A California mother is calling for broader, better support for transgender, genderfluid and non-gender-confirming teenagers after recently losing her trans son to suicide.
Kyler Prescott, 14, locked himself in the bathroom and took his life last week, his mom Katherine Prescott, 47, told ABC News today.
"The passing of my son was the most devastating, terrible thing that could ever happen to any parent," Prescott said. "But I want to use my pain now to help make change for the better and to help spread support, understanding and awareness trans youth and their families need."
Prescott explained that Kyler was born with female genitalia, but he came to her when he was 13 and said he identified as a boy. She added that Kyler also was diagnosed with depression, which made transitioning more difficult.
Though the family accepted Kyler and did everything they could in support, Prescott said she believes "there were a number of complex reasons" for the suicide, citing one of the biggest as society's lack of understanding and tolerance for transgender kids.
"One issue that my son faced and a lot of other trans kids faced is being misgendered all the time," Prescott said. "A lot of people around him had a hard time changing the pronouns they used, and he felt stabbed in the heart every time someone would say 'she.' It's really traumatic to keep getting called something you truly feel you're not.
"People keep saying it's hard to remember and you have to remind them, but it's really not that hard," she added. "Once someone has stated their preference for a pronoun, you just need to get behind them and let go of all your preconceived notions about genders."
Prescott also said she thinks the medical community needs to be more aware about the issues trans kids face, and insurance companies need to cover procedures like hormone treatment and sex affirmation surgery.
"They need help from the medical community so that their bodies can match what they feel deeply on the inside," she said. "It's very important. It's not something that can wait until the magical age of 18. It's absolutely traumatic to feel your body is betraying you by showing signs of a gender you feel you are not."
Despite the many challenges Kyler faced as a trans teen, Prescott said her son was "truly a unique soul" and would want everyone to honor and remember him as an amazing artist, phenomenal musician and gifted writer.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help pay for funeral expenses and to help build a pollinator garden in memory of Kyler, who said his spirit animal was the bumblebee, Prescott said.
Greta Martela, who founded one of the first U.S. nationwide suicide hotline for trans people staffed by trans people, told ABC News in April there had been about one trans teen suicide reported every week this year.
"It's hard to keep track of all of the names, sadly, and there are probably more suicides than actually reported," she said.
Martela added the risk of suicide is higher for trans teens who are being bullied and don't have the support of their family. She said she started Trans Lifeline after being hospitalized for suicidality five times and feeling a lot of hotline operators and hospital staff she encountered weren't culturally competent and knowledgeable about what being trans meant or what issues trans people faced.
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or just needs to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and the Trans Lifeline is available at 1-877-565-8860.
Below is a poem Kyler wrote that Katharine hopes will help society better understand transgender people as "courageous, wonderful, amazing" humans, she said:
My mirror does not define me:
Not the stranger that looks back at me
Not the smooth face that belongs to someone else
Not the eyes that gleam with sadness
When I look for him and can only see her.
My body does not define me:
Not the slim shoulders that will not change
Not the hips that give me away
Not the chest I can’t stand to look at
When I look for him and can only see her.
My clothes do not define me:
Not the shirt and the jeans
That would look so perfect on him
But that I know would never fit me
When I look for him and can only find her.
And I’ve been looking for him for years,
But I seem to grow farther away from him
With each passing day.
He’s trapped inside this body,
Wrapped in society’s chains
That keep him from escaping.
But one day I will break those chains.
One day I will set him free.
And I’ll finally look in the mirror
And see me--
The boy I was always meant to be.