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By Jacquii Cooke

[Content Warning: The following content may evoke strong emotions and trigger memories. It aims to shed light on the issues faced by the Two-Spirit, Trans, Intersex, Gender Expansive, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Communities (2TIGE BIPOC) during Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. If you prefer to skip potentially triggering content, please refer to the Tips/Lessons Section Link below.]

Trans Empowerment Project (TEP) stands firm in our unwavering commitment to forge a world that is equitable, where every individual can bask in the joy of simply existing peacefully. We yearn not just to aid you in the pursuit of happiness, but to help you grasp it firmly, embrace it wholeheartedly, and nurture it ceaselessly. It is our unshakeable belief that we are entitled to experience unbridled joy in our day-to-day lives. We demand the fundamental right to exist without the abhorrent attempts at erasure and sabotage hurled at us by those who hold positions of power they don’t deserve. Far too many of us contend with our own internal demons, compelled to battle our own inner self-saboteur. We often have our own self-destructive thoughts and have no need for external forces to compound our pain, to deepen our wounds, or to amplify the struggles we face. 

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jacquii Cooke, Multimedia Specialist for TEP and former Program Manager of inTRANSitions (TEP’s direct aid program). Through this heartfelt testimonial, I intend to share personal reflections, drawing upon my own experiences of engaging in self-destructive behavior, of staring death in the face, all while desperately crying out for help. I suffered silently. I was (and still am) seeking solace from a world that seems all too eager to turn a blind eye, unwilling to freely give the peace and help we all ultimately need to thrive while striving to live our best lives.

The colloquialism “I can do bad by my damn self,” reverberates in my mind as a relentlessly echoing and sobering truth I heard daily in childhood. My lived experiences align perfectly with that very colloquialism, as witnessing the malevolence I absorbed and inflicted upon myself seeped deep into my soul, molding my anger into a toxic brew of depression. It is said that depression is simply anger turned inward, and I have experienced this truth intimately. Over the last two decades, my experience has followed an agonizing pattern: moments of triumph, followed by descent into darkness, descending further still until things became bearable, and finally, a glimmer of hope that allowed me to label it as good. Yet, against all odds, I stand here today, proudly proclaiming that my rollercoaster of trials and tribulations has settled on the platform of “better.” I am determined to live my best life, defying the odds that once threatened to extinguish my light. I am alive and mentally stable enough to share my story with those within our community, our Trans siblings who bear the weight of their own struggles, and those who stand as allies doing the real work to help others in the community.

Even now, the scars on my left arm vividly mark my first attempt at extinguishing that candle. I felt used, dismissed, discarded, completely alone, and left to wallow in my own self-pity. The burden of loneliness seemed like the straw that would break this camel’s back. I just knew there was no other viable alternative but to call it a day. But I was wrong. And fortunately, that night as I knocked on Death’s door, that door remained closed. After a trip to the emergency room, the stitches on my arm marked the beginning of my journey with mental health facilities, where I hoped to find the support I so urgently needed.

The memories of this unsettlingly haunting choice raised questions for which I didn’t see the answers. It’s an unfortunate set of recollections I have, but what if the answers had been truly visible? Twenty-six years after my first attempt, I wonder: what if there were solutions offered during my first in-patient stay at Lake Shore Mental Health Facility in Knoxville, TN? What if there were organizations like TEP and our inTRANSitions program, offering real resolutions for folks in similar situations instead of band-aid fixes? Today, the answers to these questions have become clear. And I want to share them, along with some positive and inspiring lessons I’ve gleaned over the years, because it does get better.

Back in 1992, there was barely language to define my Trans identity; or rather, there was language, but it was suppressed and cruelly cloaked in a blatant attempt at colonial erasure. LGBTQIA2S+ organizations, inclusive of the most marginalized within the community, were and still are slightly hidden from view. The first advocacy group I joined–the then University of Tennessee GLB Student Union–saw its acronym with important letters missing from what many naysayers now unironically refer to as the “alphabet mafia.” The struggle is real, but the tables are on the way to turning right side up, if gradually. The fight for representation and equity is coming to fruition through the brave (often brazen) visibility of our diverse experiences.

