Okay, So It’s A “Heavy” Topic for a Book

imagesOkay.  So, not everyone wants to read a “heavy” book about teen suicide.  I get that.  It is often much more comforting to build a fire, sit in a comfy chair, and read an entertaining book that sweeps you away from the miserable polar vortex that has descended on half of the country.

But there’s another vortex, if you will.  While it may not be entertaining, it’s damn important.  The rate of teen suicide has reached a 40-year high.  That’s serious stuff: dead serious.  (Hmmm . . . good title for a book.)

But all is not gloom and doom.  There is so much we can do to help break the cycle of teen suicide.  We can feel good about how we talk to friends and family.  We can be aware of the warning signs and make a move if we think there’s trouble up ahead.  We can line up some folks we trust who can connect with health professionals who know how to treat underlying problems like depression and/or anxiety disorder.  Hell, we can just be a good friend.

A marketing pro whom I respect read the 2nd edition of Dead Serious over the holidays.  (Yep, I snagged the title.)  Maybe not the best time to read anything heavier than A Christmas Carol or to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  (If only it were so.)  She thought the book was important and well done.  But her gut told her that this is a book that people would much prefer to buy online or check out from their local library.  She had a hard time envisioning readers walking up to the cashier at their local bookstore, smiling at the person behind the counter and plopping down their money for a book about suicide.  They’d feel uneasy.  Or maybe embarrassed.  You know, like the boy buying his first copy of Playboy or a young wife sheepishly purchasing a how-to about kinky sex.

Well, the marketing pro may be right.  I hope not, but what do I know?  I just write the books and hope that someone else can help sell them.

But then, I wonder, what accounts for the fact that the 1st edition of the book sold almost 90,000 copies some three decades ago?  There was no social media.  No online book sites.  No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No Instagram.  And no ebooks to be downloaded at the library.  Nope.  People either bought a book at a bookstore or librarians bought copies to fill their shelves.

Mind you, thirty years is a long time ago.  I’ve unearthed some of the yellowed accounting notices that I received from publishers back then.  All they reported was whether the book had been sold in the U.S. or Canada, how many copies, and the price per each.  And that was it.  Translation: I don’t have a clue who bought the book or what motivated them.  I didn’t receive any comments on my web site or customer reviews on Amazon.  I was in the dark and will forever be.

You could do me a big favor and help clear things up.  Walk right up to the bookstore cashier and, with a wide grin and charge card or cash in hand, tell her how long you’ve been waiting for a book like this one and how anxious you are to get home, stoke the fire, settle in to that cushy chair and have a good read.

 

6 Stressors LGBTQ Teens Face That Most Straight Teens Do Not

All teens worry about the same things: grades, making friends dating, getting into college.  But LGBTQ teens face an extra set of stressors that straight teens do not.

  1. BEING “OUTED” –  Having someone identify your sex/gender identity before you’re ready.

    “I first came out to my dad, sister, and two really close friends.

    One of those friends decided to tell pretty much everyone on our

    baseball team because, in his words, he wanted to warn them.

    “I was really mad at him. My teammates started acting kind of

    weird around me, they stopped inviting me places, and things

    like that. It was my senior year of high school so I decided to just

    stick with it. I stopped being friends with the guy who outed me

    after that.”

    It is NEVER okay to out someone without his/her permission.

  2. REJECTION BY FAMILY & FRIENDS –  In Growing Up LGBT in America—a 2012 survey among more than ten thousand LGBT youth ages thirteen to seventeen—the teens were asked to describe the most important problem facing their lives. “Non-accepting families” ranked number one, with 26 percent of the respondents. When they were asked to describe one thing in their lives they would like to change, 15 percent said “my parent/family situation.” For those teens—particularly those who are not out to their family—they often fear how their family will react, knowing they are homo-/bi-/transphobic or swayed by their religion that condemns homosexuality. Still, given the fear of rejection and the disappointment they may well cause their family, more than half of the teens surveyed said they are out to their immediate family, about half said they have an adult in the family they could turn to for help, but less than a third chose their family among a list of places where they most often hear positive messages about being LGBT.

