Trans game dev dies by suicide after internet harassers encourage her to kill herself

Warning: This article discusses themes of suicide and transphobia and includes quotes from harassers.

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Rachel Bryk, a 23-year-old programmer, committed suicide on Thursday night April 23rd, following what she described as “constant transphobia” online. Bryk was heavily involved with the Dolphin Emulator project, which makes GameCube and Wii games available for PC gamers. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age, and therefore lived with constant pain and was unable to work or keep a regular schedule. Her thoughts of suicide and depression were tragically not a recent development, and she often expressed thoughts of suicidal ideation and self-hatred on her Twitter and Ask.fm accounts and spoke of past attempts. Bryk was open about being a transwoman, and was constantly targeted by online harassers.

Earlier in the month, Bryk commented on a 4chan thread for the Dolphin Emulator she dedicated so much of her time and energy to, saying that she was withdrawing from posting on the site because of the transphobia and bigotry she received whenever she posted or someone mentioned her. She continued, “the rest of you don’t have to worry though, i’m gonna kill myself soon enough and you won’t have to be bothered by me anymore (sic).

Posters immediately encouraged her to end her life, calling her a “weak willed thin skinned dipsh*t,” a “f*ggot,” a “tr*nny,” and more. Bryk was also repeatedly misgendered as male in comments and posters had earlier sought to reveal Rachel’s name at birth. While many commenters encouraged Bryk to stay strong and defend her from hateful commenters, others said that she was merely talking about suicide for attention. In light of her death, many in the community who supported Bryk are in mourning, while others sickly celebrate with comments like “any tr*nny death is good riddance.” While 4chan certainly has a reputation as a cesspool for the worst corners of the internet, and many are quick to point out that it is not a website to frequent if one is looking for a supportive or welcoming environment, the vile nature of the comments on a video gaming thread can be startling. Simply because a behaviour has come to be expected from a certain community does not make that behaviour acceptable. The abuse was not confined to 4chan; however, the last question she answered on her Ask.fm was simply, “good riddance :)” to which she replied, “Yeah pretty much.” Previous questions had been wishing her farewell after she had implied that it would be her last day alive.

Team members behind Dolphin posted a memorial to Bryk on Saturday, describing some of her work on the project and how she interacted with the community. “She regularly helped users in the IRC, forums, reddit, and beyond,” they wrote, “and was one of the most helpful developers we’ve ever had.” She’s credited for devoting countless hours to the kind of work that others would ignore, and vastly improve the emulator to assist players in speedrunning. Other developers also expressed their grief and spoke kind words about Rachel and her work.

A question lingers in light of the news of Bryk’s death; where do we go from here? A common reaction to past news of anonymous online harassment has the cynical air that nothing will be done until lives are lost, and that dealing with these “trolls” will simply be a fact of online life until things become more serious. But things are serious, and always have been. With Rachel Bryk’s death, where are the calls to action? The demand that things finally change for the better and that the noxious “trolls”, who are abusers and open wounds of the community, be forced back under their bridges never to be heard from again? At what point will we actually see protecting each other as important enough a goal to say that just because you want to give voice to your vitriol doesn’t mean you are owed an audience who will be scrapped raw by it from the inside out?

To say that people need to grow thicker skins or should simply ignore those that seek to harm them online is ignorant to the experiences of those who are at risk. Rachel was somebody who was already struggling with depression, chronic pain, and the right to live as her authentic self in a society that derides trans people and treats them like a punchline. Trans people are at a significantly elevated risk for suicide due much in part to the discrimination they face. Transwomen of colour in particular are at some of the highest risk for being a victim of violent crime in North America. Rachel was somebody who was already coping with so much. Everyone has a limit. It’s easy to say that you should just ignore bigoted comments and support for your death when you still have plenty of emotional resources to spend and you haven’t already been taxed to your threshold and are at risk of falling over the edge. For people who are already struggling, those kinds of comments can be the final nudge that it takes to fall, even in light of kind words from your supporters. What’s more, sometimes these harassment campaigns grow so large that they are impossible to ignore, such as those that have targeted Anita Sarkeesian multiple times. How do you run from something that has infiltrated your work, your home, and your leisure space?

It’s strange that the geek community which so often defines themselves as having been the target of childhood mockery and bullying be so flippant about similar behavior in their adulthood. Instead of adopting the perspective that their own past experiences were hurtful and that others should be protected from similar treatment, there’s a sentiment that life is a trial by fire and that those who can’t cope should simply exit. Instead of developing a sense of empathy for others, it seems that many have burned it out of themselves. In that environment, how can we possibly avoid losing people like Rachel? How do we avoid people’s pain building to a crisis point?

And what of the notion that people who speak about suicide online are simply doing so for attention and should therefore be ignored? There are a few websites where users are encouraged to report suicidal content and have a dedicated page to do so, such as Facebook. Others, like Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and WordPress, include the promotion of suicide or self-harm as material to be reported along with other material that violates the website’s terms of service. The simple truth is that all suicide threats should be taken seriously and that if someone is so alone and isolated that they feel like threatening to kill themselves is the only way for anyone to take notice that person really does need some attention. None of us can live in total isolation. It’s heart-breaking to see the Ask.fm post on Bryk’s page where an anonymous poster wrote “maybe I’ll send your police department a little tip” and Rachel’s response was simply “Pls.” It’s hard not to wonder how things may have gone differently had someone been contacted.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, should we not be doing more to support those in our community, put an end to online harassment, and do whatever we can to prevent more lives from ending with these kinds of headlines? Rachel Bryk was 23, kind, hardworking, and will be deeply missed.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact your local mental health crisis or suicide hotline, local law enforcement, or emergency medical services. Suicide is a medical emergency. If you are a trans person and would like to speak with a crisis volunteer who is also, you can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 in the United States and 877-330-6366 in Canada.

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Genevieve LeBlanc
Genevieve LeBlanc 126 posts

Genevieve LeBlanc is a contributing writer for NerdReactor.com and lives in snowy Canada.