Transgender Teen’s Suicide Leaves Unanswered Questions
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Christopher and his mother had long since accepted Ben as Tesia Samara—a girl who, in her own words, was “trapped in a ‘male’ body.” Suddenly the pressure of being different in the small town of Rockdale, Texas, became too much for her.
Like many stories similar to this, it took a long time before anyone really took notice. Even those of us in the GLBT press didn’t hear about until a month after Tesia’s suicide.
Only now, when her mother has decided to find out what really happened has it become a “story.”
Tesia’s mom, Karen Johle said Tesia was upbeat on the Tuesday morning of her suicide when she left for school. She had been in counseling for some time and her therapist believed that her thoughts of suicide had lessened in the last few weeks. So it was an even greater shock when Johle came home and could not find Tesia. At first Johle thought Tesia was at the local cemetery where she liked to go to write poetry, listen to music and get away from everything. When she found all of Tesia’s shoes in her closet and her headphones and CDs nearby, Johle knew something was wrong.
Ben grew up In Rockdale, a town of about 4,500 people, 60 miles northeast of Austin, and had lived there all his life. His father left when he was a toddler. When he finally started to dress the way he felt, Tesia emerged. She grew her hair long and started to wear hip-huggers and make-up. Her family accepted her as Tesia, but school was another story.
Johle said Tesia endured the taunts and teasing of her classmates who knew her as a boy for most of her life, but now saw her dressed as a girl on a daily basis. Everyday he was called “gay boy, fag boy, hair girl.”
Tesia had recently seen an episode of Oprah about transgenderism and was determined to begin hormone therapy and have a sex-change operation. She was in contact with one of the guests from that show who was helping guide her in the right direction.
She had even written a letter to one of her teachers, trying to explain her situation and asking for the educator’s help when it came to difficult situations. “I mainly run into sticky situations at school,” she wrote. “For instance, when they separate the females from the females (sic) for the nurse’s scoliosis testing, those kinds of things are hell for me. I wanted you to know this so that maybe you can help me to avoid some the hard and embarrassing times I could have. So if you happen to call me ‘her’ on accident, let’s just say that I wouldn’t be unhappy.”
Tesia was very informed about her situation. She had researched the condition known as gender dysmorphia, which leads to the feeling that a person is in a body of the wrong sex. She knew her options when it came to surgeries to correct the problem and was prepared to undergo the difficult gender reassignment surgery. She had been taking hormones for three months—Spirotone and Premarin—that she bought off the Internet. While she knew she would never really be accepted 100 percent at school, she had the love of her family and a few good friends who understood her situation and accepted her for who she was.
That is why Johle believes something happened after school that day that led to Tesia taking her own life. There are rumors going around school that some classmates had assaulted and urinated on Tesia after school that day. Police have looked into it and believe it is just a rumor, but Johle feels differently.
Despite the fact the Tesia had attempted suicide twice before (though only once that his mother was aware of), Johle still believes Tesia was provoked on November 18. The Principal and teachers had all spoken to Tesia in the weeks leading to her death and felt she was adjusting well and was handling the pressure as best she could. She had been doing well in her counseling sessions at Waterloo Counseling Center and Johle believed Tesia was combating her suicidal thoughts well.
Lt. J.D. Newlin of the Rockdale Police Department investigated the rumor of an attack but could find no evidence to support the suspicions. He interviewed a teacher and several students but came to a dead end.
Johle went to Newlin with a copy of the state’s hate crime law in her hand, but according the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (LGRL), currently, there is no state law to protect students from such harassment in Texas schools.
State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) tried to change that during the most recent legislative session by authoring the “Dignity for All Students Act,” which would have addressed this type of issue. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Public Education, but Committee Chair Kent Grusendorf refused to give it a hearing.
Students have sought relief from harassment and discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, as well as Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. However, these laws do not specifically protect students from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“In failing to pass the “Dignity for All Students Act” the leadership of the legislature failed a significant portion of the Texas population,” LGRL Field Coordinator Colin Cunliff said. “And the consequences are deplorable, such as the loss of Tesia Samara’s life.”
Johle has refused to give up and will continue to fight to discover the truth behind Tesia’s death. She had Tesia’s body cremated and while almost 300 people attended the memorial Service in Rockdale, Johle refuses to have Tesia buried there.
“He hated this damn place,” Johle told the Austin-American Statesman. “I sure as hell wasn’t going to bury him in a city he hated so badly.”
The Poetry of Tesia Samara
All of the time
I see myself thinking
Thinking all inside
Dreaded thought to thought
Bringing my death in shapes and size
I’m self-destructing thinking
Submerged to lose
I am sinking
Nest of serpents
My own twisted mind
Creative manner to deal in living
Grown to stern
Ripped at stern
Evil in root
I see myself thinking
All of the time.
Took a turn too far
To know that I am nothing more
Than an error in eternity
Held hands, to keep me here.
But that hand slipped,
Misintended as I was blighted;
We never meant to be this.