Trigger Warning: Suicide
I’ve been reading post after post on the death of Leelah Alcorn. My heart breaks for her – as a fellow transgender person her suicide note resonated all too well. The aftermath of additional hatred from those compelled to defend her parents or differentiate them from “true Christians” only adds to my own personal sense of hopelessness. Who am I to say “it gets better”? That won’t happen – unless we work together to make it better. And from where I sit, it is a monumental task and blaming her parents will not bring her back nor honor her memory.
Leelah’s parents are victims as well – victims of indoctrination in a hateful religious ideology that I am all to familiar with in my own fundamentalist Christian upbringing. An upbringing that no doubt played a role in delaying my own transition for years. Fear based obedience takes its toll – I do not think I will ever fully recover from it. I am constantly second guessing myself when I am faced with standing up to authority and speaking truth to power.
Threatening to protest Leelah’s funeral and social media attacks will not change her parents hearts or minds. If anything, it will harden their hearts and further victimize them. They lost their child. Now is the time to examine and display behavior that will help prevent a similarly situated child from doing what Leelah did. Even if her family refuses to do so, be models for honoring her gender and name choice. Advocate for human rights. Educate others how to be effective and visible allies for all gender non-conforming people. If you know individuals or families struggling with GLBT issues, reach out and help connect them to resources like PFLAG and the Trevor Project.
Religious indoctrination should not be underestimated in how deep and how long it impacts both adherents and apostates. I spent a long time de-programming myself and I am sure – even now – I am not done. To those who say I do not know “true Christianity” I can only say this – I have read the whole bible. Many times. I have read many Christian apologists. I have studied alternative religions. And in the end I could only see organized religion as a tool to suppress, segregate, and control society. There are consequences to blind faith and adherence to religious dogma – real consequences like the death of this teenager and the tragedy her parents and siblings will live with for the rest of their lives.
And there is plenty of blame to go around – well beyond Leelah’s parents and their church. The unacceptably high murder and suicide rates for transgender people tells them they are less than human and a minority that deserves to be annihilated – whether at their own hands or those of others. As I read Leelah’s suicide note I was struck at how her hopelessness was rooted in her fear of never being able to pass as “real woman” – a fear of persistent ostracism and isolation as a non-passing transgender women.
Every time we tell a transgender person they need to “pass” some binary gender test in order to be accepted as a real person – a fellow human being – we are to blame. Every time we buy something from a corporation known to discriminate against GLBT people, we are to blame. Every time a TERF (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) excludes transwomen as “not real women” (s)he is to blame. Every time a gay man or lesbian shuns a fellow lesbian or gay man for deciding to transition (s)he is to blame. Every time a politician throws transgender rights under the bus in an attempt to win political battles for the gay/lesbian community (and they agree) (s)he (and they) is to blame.
I too have failed many times. I’ve mainly failed because it took a half century for me to truly be me – a transgender FTM. Now I pay the price in regret and remorse for living over half a life unexamined – a life not worth living.
Can individual accountability be part of the answer – a first step to Leelah’s call to “fix society”? Before we strike out and blame others – let’s look within and courageously examine how we each fail to live a fully examined life and contribute to the inhumane treatment of all gender non-conforming people. Perhaps then “it gets better” will be more than a promise; let’s make it better.
I have been quiet of late. Busy trying to recuperate from surgery. Lots of hand therapy and wound care. I didn’t appreciate how much time this would take. I get little else done.
I promised a friend I’d write a narrative for a new book on transmen. But I’m older and from Appalachian roots. I can’t help but feel my story is a bit obsolete at this point. Maybe the world isn’t ready for “Coal Miner’s grandtranson”?
Today is my natal birthday so I’m a bit reflective.
I remember the hospital bassinet card my mother kept in an old photo album. The first name is “Girl”. She was so sure she was having a boy that she hadn’t settled on a girl name. It’s too bad her strong sense of who I was in utero was obliterated by a god in a white coat examining genitals and declaring “girl” most likely as soon as I drew my first breath.
While studying Anthropology I read accounts of Native American tribes that didn’t assign gender at birth. Instead they waited to see what the child did that reflected gender in that culture. I knew had I been born in that time and place there would have been no question that my gender was male. My life experience would have been congruent. My existential struggle different.
But I was not born in that place and time. And I did have to struggle for half a century from that early mistake – not my mistake but the one set in
motion by the god in the white coat.
For the past three years more enlightened gods in white coats have tried to undo what that first god started so long ago. Five surgeries later and hormonal elixirs have made a difference. And while this won’t undo the 50 years I endured being forced to be female, it’s a start. It’s restoring my much depleted store of energy – energy needed to live out the last part of my life more authentically. I feel as if I may finally be able search for a life cause and meaning outside of myself – beyond gender.
This last surgery has been the most intense. And I have been relatively lucky because physical complications, very common in this procedure, have been minimal. I still have physical healing to do but the next phase – the psychological work is just beginning.
Yesterday the surgeon noted how well things were going and I qualified it by adding the phrase “for an old guy”. He paused for a moment and said “in this case it wasn’t about age. You were mentally ready.”
Yes I was ready – and now I have to get ready again. Today is my birthday and though I am tempted to change it to the day I first took hormones or the day of my last surgery I won’t. I drew my first breath today so many years ago in a coal town clinic and was declared a girl. Every day since has been a battle against that declaration. From now on, on this birthday, I will give thanks for final victory over that battle.