The trans community is once again reeling in the wake of another member gone too soon — overcome by chronic pain, compounded by discrimination and harassment she faced as a trans woman.
On April 23, around 4:30 p.m., 23-year-old Rachel Bryk walked west from New York City along the George Washington Bridge, connecting Upper Manhattan to New Jersey. The Bergen Record reported that drivers stuck in rush hour traffic saw a slight figure with bright pink hair stop midway along the bridge.
Eight hours later, a tweet Bryk scheduled went out to her 222 followers: “Guess I am dead. Killed myself. Sorry.”
Bryk was a leading game developer, and a transgender woman plagued by chronic pain, which she told friends was a result of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, which can make everyday tasks excruciating.
Despite the shock to friends and family, Bryk discussed her intentions on the social media platform ask.fm in the days before her death.
Vocativ reports that over the past two years, Bryk had become one of the most prominent game developers on a software project called Dolphin. She was well-known for her work on Gamecube and Wii emulators — her favorite being Pucca’s Kisses.
But despite her success in and dedication to her beloved online gaming communities, Bryk commented on a popular 4chan forum that she was withdrawing from various sites after suffering relentless harassment online, because she was trans.
The Washington Post also reported Bryk had complained of that “constant transphobia” on the Internet. In online chat rooms, anonymous trolls goaded Bryk to kill herself.
Eventually, she did, in the same place a gay teen named Tyler Clementi killed himself in 2010.
After Bryk's death, word quickly spread throughout online transgender and gaming communities, and forums were flooded with memorial posts in her honor, and tributes to her work and collaborative nature.
But not everyone was so kind. Some commenters on 4chan wasted no time continuing the hate about which Bryk herself had complained. “So on the post mortem will they refer to [Bryk] as ‘it’ ‘she’ or ‘he’?” one asked.
The Post noted Bryk’s suicide, one day before Bruce Jenner’s heralded coming-out as trans, was a sour counterpoint to the recent boost in public awareness of transgender issues. The report also made mention of other transgender youth suicides — such as that of Ohio trans teen Leelah Alcorn — and how they were followed by huge outpourings of support for those struggling with gender dysphoria.
Bryk's death also once again raises questions about the misogynist gaming culture that reared its ugly head during last year’s Gamergate controversy.
But most importantly, the newspaper concluded Bryk’s suicide shows that anonymous gestures, online “hugs” and celebrity interviews are no panacea for the very real pain felt by transgender individuals across the country, and that progress continues to be slow.
“Next time you think it’s funny to make fun of someone transgender think about who you’re hurting,” wrote Lisa Bryk, Rachel’s mother, on Facebook next to an article about her daughter’s death.
The Post reported she was a shy kid from Wall, N.J., who found a community online. Most of the time, Bryk bantered with fellow gamers about Dolphin fixes and glitches. But sometimes, she talked about being transgender. “On the plus side I managed to get through 3 airports without being misgendered, even by people who saw my [male] ID and even got a shocked reaction from someone who saw my name and had not previously suspected,” Bryk wrote in early April. Her Twitter account shows male and female symbols alongside a pronoun guide: “she/her.”
Bryk was the fourth person to commit suicide from the George Washington Bridge in nine days. Last year, officials announced a plan to put up nine-foot fences along the bridge, but the fences have yet to go up.
On her mother’s Facebook page, supporters posted messages criticizing those who harassed Bryk. “No one is placed on this earth to judge,” wrote one family friend. “People hide behind their computers and type vicious comments. People are ‘brave’ behind their screens but really, they are ignorant and sad.”
Lisa Bryk said her daughter’s illnesses — and not just the abuse she suffered online — drove her to suicide. “While Rachel was certainly bullied and harassed online, that was NOT the reason she committed suicide,” she wrote. “Please pass along info on the abuse that trans individuals endure, but let’s also educate people on how difficult it is to live every moment in pain. A combination of everything was likely the cause, so let’s not make her an anonymous statistic.”
One former colleague from Dolphin commented: “No matter what, she was always willing to help anyone. Of all the devs she was the most helpful on the forums, always pitching in. Dolphin is a smaller place without her.”
Bryk's death is the eighth reported suicide of a transgender young person in the U.S. this year, in an "epidemic" that trans advocates say sees far more causalities than make headlines. In early April, a 16-year-old trans girl named Taylor Alesana took her own life, less than a month after thousands mourned the suicide of 18-year-old Charlotte, N.C.-based trans activist Blake Brockington, who had become known nationwide as the city's first out transgender homecoming king.
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 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.