I went to bed nearly crying last night (edit: I finished this post in tears). I spent the better part of today trying to write this in my head, half distracted at work, still keeping up with the news and various responses. I still don’t know where to start. Let’s start with the facts as we know them then:
Sunday December 28, 2014, a young transwoman whose preferred name was Leelah Alcorn left her home near Kings Mill, Ohio. She walked an estimated 3-4 miles before allowing herself to be struck by a semi truck on an Ohio interstate. (source: LGBTWNation.com).
Through a scheduled post on Tumblr her suicide note appeared, (link); as did an apology to her siblings and a final note to her parents (link).
There is a lot in her note worth mentioning. I have spent quite a bit of time now reading over the comments on various blogs and facebook pages. I watched a news article on WCPO, a Cincinnati television station. I watched as her own mother still stayed in denial as to both the gender and nature of the death.
I have watched as people who observed the various articles began slamming Christians, Christianity, her Therapists, her family, wishing harm upon her mother, wishing legal action upon them, wishing hate on all those involved in the loss of this child.
I’ve watched enough. Now sit down and listen.
It would be easy to blame the Christians. They seem a good punching bag these days, but they aren’t the problem. I know plenty of “good” Christians who support me.
It would be easy to blame the parents. Leelah’s note makes it pretty clear a lot of blame does belong there.
It would be easy to blame the therapists. They clearly failed.
It would be easy to blame her school(s). No one stepped in to protect her.
It will be easy in the coming days when people type #Translivesmatter to say #alllivesmatter.
Let me speak from a place of experience. Let me speak from someone who is a transwoman who is lost, has contemplated suicide more times than anyone knows, who even tried it when she was Leelah’s age.
We need to blame Ignorance, and if you will let me, I want to help end some.
Let me start with the scary one for everyone who knows me personally. If I am in any state but California someone can MURDER me and use the TransPanic defense. “I didn’t know and it scared me, so I killed them in a panic.” I want you to consider that. I want you to look long and hard at the people and community around you, around your lawmakers; and consider someone could murder me and might be able to get away with it. (Sources: Jurist , Advocate)
Just because I am Trans.
Now that I have made it personal for some of you, let me get to some even more fun statistics courtesy of the CDC.
- Negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence, compared with other students.1 Violence can include behaviors such as bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault, and suicide-related behaviors.
- A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers
The link above has more statistics for you to peruse as well as What Schools Can do (Safe zones), What Parents Can Do, and more. At least one study (link) shows that at least 20% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, I have seen others that have that number at 40%. That same study shows that 62% are more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual homeless peers (29%).
Leelah did not have to die. You could say that about any child who feels the need to commit suicide and it is true, but to say that dilutes and weakens the conversation we need to have today. Much like the gay rights conversation of it’s a choice/I was born this way – trans individuals feel the same. With the numbers I gave above, who would choose this? Who would choose to go from having the lovely privilege of being a male to being female? Less pay, increased chance of rape, physical, mental, societal abuse and stigma? To be hated by some groups of feminists? To have even some Gay rights activists hate that you exist? Why in any deities name would someone choose this?
Why would I choose this when I would lose a fiancee of 15 years? When I would have someone who was my closest friend where I grew up admit to me she was ready to bolt to get away from me when we met again recently (she didn’t and we still talk)? Why would I choose to risk being ostracized by any living blood relative I have? Why would I choose to risk being alone for the rest of my life?
Why would Leelah choose to be who she wanted to be in a home where she was at risk? Why would she choose to be different when accepting what she was told would be so much easier? So much less painful?
The answer is simple: It’s not a choice. It is who we are and it is more painful to live a lie.
So many things went wrong for Leelah and I understand every last one of them.
She was told God doesn’t make mistakes. It’s just a phase. She was told she was being selfish and that she needed to look to God for help. She had all her ties to anything resembling a support structure online cut from her. She had any semblance of normalcy from school taken from her when she was moved to a private school. In her own words her parents saw her as an embarrassment to THEM. All of this from parents and therapists – who exactly is selfish?
I want to attack the parents right now and I might in a moment. Let me start with the therapists. They failed in every concievable sense. If they are licensed by any state board, there could in my non legal opinion be grounds for investigation. According to the American Psychological Association (link) and the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender-Nonconforming People (link). They were in the wrong. We are not broken. We are not mentally wrong.
In addition to prejudice and discrimination in society at large, stigma can contribute to abuse and neglect in one’s relationships with peers and family members, which in turn can lead to psychological distress. However, these symptoms are socially induced and are not inherent to being transsexual, transgender, or gender-nonconforming.
And their treatment plan goes against the standards of care:
Options for Psychological and Medical
Treatment of Gender Dysphoria
For individuals seeking care for gender dysphoria, a variety of therapeutic options can be considered.
The number and type of interventions applied and the order in which these take place may differ
from person to person (e.g., Bockting, Knudson, & Goldberg, 2006; Bolin, 1994; Rachlin, 1999;
Rachlin, Green, & Lombardi, 2008; Rachlin, Hansbury, & Pardo, 2010). Treatment options include
• Changes in gender expression and role (which may involve living part time or full time in
another gender role, consistent with one’s gender identity);
• Hormone therapy to feminize or masculinize the body;10
• Surgery to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breasts/chest, external
and/or internal genitalia, facial features, body contouring);
• Psychotherapy (individual, couple, family, or group) for purposes such as exploring gender
identity, role, and expression; addressing the negative impact of gender dysphoria and stigma
on mental health; alleviating internalized transphobia; enhancing social and peer support;
improving body image; or promoting resilience.
