Skip to content

Are you in a crisis? Call or text 988 or text TALK to 741741

¿Estás en una crisis? Llama o envía un mensaje de texto al 988 o envía un mensaje de texto con AYUDA al 741741

As a Queer Person and Suicide Loss Survivor, I've Learned There's Strength in Vulnerability

May 28, 2024 – 4 min read

By Taylor Ryan

Taylor Ryan, pictured left, with the bisexual pride flag around her shoulders.

I lost my mom to suicide when I was 14. Later, when I first got to college, I started to openly embrace my bisexuality, and stopped hiding that part of myself from the world. To an outside observer, these two experiences may not seem connected. But for me, the journey of coming to terms with losing my mom to suicide and of navigating my sexuality are closely linked.

I've known I was bisexual since before my mom died. I realized it at just 11 years old, when I was at summer camp and developed my first crush on a girl. Growing up in suburban Nebraska, I didn't know how people would react to this part of my identity, so for a long time I kept it to myself — not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. No one in my high school was out, and I internalized the fact that I was potentially the only one having these feelings, which was far from the truth.

When I lost my mom, I didn't get to decide who knew about it and who didn't. I was raised in a small town, so my mother's death wasn't something I could hide from people the way I hid my sexuality. At the same time, there was still often a sense of shame around the topic of suicide that made it difficult for me to talk openly about losing my mom. I was just beginning my journey of trying to grieve my mother's death, but I didn't feel like I had a safe place to address the circumstances of it. I struggled to think of my mother without being reminded that her death was tainted by the stigma surrounding suicide.

From a young age, I sensed that these two integral parts of my identity — my queerness and my experience with suicide loss — made many people uncomfortable to talk about, and so I struggled to talk about them, too. But keeping these stories to myself made them impossible to process, and also had a negative impact on my mental health. Both LGBTQ people and those who lose a parent during childhood are at higher risk for suicide, which makes talking about those experiences all the more important.

Taylor Ryan, pictured left, with the bisexual pride flag around her shoulders.
Taylor Ryan, pictured left, with the bisexual pride flag around her shoulders.

In the months following my mom's death, I struggled to talk about her because everyone in my life tried to avoid talking about suicide and mental health around me, which only made processing my mom's death more difficult. I loved my mom, and I wanted everyone to know that. Opening up and finding closure about losing my mom to suicide is still a challenge for me, and the path to healing has been an ongoing journey marked by good days, bad days, and a rollercoaster of emotions. But by going to talk therapy, I was able to come to terms with my own mental health and how it was impacted by my mom’s death. Therapy allowed me to channel my grief into healthy coping mechanisms such as sharing my emotions with my friends and family, volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and writing letters to my mom.

I went to my first Out of the Darkness Walk in 2018, just over a year after my mom passed. The bead ceremony was the first moment since I lost my mom that I didn't feel alone in my struggles. All the gold beads (signifying the loss of a parent) in the air around me broke my heart but healed it at the same time. Listening to all the speakers and watching everyone hold their beads high inspired me to finally begin sharing the story of my mom and me. The next year when I went to the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Omaha, I proudly wore my mom’s name on my shirt and shared my story at school. As I began to meet others with similar experiences, I realized there was nothing to be ashamed of, and that my mom’s life stood for so much more than how she died.

As high school came to an end, I finally felt prepared to share my bisexuality with the world. I was getting older and starting to think about my future, so I realized I wanted to start to live life as my authentic self. The more I reflected on this hidden piece of my identity, the more I thought about how my mom was the only person I really wanted to open up to about my sexuality. Prior to college, I had confided in only a select few of my closest friends about this piece of my identity. Slowly, I began to realize my sexuality was a piece of my identity I wanted to share with everyone, and that it was something to be proud of. My mom wouldn’t want me to hide this part of myself — she would want me to be proud. Not surprisingly, as I began to share my bisexuality with others, especially with my closest friends, I discovered a sense of liberation and relief. The anxiety I had felt for years about hiding my identity had finally subsided, lifting a significant weight off my shoulders. The internal struggle and self-doubt that had accompanied this part of myself gradually gave way to self-acceptance and self-love.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to coming out or healing from the loss of a loved one to suicide, but a crucial part of coming to terms with both these parts of my identity was deciding who to share my experiences with. Choosing when and with whom to open up about suicide loss and sexuality is a deeply personal choice — one that should be guided solely by your comfort level, and not by anyone else's opinions. But when I eventually began meeting other survivors of suicide loss, the conversations I had opened the doors to many new relationships, and made me feel safe sharing my story not just with them but with everyone around me.

Each person has their fears when telling others about their sexuality and experiences with suicide. But amidst the challenges, there's also incredible strength in embracing our true selves and sharing our authentic identities with the world.