Someone Teach Me How to Swim

[Content Warning: Discussion of suicide and self-harm, trans slurs]

23 was a terrible age in a lot of ways. I was drowning. I was struggling. My life was in shambles. I tried to end it and I ended up in a hospital that didn’t know how to treat my dysphoric depression. I ended up being sent to a therapist who saw mostly LG patients and had seen a few trans patients. It seemed, though, like she had what I would consider very old-school ideas on what being trans meant. 

I basically had very few other resources in my hometown. I had read that maybe Missoula had a trans-competent therapist and endocrinologist. I never found out. I ended up using my depression as an excuse to leave that town and ended up in Seattle the first time. I failed to access services here even though they are great because I wasn’t ready.

By the time I returned in 2010 and at 28, I had finally accessed those services. The problem remained that my clinic while great, referred crisis patients to the local crisis line which was not even LGB-specific let alone trans-specific. I have heard a few horror stories of trans people calling and getting horrible operators.

I have heard that in regards to the major suicide hotlines as well. Trans competency is definitely something that is lacking in crisis interventions.

Luckily, we now have a super trans-competent crisis line. Of course this is the Trans Lifeline which I have mentioned before.

TLL was formed by Greta Martela and Nina Chaubal in the early fall of 2014.

Greta’s situation mirrored mine in many ways. She had two serious suicide attempts where she ended up in hospitals where the doctors were awful to her. They just didn’t know how to deal with trans people. The shocker here is that occurred in Berkley, California, considered one of the most progressive cities in the country.

This combined with Greta’s experience as the outreach coordinator at TGSF about a year into transition led to her and Nina forming the Trans Lifeline. TGSF had a 1-800 number that people could call to get information. A lot of these calls, though, were trans people in crisis. Greta would check the voicemails for the organization and call the people back. It definitely wasn’t a crisis line. The reason that people would call is the number used to be one of the top Google searches for transgender. Trans people just wanted some help.

By September, TLL acquired official California nonprofit status for Trans Lifeline but they were struggling to find callers and operators alike.

The first big flood of calls for TLL was Transgender Day of Remembrance 2014. Not only is that a hard time for a lot of trans people, but Time produced a web article about the Trans Lifeline that was widely read. It built really quickly. Greta answered almost all of the calls by herself for those three days after that article.

Fundraising began to explode as well as their small goal of $3000 was easily surpassed and reached $10000 at the end of November/December. $35000 was raised through January of this year which has kept the Lifeline able to operate.

Leelah Alcorn’s tragic death pushed a lot of donations; a lot were made in her name and grew the number of operators. When our own keep dying, we want to help as much as we can. Death and destruction follow us all too closely.

Leelah’s death, in fact, nudged me to help out and become an operator. I wanted to give back to the community as others have given to me. I had also called in crisis twice, both times not reaching an operator. This spurred me even more to become an operator, to make sure operators were available to handle all the calls. The need is still there. We need all the hands on deck that we can get.

TLL has definitely filled the hole that we needed in the community. I really appreciate too how political they are. TLL is not afraid to push politics and to be radical about it. Greta says this is the punk rocker in her. As a punk rocker myself, I totally agree. I believe we need to push people, including other trans people, to help where we can.


We are a lot more political than other national trans organizations.

This has made some of the national organizations a little squeamish but they know the value of having a trans-specific crisis line. I think they are just jealous they didn’t think of one first.

Lately, TLL has been back in the news, at least on Facebook and the Queer sites about their refusal to accept money from Steve Grooby. Grooby Productions wanted to donate money to Trans Lifeline. Grooby runs a bunch of adult sites that feature a lot of trans performers. Grooby wanted to help raise money using a donate screen on their porn sites. The problems arose with Grooby over the sites generous uses of the two trans slurs especially the word “shemale.”


It isn’t about adult films. We have no problem taking porn money. The trans community is some of the most sex positive, kink friendly, poly friendly communities out there.

TLL sent an email saying they couldn’t accept the donations ethically in the end because of the gross language prevalent on the sites. TLL and Grooby had been negotiating for a while and I believe that’s what ended up causing the drama that followed.

Grooby got pissed off and leaked the email. He responded to the email in a gross asshole-ish open letter and tried to make TLL out to be the bad people. In reality, this cis manchild had a temper tantrum because he didn’t get his way.

I really love the Trans Lifeline. It is going in a great direction.

I had a chance to talk with Nina a bit about some of the back end things. Nina helped develop a lot of the software that is being used on the site and runs a lot of those issues for TLL. Google Apps for Non-Profits provides a lot of the support for the site on the back end. It is their email provider and allows for easy internal communication.

She provided some awesome statistics to me about TLL as well.

There have been 11300 calls, which makes up 2574 hours, since November. 200 operators currently operate when they can to field the calls.

I asked her how much she has to block numbers either from prank callers or abusive people. She only has to block about five to six numbers a week which is actually shockingly low to me.

The number is toll-free from Canada or America but anyone can call if they pay a toll charge.

It is awesome to be a part of a great team and I look forward to being involved with TLL for a long time. Our community needs us.

Greta summed up how we all feel about the lifeline.

 Because there are so few resources in most places, the lifeline wants to be a place for anyone who needs to access to stuff can call.

Sometimes we just want people who understand to talk with us. We need someone to teach us how to swim and stop us from drowning. We all need that lifeline.


If you are trans and in crisis please call 1-877-565-8860. We got your back.

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Queer Pop Culture Junkie in the Northwest. Addicted to Coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantasy Sports, The Mountain Goats, and Tottenham Hotspur.

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