Heartbroken dad opens up about the devastating reality of losing trans child to suicide

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A Cambridgeshire dad has opened up about the painful impact of losing a trans child to suicide during lockdown.

John, a father from East Cambridgeshire, described how his child Alex died by suicide in April 2020 – a short while after the UK entered national lockdown. The father shared his story with CambridgeshireLive to increase understanding among parents and raise awareness about suicide among LGBT+ youth.

John, whose name was changed for anonymity, said he didn’t know Alex’s preferred pronouns “until they’d gone”. He said his family was surprised but supported their children when Alex changed their name.

“I think some trans teenagers have a poor perception of how their parents are going to deal with the changes going on for them,” John said. “Sometimes that suspicion may be justified, sometimes we can surprise them.”

When Alex would bring partners home, John said the family would “treat them as we would our other children’s boyfriends of girlfriends”.

‘I told them: “You are who you feel you are”‘

John said Alex eventually decided to try and live away from the family which was a “bit of a bombshell”. The family lived in a small village in East Cambridgeshire away from Alex’s social life.

He said Alex found a room at a charity provider. Though the family wanted Alex to stay at home, John said: “We felt if we pushed, we would make them more unhappy.”

“We wanted to keep on good terms with them and be able to visit, take them for coffee and teach them how to drive, rather than lose all contact,” John said. “So we agreed and helped them move out. We hoped they would be back with us in time.”

After moving out, Alex told their family about changing their name. John described how they hung the name change certificate on Alex’s bedroom wall.

“I knew I would trip up and say the wrong name at first, but I told them, ‘You are who you feel you are,'” John said.

Because of the move, Alex changed GPs which meant the support they received suddenly stopped. John said Alex distrusted mental health professionals and had a history of self-harm.

‘Alex felt the gender clinics were woefully underfunded’

John said Alex was impacted by long NHS waiting lists to be seen for gender dysphoria. He added: “Alex felt the gender clinics were woefully underfunded.”

“Waiting as a young growing trans person means they are becoming more and more the gender they don’t want to be which causes significant dislike in their own body.”

When the first national lockdown hit in early 2020, Alex was furloughed from their job. John said Alex asked if they could come home not long after that.

John agreed to pick up Alex the following morning. But that evening, a policewoman arrived at the door. The officer said Alex had been found dead from a suspected suicide.

“We only found out after that, that Alex had changed their pronouns,” John said. “I wish we’d known all along, but I think Alex didn’t want to put us through that.”

‘We plan to celebrate their life fully when we can’

Due to COVID-19, John said they could only have a small funeral for Alex. Their grave was decorated with rainbow flags, and the family plans to celebrate Alex’s life “fully when we can”.

John wants young people to not underestimate their parent’s love for them, as they were able to surprise Alex a few times with their support.

He said: “Nowadays we’re struggling to work out what normal is, I know everyone is. One of the certain things is that nothing is normal.”

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.