausted… All the time.
“I’m scared but I’m excited. There’s tears, but under them there’s this… giddiness, a spring in my step that I’ve never had before. All the hurt and the pain and the constant need to compare myself to all the normal people I meet.. That’s all *done*. And that’s very cool.”
Bond said that it is important to know there are resources available for those like von Roeder who need help. Although the Trevor Project is focused on LGBT young people ages 18 to 24, its lifeline, which is available 24/7 at (866) 488-7386, can offer a referral to others. Bond also cited http://www.glbtnearme.org/ as a good way to find resources.
If someone you know is struggling and may be suicidal, Bond said, the most important thing is to “really honor that person’s experience. Be a person in their life who validates their humanity.”
If you’re not sure if someone might be suicidal, it is okay to ask him or her whether they’ve been thinking about it, Bond said. Some people have a misconception that this will plant the idea in their head, but that is not the case—talking about prevention is helpful. However, he noted, talking about the details of a suicide that has happened (such as a celebrity suicide) can be harmful. If you ask and the person gives any indication that they have been thinking about suicide, Bond said, “really take them seriously.”
Von Roeder ended her Facebook post by apologizing to her friends for “inflicting” herself on them over the years, an apology that was contradicted by numerous comments from her friends, who scrambled to call her and alert the police and who expressed their love for her and their distress at not being able to rescue her.
“I hope this is a joke, Kate,” wrote one friend. “You are a very talented person and I know have made people happy.”