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.