There are now mental health facilities dedicated to helping those of us in crisis. As a direct result of five years of therapy–something I am a vocal proponent of since it has proven a readily available tool in my arsenal of self-discovery and ownership of self-care,–I felt empowered to join Trans Empowerment Project’s dedicated team. The inTRANSitions program in particular has helped me immensely during my evolutionary journey, providing the support and resources needed to live a more fulfilled life. The inTRANSitions program and other organizations’ programs, whose ultimate mission is to uplift the community from places of struggle, crisis, and trauma to something better now absolutely do exist. The proof is with me now, proudly writing to you as TEP’s Multimedia Specialist, looking to reach out to folks who were or are in similar situations and offer some hope with my story. 

Opportunities exist for us when we continually stroll the path to evolving for the better, seeking happiness as if it were the storied pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. Many would say that we are the rainbow, and that we only seek to find ourselves, not confined to the shade, but in light-filled spaces filled with joy, equity, and mutual respect for each other’s dignity and right to thrive. 

Allow me to share some tips and lessons on breaking the cycle of merely pursuing such happiness, but attaining it. Here are six practices I’ve put in place for my own self-care and peace of mind. I certainly encourage others to do similar towards the goal of moving yourself beyond survival mode to thriving:

  1. Practice Self-Acceptance: Embrace and celebrate your identity. Learn about Trans rights, healthcare options, and resources available to you. Affirm self-compassion by endorsing your worth and uniqueness. Being well-informed in the arms of acceptance can empower you to make informed decisions about your own well-being.
  2. Set Boundaries: Learn to prioritize your self-care by setting boundaries with others. Clearly communicate your needs so that you protect your mental and emotional energy.
  3. Build A Support System: Surround yourself with supportive friends, family, and healthcare professionals who can offer a listening ear and are affirming of your identity.  Share your feelings and challenges, as talking about them can provide relief. 
  4. Explore Support Groups: Join support groups specifically designed for Trans folks experiencing similar feelings or challenges. Engage with media, books, and social platforms that uplift and represent Trans voices. Intentionally placing yourself in such spaces can foster a sense of community, belonging, and understanding, as well as help reduce feelings of isolation.
  5. Create A Safety Plan: Work to develop a crisis plan that outlines steps to take during a moment of crisis. This plan typically includes strategies to identify triggers, coping mechanisms, and emergency contacts to help you navigate in such moments.
  6. Celebrate Personal Milestones: Acknowledge your own progress and achievements. This can help build self-confidence and resilience. This strategy can help elevate your self-esteem and is the foundation on which you might find your own champion within. 

Now, as I continually try taking my own tips, evolving myself for the better, and transforming into the embodiment of my most authentic self, I urge you to take hold of this fervor and call for self-care, healing, and joy during Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Channel this testimonial and be encouraged to be your most happily authentic self every month. We are not called to struggle alone, there can be happy endings. Channel it into helpful action when you see friends, loved ones, and strangers alike enduring struggle.

We see you. And I know we must cooperate, finding our power together, advocating for the rights and well-being of our 2TIGE community, especially the most marginalized of us within it. Let us support one another, rejecting the notion that our existence is anything less than extraordinary. Together, we can create a world we’re proud to call home. We can create an existence where our every moment is painted with vibrant brushstrokes of love, joy, acceptance, healing, and empowerment!

Trans joy might be radical, but JOY is a birthright. Help us bring folks who are struggling from surviving to thriving and experiencing joy. The program that helped me get there is inTRANSitions. Make a donation for this life-saving work and sign up for updates to get involved. And together, daring to be better to each other and to ourselves, let’s make it happen.

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