Listening to Lucy

On 28th May the inquest verdict was returned on Lucy Meadows, a trans woman whose death had sparked a wave of media speculation, a protest outside the offices of the Daily Mail, and two online petitions calling for the sacking of a Daily Mail columnist. This was Richard Littlejohn, who three months before her death had questioned the wisdom of her continuing to teach at the same school at which she had previously taught in a male role. The inquest verdict was suicide, a verdict that most commentators and campaigners had been assuming long before they gave the coroner time to report. I had written on several occasions in March and April about the indecent haste with which trans commentators and activists had rushed to assume that Lucy’s sudden death was suicide and that it was linked to Richard’s article. Nonetheless, I was not surprised at the suicide verdict, although I was disappointed for the family’s sake, as I have had in the past to offer pastoral support to people dealing with the suicide of a loved one. Nor was I surprised that her suicide was not connected to press intrusion, because such intrusion appears to have mostly ceased by mid-January.

That her death was not connected to press intrusion might surprise you, as most media and activist responses have focused on the coroner’s unfortunate closing comments, when he turned to the press and said “Shame on you all.” Those comments were unfortunate as they overshadowed the evidence of the inquest that Lucy had coped better than even she expected with press intrusion. More importantly, it overshadowed Lucy’s own words from one of several letters that she left. One of those letters was addressed to the coroner, which he read out at the inquest. In that letter she not only failed to mention the press, but dealt with other issues that might be thought to have led to her death. She noted that she loved teaching despite its stresses, that she had a plan in place to settle her debts, that she was happy that her estranged wife (they separated in 2011) had found a new partner, that issues around her trans status were always improving, and that she had been overwhelmed by the support of family, friends, and the wider community.

The reasons that she did give for choosing to end her life are more difficult to write about. Not so much that she said that she was suffering loss and pain from the loss of her parents, close friend (or lover), and a grandparent, which is not included in what Lancashire Times presents as the whole letter. Rather, the difficulty is in what the Lancashire Times does include, namely that Lucy chose to end her life because of her worldview. That is something that does not fit well with the general attitude to suicide in Britain, where the dominant influence is the charity, The Samaritans. Although that charity is at pains to point out that they are not a religious organisation, they do suffer from the legacy of having been set up in the 1953 by Chad Varah, a Church of England priest. One aspect of this legacy is that they clearly come under the cultural influence of Christianity in the notion that suicide is always a bad thing. If I followed their Tips for Journalists I would now be telling you that Lucy’s death was a tragic waste or an avoidable loss. That would be the final indignity for her in death: to be maligned as a victim, which is language that The Samaritans say that the media should not use. I would also not be able to tell you why their advice is so inappropriate in Lucy’s case, because I am not supposed to discuss the contents of a suicide note. To Lucy, The Samaritans’ advice is cultural imperialism. She spoke of holding a different worldview to most, and while we do not know if that was a philosophical or religious one, it does mark up that The Samaritans continue to operate within the confines of a Christian view of suicide. My academic training is in theology, so I am more qualified than most to challenge their cultural imperialism, but that does not mean that I can readily understand Lucy’s worldview.

I suffered a lot of suicidal thoughts (or ideations) when I was last employed as a priest. I thankfully ignored those thoughts because I knew that life held something better, namely the chance to do as Lucy did and stop living my life in the male mode with which I was so uncomfortable. I resisted those suicidal thoughts even when an anti-depressant was causing me to have them up to 20 times each and every day. I simply dismissed them saying “What are you doing in my head, I have no intention of ending my life just as I am finally going to start living it properly?” Like Lucy, I transitioned, but life did not magically become plain sailing. This included going through consecutive bereavements, just as Lucy did. In quick succession, I had one friend murdered and another dying in a domestic accident, and all this while finally starting to seek help with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder triggered by a rape three years earlier. Yet I never saw suicide as a way out, so while I would be capable of writing a theological essay on the cultural imperialism of The Samaritans, I still find writing about Lucy’s letter difficult. Yet, as practically no other trans writer is paying any attention to the words of one of their own, I will write about them. In honour of Lucy, I refuse to be silenced by The Samaritans.

Lucy said that she held a different worldview and as such expected that many would not see her suicide as a rational act. Her death was not a tragic waste because this letter shows the clearly reasoned dignity with which she choose to die. Nor was it a lost opportunity, for she had been working with mental health professionals and made clear in her letter that she was neither depressed nor mentally ill. I am one of those who cannot understand her decision, given my track record of resisting suicidal ideations, but I do not consider her actions irrational. I have to respect that it was her decision and not shirk from acknowledging it as so many others in both press and trans circles are doing. She made a choice to end her life, having felt that she had achieved everything she had set out to do (such as getting the Press Complaints Commission to force The Daily Mail to remove Richard Littlejohn’s article). Many trans people online have struggled with the thought that someone just beginning a new life in transition could end it. Even after the inquest verdict and this moving letter, we have had prominent trans figures writing that of course it was the press intrusion and general transphobia that drove her to her death, regardless of what the coroner said or Lucy wrote.

Difficult as it is for the trans community (or Hacked Off) to accept, Lucy was not driven to her death by anything, press or otherwise. She had what is a rare worldview in Britain, namely an understanding of suicide as something that you can embrace without being driven to it by mental ill health or sudden desperation. I share the view of many that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but Lucy’s perspective was different. She was not choosing to end her life because of a problem, but because she felt that she had nothing to keep her in this life. I am glad that in our culture her worldview is a minority one, but I will not demean her memory, or her touching letter to the coroner, by following The Samaritans and denying that her worldview exists. It is now time for trans and press activists to accept Lucy’s dignified exit and stop trying to resurrect her memory for a cause that she did not espouse.

Mercia McMahon © 2013