  3. PHYSICAL SAFETY AT SCHOOL AND BEYOND – LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school. More than one third say they don’t come out at school because they will be treated differently or judged. Growing Up LGBT in America supported the fact that growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender can be a rough ride with all kinds of challenges. When asked what the most difficult problem they were facing in their lives “these days,” 21 percent said “trouble at school/bullying.” (Interestingly, 22 percent of non-LGBT youth listed “trouble with classes/exams/grades.) The report found that 51 percent of LGBT youth have been verbally harassed and called names at school. That number compares to 25 percent of non-LGBT students. Despite these statistics, a healthy 75 percent of LGBT teens say that most of their peers don’t have a problem with their gender identity. LGBT youth are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked, or shoved at school.

  4. HARRASSMENT & ABUSE –  

    Nineteen-year-old August, who identifies as a non-binary transgender,was sexually abused at school from the time she was ten until age twelve.  She doesn’t remember much from that time: “Probably a survival mechanism. I felt like a robot. I figured my abuser would either leave or that I’d go to another school.” Understandably, August hated to go to school but because she wasn’t being bullied in the “traditional” sense, her parents didn’t get it. “I couldn’t tell them. They would never understand.”

    August didn’t know the word rape, didn’t even hear the word until a year after the abuse began. To this day, she is deeply upset that the school withheld information because the teachers and administrators didn’t want to upset the students or add to their own discomfort. August tried her best to put up a good front. She didn’t want anyone to find out about the sexual abuse. “I showed just enough emotion so people didn’t think something was going on. Any time I thought I might share the secret, I shut down. I didn’t tell anyone until this year.”

    To make things even more confusing, she began having feelings for girls, not boys. “I had never heard the word gay or seen any evidence of gay people. In fact, I thought I was an alien and meditated a few times to see if I could unlock my memories of having lived on another planet.” Things just didn’t add up. In eighth grade, August had a boyfriend, went to church every day, and tried to “pray the gay away,” as people say. “I deeply hated myself and prayed to have the strength to fix myself.”

    In her freshman year, a friend who decided she didn’t want to be friends outed August called her a dyke. “It was bad back then but, as I look back, I see it as positive. I didn’t know how much longer I could stay in the ‘closet.’”

    August developed an eating disorder (ED) when she couldn’t put the sexual assault behind her. “Subconsciously, I hoped I’d get sick and die.” In high school, she attempted suicide a “couple” of times. “I had other brushes with sexual assault that brought up everything from the past. I felt trapped, hopeless.” She overdosed. Took pills at night and was in bed the entire night before her parents found her. She spent a week in the hospital. “I’ve been on my death bed more times than I can recommend.” Each time after recovering, “I would chuckle a bit and askmy parents how many times had they been sitting with me next to my hospital bed. They probably thought I was mentally ill. I did see a therapist but was misdiagnosed with depression and PTSD. Eventually, I was told I was bipolar. I was on medication for a while but didn’t think it was helping. I’m off it now and have learned to live with my mood swings.”

    And she’s “found community.” “I’m involved in a youth program for LBGTQ teens. It’s the first time I’ve been around queers my age and heard them talking about abuse, self-abuse, gender . . . It’s really validating, comforting. It has affected my mental health in a very positive way. I am not alone.”

  5. HOMELESSNESS –  It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that because somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, they must be delinquents who cause tremendous discord at home or who are running from the law or unable to abide by rules set bytheir parents. Not true. The majority of homeless LGBT youth are what David Bond, vice president of Programs, The Trevor Project, labeled “refugees or asylum seekers” who are escaping really bad conditions at home or have been rejected, often kicked out. According to one study, 26 percent of gay teens were kicked out of their homes when they came out to their parents.

    Parents who are unwilling to accept their children’s gender identity are seen as adversaries instead of allies. They may have physically abused their children and, worse yet, a relative or close friend to the family may have sexually abused them. For many homeless LGBT youth living on the street (or in shelters or foster care), their only way to “survive” has been to choose the worst of two evils: fend for themselves or stay in a toxic, often dangerous situation.

