My friend killed herself 6 years ago. She was my best friend once. People who knew her and who I told about her passing barely had any reaction, or simply were not surprised. I know that the news did not make any impact on their lives and they moved on as soon as they found out the news. Asked me if I was OK, went to dinner, went to the movies, went to a party. It made me angry that no one really cared, it made me not want to tell anyone about it, because of the lackluster reactions I was getting. I was angry that life went on, that my friend was cold and would never have a chance at experiencing anything beautiful like others would. Then I realized that you couldn’t blame any one – not her for taking her own life, not my friends who never knew her the way I did. She was fucking crazy. She alienated a lot of people, she did a lot of stupid things. She reminded me of one of those insane characters out of Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters. Everyone remembers her as this unstable crazy person. The only reminder of that is when I go through the old pictures in my phone, she is never present at any of the big outings, trips to upstate, or even just dinners. Her bat-shit craziness was the exact reason why we stopped being friends, why I cut her off. I had a choice whether to keep this person in my life, this person who is going to continue to flake and not be there when I need her, or take her for who she is. I decided to go with the first.
There is a bigger picture about the whole situation that no one is seeing. You see, she was born a boy. She was born in Croatia. When she was 5, war started. She told me once that while she was playing basketball with other kids in front of her home, someone started shooting at them and taking them out one by one. Later the playground turned into a graveyard. Then there was a whole story of them leaving everything behind and hiding in the back of an army truck in order to flee the country. They ended up in Australia and that's where Toni grew up. He actually grew up on the streets, because when his parents somehow found out he was gay, they kicked him out of the house. He was only 14. He met some trans girls who took him under his wing. He grew up cross-dressing and having sex for money, did lots of drugs (that he claimed fucked up his whole body for years). At some point he almost transitioned, but was too scared to go through with it at that time.Then he was discovered and signed as a model to one of the local agencies in Australia. Then Q Models signed him and sponsored his visa to the US. That's where we met.
His whole world was so fucked up that he never made any rational decisions. Once our friendship was over, he admitted that he was still doing heavy drugs and this is why he was never around and so unreliable. The last time I saw him was when he begged me to meet him for lunch before he moved back to Australia. He told me that during one of his fights with his husband, he stabbed him and ended up going to jail. The same day he was finally approved for a green card, but after his arrest it was obviously revoked and now he couldn’t stay in the country. He gained significant weight. He broke the news that he had started hormonal therapy. He already started doing hair removal laser treatments on his face. He said that he finally came to realize why he was doing all these loony things and why he was so unhappy this whole time. He thought he found an answer in becoming a woman. He brought me his Armani boots and told me to keep or sell them, as he was trying to get rid of all the things that would remind him of himself as a boy and that he was moving with nothing more than underwear. He said that he was going to stay with his family and that they said they would support him through the transition, they would go to family therapy with him and pay for his surgeries. He wouldn’t be able to contact me for a while, because his doctor told him that he needed to basically erase the past.
Tear sheets from an editorial Toni and I did back in the day
Couple years later, Amelia reached out to me. She said that she currently was living in the suburbs near London and working as a phone receptionist. Shortly after she moved to her parents’ place, they kicked her out AGAIN. What a fucking surprise. Her parents were still very backwards, even after years of knowing that their son was gay and was living with a man in New York. Theoretically they thought that they would be ready to handle it when she was there, but when they faced her and saw the reality, they couldn't cope.
She was reaching out to me tirelessly, first by emails, then by sending me messages on WhatsApp, then by calling me. She was always the one contacting me. I would never be the one to text her or call her myself. I think I still had a sour taste in my mouth from when we were friends, and it wasn't easy for me to just jump right back into a friendship with her. One of the times that we spoke over the phone she told me that she was expecting to “cut off her penis” in a couple of weeks. I had chills.
"Aren't you scared?,"
I asked her.
"No, I am thrilled, I can't wait! You have no idea how hard it is to be constantly conscious of your body, of tucking in every 20 minutes, going through the airport security, of wearing a bathing suit. Once when I went to see a doctor, I pointed out that I was a female, when he checked me, he simply walked out of the room and insurance told me they wouldn't cover my visit, because I lied about my sex."
