June July 2016
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The Advocate

Reports of 'Pong Seed' Death Ignore Young Trans Woman's Identity

Trans woman dies ingesting seeds
Lucia McCalip right with her mother Natosha Anderson

Family and former classmates are mourning the passing of Lucia McCalip, a 22-year-old black transgender woman who took her life February 15 in Country Club Hills, Ill., according to a report from Chicago TV station WLS.

McCalip's death was also confirmed by a post on the public Facebook page for alumni of Chicago's Urban Prep Academy, from which McCalip graduated in 2012.

Natosha Anderson, McCalip’s mother, told WLS that she found McCalip in their home after her child “intentionally” ingested lethal "pong pong seeds" that she “bought online” from Thailand for just $5 including shipping. 

"I think if I can save one person or make one person aware of what's going on and what people are selling [online] I can save one life, just one,” Anderson told WLS in a report framed as a public awareness announcement about the ease of purchasing the dangerous seeds on the Internet.

The highly toxic seeds come from cerbera odollam, a tree native to Southeast Asia, where reports have documented their widespread use by people who wish to take their own lives. The tree from which the seed comes is often called a "suicide tree." 

While WLS's report emphasized the danger and reported ease of online access to the deadly seeds, that report and numerous others have paid little attention to conveying details about McCalip’s life as a newly transitioning young black trans woman. 

But glimpses of McCalip’s warmth and plaintive sensitivity can be viewed in her smiling face and alert eyes in a photograph from what appears to be her graduation ceremony from Urban Prep Academy in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood (below). 

Lucia McCalip

WLS does report that McCalip’s mother “says her child was transgender and struggling with the desire to live life as a woman” and that the youth had been “bullied for many years in school." But that information is buried in the report, and other stories based on the local outlet's coverage overwhelmingly frame McCalip’s passing as a cautionary tale about ingesting pong pong seeds bought online.

Nor have news accounts corrected persistent transphobic deadnaming and misgendering within stories about McCalip’s death. These reports often fail to note basic information, including that McCalip died February 15, only saying vaguely that McCalip’s death occurred approximately two weeks ago.

The date of her passing was disclosed in a February 22 post on the public Facebook page of the Urban Prep Alumni Program. Urban Prep Academies in the Chicago area describe themselves as a network of nonprofit charter schools focused on providing a “college-preparatory educational experience” exclusively to individuals assigned male at birth

The brief eulogy offered on the Urban Prep Alumni Program's post identifies McCalip by her male name and uses male pronouns to describe how she "positively touched the Urban Prep community and will be sorely missed."

That characterization appears to contradict what McCalip’s mother told WLS when she said that McCalip had been “bullied for many years in school." 

It is unknown how McCalip, a female-identified black trans youth, experienced the school's sex-segregated, all-male educational environment. Nor is it certain that the school to which Anderson referred is in fact Urban Prep Academy. (A call to the school was not returned by press time and McCalip’s family’s contact information is not publicly available.) 

Even though Anderson told WLS that she was not aware of her child struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, trans and gender-nonconforming youth like McCalip are frequently at high risk for suicide. Advocates insist that the full acceptance and support of families, schools, faith communities, and all who interact with trans youth is the best way to help them thrive and realize their dreams.

Advocates also insist that trans victims of suicide — especially youth — ought not to be reduced only to the nature of their death and their gender identities. Rather, their lives should be discussed in a way that highlights their particular hopes, dreams, work, and love. These elements help magnify trans people far beyond the circumstances of their deaths. 

Even more importantly, advocates for trans-affirming media coverage also point to the wisdom of guidelines from the Associated Press and GLAAD, imploring reporters to steer clear of mentioning the individual's former name (which is deadnaming), and refrain from using repudiated pronouns (which is misgendering).

 

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline  can be reached at (877) 565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at (866) 488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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