  6. SUBSTANCE ABUSE – National research has shown that substance abuse among LGBT youth is more than two times compared with their peers. It’s not a stretch to understand why vulnerable kids who don’t cope well with stress can turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to numb their pain. It’s a way to survive.

    So, what makes one kid resilient and another at risk for substance abuse and other bad choices? David Bond of The Trevor Foundation has some ideas:

    Poor self-esteem

    Poor physical and/or mental wellness

    Little or no satisfaction with life

    Trouble making friends/feeling connected to other people

    “We each have the ability to improve, even strengthen each of these protective factors,” writes Bond in an op-ed for The Advocate. “It’s when these base elements, the things that make each of us who we are, come under chronic attack and are threatened that we become vulnerable.”

5 Reasons Why I’m Publishing a 2nd Edition of Dead Serious, A Book First Published 30 Years Ago

Jane Leder, Author

2nd edition of Dead Serious

After 30 years, why write a 2nd edition of  Dead Serious, a book about teen suicide (Atheneum/Avon)?  Hasn’t the subject been thoroughly covered?  Aren’t the library shelves loaded with other books on the subject?  Aren’t online book sites like Amazon brimming with competing titles?

The answer is “No,” “No,” and “No.”

Reason #1:  Sure, there are many other books about teen suicide that have been written in the past three decades.  But there is always room for more.  After a dip in the number of teens taking their own lives, a 2015 National Center for Health Statistics study reported that the suicide rate among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 reached a 40-year high.  Between 2007 and 2015, the suicide rate for those girls doubled.  For young males, there was a 31 percent increase.  Those statistics alone are reasons for writing and publishing a 2nd edition.

Reason #2:  Home computers were laughably primitive when I wrote the 1st edition of Dead Serious.  Not until the mid-1980s when the first word processor was introduced did regular folks begin to see the real benefits of owning a home computer.  For most kids, it was the availability of games—albeit mere precursors of today’s games—that was the main attraction.  The World Wide Web wouldn’t be available until 1989.  The term “surfing the net” didn’t hit our lexicon until 1992.  Back in 1987, people actually communicated by making a phone call or writing a letter.  Unlike today where so much is done electronically (and, in some cases, anonymously), kids at the end of the 1980s talked face-to-face.  Their social skills were well honed.  They could “read” cues like facial expressions, body gestures, and tone of voice, whereas today’s teens are often stymied when they put down their electronic devises.

Reason #3:  There were no cell phones.  No texting.  No social media.  A site like Facebook didn’t launch until 2004.  Before then, problems like bullying were confined to school or to the neighborhood.  Home was a safe zone.  Bullying stopped at the front door.  Once inside, victims didn’t have to worry about nasty text messages, Facebook postings, Instagram photos, tweets on Twitter—the list goes on.  (Sure, teens today can shut down all social media and turn off their cell phones.  Fat chance!)

Reason #4:  Back in 1987, gay teens (and adults) were in the proverbial “closet.”  Talk about gender and sexual identity in schools—everywhere, for that matter—was too risky.  It was illegal and, in some states, a crime to marry someone of the same sex.  In 1996, President Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.  And nowhere on TV or in the movies could LGBTQ teens (Acronyms that have been expanding more recently) see images of themselves.  There were no role models.  They had to go it alone.

Reason #5:  As with issues of gender and sexuality, talking about sexual abuse, self-harming and suicide was taboo.  Only now, are we seeing a groundswell of women who are sharing their stories of sexual abuse.  And with a TV series like “13 Reasons Why” (a series with which I have a lot of problems,) the topic of teen suicide is, some would say, encouraging a national discussion.  But the stigma that hovers over suicide has not abated.  Many suicides are officially ruled as “accidents.”

So, why did I write a 2nd edition of Dead Serious (with a new subtitle: Breaking the Cycle of Teen Suicide)?  Let me count the ways.