Options for Social Support and Changes in Gender Expression
In addition (or as an alternative) to the psychological- and medical-treatment options described
above, other options can be considered to help alleviate gender dysphoria, for example:
• In-person and online peer support resources, groups, or community organizations that provide
avenues for social support and advocacy;
• In-person and online support resources for families and friends;
• Voice and communication therapy to help individuals develop verbal and non-verbal
communication skills that facilitate comfort with their gender identity;
• Hair removal through electrolysis, laser treatment, or waxing;
• Breast binding or padding, genital tucking or penile prostheses, padding of hips or buttocks;
• Changes in name and gender marker on identity documents.
So in that, the therapists failed absolutely and unequivocally; perhaps on a criminal level, but I am not fit to judge that as I have no legal experience. The negligence of the parents should also not be ignored. Was it criminal? Maybe. Again I can’t say. I think there may be grounds for investigation however, as their deeply held beliefs left their daughter with so much depression and hopelessness that she didn’t see a way out. This girl was beautiful. She was going to be positively radiant and loved by someone as she got free and found her path to transition. She has a line in her note I want to make sure people read:
I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
In this statement I identify with her. I have people who tell me I am beautiful and I don’t feel it. The words of support are not wasted, but the internal psychology when I look in the mirror? Yeah I feel Leelah. I don’t think I am going to ever find a man or woman who wants to be in a relationship with me. I don’t think I am going to be happy with my final transition – my voice, my weight, my body frame, my hair, my inability to conceive a child, take your pick. There isn’t any winning. I am sad enough already. I fight depression nearly every single day of my life.
Unlike Leelah, who was so young and innocent, I believe it gets better. I shouldn’t. I see horrible stuff in the world every single day. I see between the stories and look at the truth and how horrible things are for trans folk. Yet somehow, I believe no matter how low I am, no matter how bad and dark a space my head takes me (and it goes dark trust me) – there’s always a bit of hope. That hope comes from a support structure of a family of 1’s and 0’s, images, and sometimes even voices. If I didn’t have the friends I have that have become more family to me than anyone I share DNA with – I’d be right there with Leelah. If I didn’t have a job at Intuit, who supports people like me, I’d be right there with Leelah. It Does Get Better; but…she was alone and it couldn’t. She was lost and afraid. She saw no way out from her own life and her own path.
For that as a society and a people we need to do better. She asked as much, even as she talks about not having any hope or way out she still had some:
My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
So this is what I am asking if you have read all of this, don’t let Leelah’s death be another sad statistic that we forget about amidst champagne and fireworks 24 hours from now. Don’t just be passive and talk about how horrible it is. TELL people how horrible it is. Convince them that this was avoidable. There are millions of people in this country right now who are still thinking she is broken. That her parents were in the right to force her to be something she wasn’t. Even her own school is still saying “He” and “Josh”.
If you read this and know someone who is trans-
- Get the pronouns right. Words DO hurt.
- I still get called He and Him and it hurts every single time
- Let them know they have your support.
- Don’t be passive – if a ‘friend’ makes a joke about Trans* – STOP THEM. Tell them they are offensive. If they tell you to lighten up – tell them how much it can hurt someone. It’s not just a joke.
- Be a shoulder for them, they may not have it at home.
- Understand we are afraid of discrimination. We’re afraid of not being able to get a job, being attacked physically, being persecuted by the law – just for existing.
- Understand we are afraid we will likely be alone for the rest of our lives. You may go home to your spouse or kids and we may go home alone – forever.
- Understand you can’t pray this away. This isn’t a choice any person would WANT to make. This is who we are.
- We are not freaks, we know who we are and who we want to be.
- We don’t want to force out beliefs or agenda on you or anyone – we just want to feel safe and be at peace.
If you are Trans and reading this
- I know how afraid you might feel.
- I know how alone you might feel.
- Know that I am here.
- Know that others reading this (hopefully) are there for you.
- Know, please for the love of all that anyone holds dear, know that you are NOT BROKEN. You are NOT A MISTAKE. You are NOT a FREAK
- It does get better. I may not seem like it right now, but it does. I am saying this from my experience. I have a lot of things in this world others don’t and I am trans. I have a job, a house, a car, friends. You can too. It gets better. Please believe that, even in those dark moments. Believe it.
- Suicide isn’t an option. Don’t do it. Find another way.
- If you need someone to talk to – message me or use some of the resources I am linking below.
If you are reading this and see your own life situation reflected:
Know that you aren’t alone. The entire LGBTQA+ spectrum, minorities of all shapes, sizes, colors, races, identities; there are hundreds of thousands of others who feel alone, persecuted, and hated just for being. We need to be one community. One humanity. We aren’t as alone in our pain as we think and as we feel, no matter how hard our minds convince us otherwise.
Show compassion. Show understanding. Be an educator. Talk to your friends, family, teachers, coworkers – let them know this kind of thing has to stop. The ignorance must stop. Let them know the abuse must stop. The Bullying must stop. The death must stop. Revolutions are always bloody – I think we have enough blood of our children soaking the ground now. Let it be enough.
Stop talking about how horrible it is and do something to end it. Help laws get passed to protect people. Stop laws that discriminate. Let’s do as Leelah asked and help fix society.
- Transgender people who need someone to talk to can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.
Thank you for your bravery. Only through education can we stop hatred and prejudice.
I sincerely believe through direction thins can get done. Organizing protests and candlelight vigils would help show how many of us also feel it is enough and Must Stop.
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Thank you for this. It’s wonderfully written and it obviously wasn’t easy for you to write. The bullet lists near the end are especially good. Stay strong, Jessica. We all can, and will, do better. No matter how long it takes. ❤
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Thank you for every beautifully worded, well composed, perfectly cited sentence. This was informative to Trans allies and so supportive and uplifting to those living as a Transgender person. I can see how much you put into this and I trust that this article will make a difference to others as it has to me.
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