Rachel Bryk, Transgender Gamer And Developer, Commits Suicide — But Her Reasons May Be More Complicated Than We Know
23-year-old transgender woman, well-respected gamer, and Dolphin developer Rachel Bryk jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Thursday, April 23. As if the suicides of Taylor Alesana, Zander Mahaffey, Blake Brockington, Leelah Alcorn, and many others on a list too long to include were not enough, this tragedy can be read as a testament to our society's inhospitable attitudes toward transgender people — as well as the power of online harassment, particularly in the gaming community. But although there are common threads between these stories, each one is also unique. To forget this is to take away from the actual humans behind the stories.
Here is what we know of Bryk's own story:
On Tuesday, April 7 at 7:28 AM, Bryk responded to a complaint that she was "neglecting" a chat forum for Dolphin, the gaming emulator on which Bryk worked as a devloper, by explaining that she was facing "constant transphobia" on the site. She also told the poster, "I'm gonna kill myself soon enough and you won't have to be bothered by me anymore." Through the next hour, her post received responses like "if you're such a weak willed thin skinned dipshit then fucking do it" and "trannys are mentally unstable." She received similar comments on the forum Ask.fm, such as "jumping off a bridge is not rocket science."
At midnight on April 24, Bryk's Twitter account — which includes the trigger warning "suicide on everything I say" — posted a scheduled tweet saying "Guess I am dead. Killed myself. Sorry." The tweet also let readers know who they could contact to spread the word.
Bryk's coworkers at Dolphin wrote a post commemorating her life and work, calling her "one of the most helpful developers we've ever had." They also created a video of her playing her favorite game, Pucca's Kisses, followed by some words from the team:
Rachel was more than just a great programmer. She was a great programmer who always managed to put a smile on my face. I don't think that there ever will be anyone else quite like her.
As with the many other suicides by transgender people, supporters are using Twitter to remember Bryk's preferred name and gender with the hashtag #HerNameWasRachel:
However, Bryk's friend Kiri criticized the media and users of the hashtag for trying to weave Bryk's story into a familiar narrative without understanding it:
Kiri explained on Tumblr that after seeing a tweet announcing that Bryk was about to kill herself, she asked if there was anything she could do:
I asked her why she felt the need to do this. She replied saying that she had "incurable crippling diseases," specifically "RA + fibromyalgia" (RA I assume means Rheumatoid Arthritis). ... She certainly dealt with a lot of other awful things including harassment, but when I asked her about her choices it came down to her illness.
Online harassment is a huge problem for both transgender people and women in gaming — one can only imagine being a transgender woman gamer subject to harassment on both counts — and efforts to use this suicide to call attention to transphobia are well-intentioned. But, in light of Kiri's comments, I have to ask: Are we appropriating Bryk's story to meet our own ends? By responding to every transgender person's suicide with a particular hashtag, are we slotting them into a pre-written story that they played no role in shaping?
Every story, including Rachel Bryk's, is different. There is often much more at play than we know, and we must be careful not to reduce each human life down to one defining feature. The abuse Bryk suffered may or may not have had something to do with her decision to end her life; however, we cannot presume to know exactly why Bryk chose to do as she did.
But whether or not transphobia and hate drove Bryk to her death, we do know this: She certainly didn't deserve to suffer either during her life. Nobody, regardless of who they are, deserves to be told they should die. This is a takeaway we can all stand behind.