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By Sydney Brouillard-Coyle

When I was invited to step in as the Nonbinary Peer Mentor at Trans Wellness Ontario in August 2020, I had a great mix of excitement and nervousness. 

I was excited for the opportunity to continue working for an organization that was doing amazing work within my community – where I had found a home. But I was also nervous, questioning what I would be able to bring to the role, if I would be able to help people, or if I would even like it. I never could have imagined myself working one-on-one with clients.

I still have those moments of questioning. When a client discloses something traumatic, or they are dealing with declining mental health issues, or have experienced something so outrageously ignorant and bigoted, I have a moment where I ask myself: “How am I supposed to respond to THAT?” And yet, somehow, the responses always seem to come. Maybe it’s because of my own lived experience; maybe it’s the Holy Spirit – or a little bit of both. But I have heard from my clients a deep gratitude for the opportunity to talk to someone who is nonbinary – who understands what they are going through because I’ve gone through it myself.

Growing up, I didn’t have the words to describe the way that I was feeling. I never really “fit in” to the idea of being a woman – in fact, I was viewed as much more of a “tomboy”. When I got to high school, I discovered that people could choose a nae and set of pronouns that felt right for them. My first nonbinary “role models” were those of my own age, and that still remains fairly consistent.

I have become that “role model” for many of my clients, which is simultaneously rewarding and terrifying. Many times, my first sessions with clients are spent holding silence with them as they cry, feeling so relieved to finally have words to describe how they are feeling – someone that they can be their true selves with. So many of them question: “Am I trans enough?” and I affirm – “Yes, you are: the only prerequisite to being trans is saying that you are.” It is the bond of mutual connection and understanding that makes peer mentorship such as valuable experience – both for the mentor and the mentee.

Unfortunately, not all sessions are always positive. Many of my clients are coming to me with years of trauma – from family, from schools, and from the church. This trauma can lead to mental health challenges, self-harm, and suicidal ideation and attempts. So far, I have only had to call a wellness check for one of my clients (though co-workers have called wellness checks for some of our shared clients), but it was not an easy decision to make.

When we live and exist in marginalized communities (queer and trans, BIPOC, disabled people, etc.), there are systemic barriers to accessing help. We often experience invalidation by medical professionals or police, a lack of understanding and general ignorance about who we are, or even outward forms of microaggressions and discrimination. As I called that wellness check for that client, I did so knowing that the next several sessions would be discussing their severe gender dysphoria that would arise from the misgendering, dead-naming, and invalidation of their very existence by the police and people at the hospital. Each of these acts puts trans people more at risk for mental health and suicide. I had to make that call knowing that my client’s situation could get even worse by doing so.

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. I know that on that day, my social media will be filled with crisis lines and people posting “you can talk to me”. These are important steps, but they are superficial at best. We need to dig deeper and talk about actual suicide prevention, instead of just crisis intervention. We need to address the structural issues of poverty, homelessness, trauma, racism, sexism, ableism, classism, queerphobia, transphobia, inequitable access to healthcare, and all of the other contributing factors to suicide and negative mental health. We need to ensure that people who are trained in diversity, de-escalation, and suicide prevention (ASIST) are responding to wellness checks so that people actually feel safe to ask for help – and to receive the help that they deserve. We need to call on our government to increase funding for mental health care, especially for organizations serving vulnerable populations.

Without addressing these systemic barriers and injustices, we will consistently be playing “catch-up” and praying that our clients, our friends, and our family make it till tomorrow, because the system only cares if you’re about to die – not about everything that got you to that point.

World Suicide Prevention Day provides us with the opportunity to hold these important discussions and to advocate for real, systemic change. Rather than using this as the time to share a small thing on Facebook and forget about it an hour later, let’s use this as a springboard for concrete actions.

“May God bless you with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their path to joy. May God bless you with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.” (The Fourfold Franciscan Blessing).

Sydney Brouillard-Coyle (Ney/Nem/Nir) is co-chair of Proud Anglicans of Huron and music director at St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Ney serve as the Nonbinary Peer Mentor and Education Coordinator at Trans Wellness Ontario, amongst many other roles.