ryley courchene.png

This one breaks my heart a little extra.

Ryley Courchene was 29 years old when she killed herself in late September, 2015.  She had studied at the Marvel Beauty School in Toronto, and her Facebook shows a love of unique nailwork that she did for friends.

I wish I could tell you more than that. I really do.

But Ryley Courchene’s suicide has not been touched by any major Canadian media outlet, and only one American outlet. Her Facebook page has been turned into a “Memorial” page, so I can’t see much of it anymore.

I don’t know what kind of food Ryley liked. If she was in a relationship. If she had a funny pet, a bad roommate, an allergy to shellfish. I don’t know anything about her, but her loss still pains me when I look at my other trans sisters and know, it could be any of them.

Picture: Images of a temporary memorial to Ryley, made by friends in her Toronto neighbourhood. Her name is written next to a transgender symbol, and underneath, the words “You will not erase us.”

This has been a long week of making posts like this. They are heavy; they are hard to write, and hard to read. I really appreciate every one of you who takes the time to come and see these posts. To remember, for a moment, these little sparks in a world that can seem so dark.

I had a really unique opportunity this week to go back to my former high school–or more accurately, to meet up with them, about two hours from where I live, at a camp that hosts retreats when summer season is over. Since leaving my high school I’ve become friends–really friends–with my former Vice Principal and teacher, Rob Switzer. After meeting up for coffee, he graciously invited me to come along to their camp for Grade 9 students to encourage leadership and community among those who were still new to the school.

The first night of camp, I was privileged to sit on a Diversity panel with another former student who came from a background of relative poverty, as well as a current LCVI student who is a practicing Muslim. I spoke about my own history as non-binary trans person, with a long history of anxiety and depression, as well as my faith background. Guided by my friend Rob, we all answered questions about who we were and how we grew through high school–things we wished we had known, recommendations for personal growth, and how to be part of the incredible community at that high school.

After the panel, a lot of the kids–maybe a dozen? Had questions for me. So many of them were selfless–how do I help my friend/sibling/girlfriend who has anxiety? What can I do about someone I love who has depression? My sibling has just come out as non-binary and I just want to know what is the right thing to do. I was floored by the depth and care of these 14-year-olds. Several of them skipped the evening activity to continue chatting with me in the camp’s dining area. One of them is starting a graphic novel and wants to have a character inspired by me (ego, much???)

Today, this morning, I led a wonderful, if exhausting, workshop. Gender and Sexuality 101. There were 130 kids at Leadership Camp–there were at least 75 of those kids in my workshop, with several others, staff included, popping in and out when they could.

I had been asked by a number of people before I went to camp if I would be “dumbing it down” for the Grade 9s. I decided to take a risk–I didn’t do it. I didn’t simplify any of it. We just tackled it head on. And they soared. They were, surely, uncomfortable at times–but they all soared, and they all listened with rapt attention, despite their obvious unfamiliarity with the topics we were discussing. They listened well, they shared together, and they had insightful questions at the end. I was absurdly proud of all of them.

These kids–young adults?–These beautiful humans were so open and willing to learn. They were better than any workshop I’ve run for adults. And in the Transgender Week of Remembrance, I needed this. I needed something hopeful.

I’m not totally blind about this. I’m sure those kids will go home and some of them may still fling the word “gay” around like an insult. But my high school was a special place, and I am glad to see, five years on, that it continues to embody a spirit of welcome and community. I was honoured that they included me this week, and I dare to hope it even made a difference for some. I think that’s all we can do in the face of frightening statistics and, yes, blog series about all the people we’ve lost to violence and self-harm.

Two more days to come. Thank you again for being here.

For a more full list of those being commemorated for Transgender Day of Remembrance this year, click here. 

To view the other posts in my Transgender Week of Remembrance series, click below:
Sunday | Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday

If you’re looking for a distraction from your brain, click here for guided meditation or here to play a ten-minute flash game about a cat or here for calming manatees.