About a month later, she was the one calling me again to tell me how her surgery went. She said that she was very happy that she had done it, she was still a bit sore, but now she had to dilate her vagina every day and it actually felt good. She said she was very unhappy with her tits, she looked like a porn star. She found this doctor who makes tits for supermodels and shit. She wanted to redo them, but it would cost $30,000. She said that she wanted to come back to the United States and maybe she would be able to as a new person, as a woman. I said I couldn't wait to see her and maybe I could come see her in London next year. That was the last time we spoke. Three weeks before her suicide she tried to FaceTime me, but I missed the call and never called her back.
When her ex left me a voicemail in early October of 2013, I did not even suspect that anything bad had happened.
When I called him a day later, he said that
"She killed herself."
Who is SHE? What? I don't understand. Who told you? How do you know? What?
He said that he spoke to her several hours before it happened. She seemed fine, and asked him to come see her. She mentioned something about a guy she was seeing in Australia with whom she had a bad conversation. She told me before that her new man wasn’t supportive of her reassignment surgery and he would constantly change his mind, breaking up with her then getting back together. She was drinking. Her ex told me that she went to a store and bought a second bottle of vodka. She killed herself the same way his other ex-boyfriend killed himself – she turned on her car and inhaled exhaust through an attached pipe, carbon monoxide poisoning. They said that if not that, she had so much alcohol in her system, that alone would have killed her.
A flyer from GMHC campaign that Toni modeled for
This is when I started realizing how everything happens for a reason, how ironic and fucked up life is. How maybe if her parents hadn’t kicked her out on the street at such a young age, but instead had accepted and supported their child, how if she had grown up in a loving family that didn't give a shit about prejudice or what others think, but put their flesh and blood first and foremost, maybe she would be someone else and somewhere else right now, not lying in a coffin? Maybe she would have been a self-sufficient, confident, and strong person who had backing, love, and support of her family. Maybe she would have found a cure for AIDS or cancer? Maybe she would have become a famous person of sorts that would go down in history? Maybe I would have never met her, but she would still be alive and well? How, if all these fucked-up things in her early life hadn’t happened, maybe she wouldn't be so unbalanced as to throw a knife at her ex-husband and go to jail, having her green card revoked. How, maybe if she had never met her ex-husband, she would have lived a more self-sufficient life instead of going crazy being confined in their Queens apartment and doing drugs all the time. How, if her ex didn't tell her how his other ex killed himself, Amelia would have not killed herself the same way? How, maybe if she had had more support and someone to lean on while she was going through the change, I wouldn't even be writing this right now? How, if I had accepted her attempts of friendship earlier, she would have felt that she could call me before she did this stupid thing?
The only photo of Amelia I got to see
What happens when someone dies? You simply never hear from them, they will not return your calls and you will never see them again, smell their scent, or hear their voice in real life. All that's left is a memory, pictures, and videos. As a boy, Amelia was so beautiful, she walked for lots of famous fashion houses, she shot for Vanity Fair. Did way more things than I could have done as a model. But what of it? Why does that matter anymore? The people that have put her in clothes, taken pictures of her, or shot with her will not ever think of her or how she is doing. Would they really care if they found out? They would probably say "That's sad." The point is, no one will ever remember her, she will NOT go down in history, I can count people who will shed tears for her on one hand, she is just another soul lost to the battle of unfair things in life. She was never really given a chance.
Amelia was only 27 years old, and her whole life she struggled to find something to hold on to, to find meaning and happiness. Back when I found out about her death I punched and punched my pillow asking her why the fuck she would do this to herself? Because of a fucking guy that would not even have a drop of remorse about what happened? But obviously that could not be the only reason.
Perhaps she thought that once she went through gender reassignment surgery, her whole life would change for the best. Only thing is, she didn’t realize she couldn’t outrun her demons, especially when they had been implanted within her since early childhood. Yes, it's fucking cliché, but if, only if, people had known better. If society were not scared of what they don't know or understand and therefore acted violently towards it. If we were only more forgiving. If we loved our kids the way they were and surrounded them with warmth and support. If only we were more educated on certain matters. If only instead of banning, punishing, making illegal, bullying, or making fun of people that don’t act in a generally accepted way, we built tolerance, understanding, and kinship as a whole human race… Maybe then Amelia would still be alive and happy, just like millions of other souls lost in this constant war for tolerance and acceptance? If only, if only, if only…
I will love you forever, my friend, my sister.
Happy Transgender Day of Visibility, please take care of your trans friends.