Thursday, 29 January 2015

Leelah Alcorn and transgender teens

 This post is long over-due and I really should have sat down and written this ages ago when I first heard about this story but unfortunately I'm just getting round to it now. So, shame on me. 

In December 2014, a 17 year old Ohio transgender teen, Leelah Alcorn, committed suicide after years of abuse and rejection from her strict Christian parents. For anyone who is unaware, transgender is the state of one's gender identity or gender expression not matching one's assigned sex. Leelah posted a suicide note online on Tumblr stating the reasons why she felt she had no other option than to take her own life, which you can read below:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.
Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “f*** you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.
At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a s**t about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.
After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like s**t because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. 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.
That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a s**t which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. 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 f***ed up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
Goodbye,
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

The emotional strain on dealing with stigma and experiencing transphobia pushes many transgender people to commit suicide. According to The Trevor Project, nearly half of young trans people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. This is an incredibly high percentage and it is so sad to know that so many young people feel so trapped in their own bodies and with no escape or support that they feel they have no other option than to commit suicide because of the guilt and shame that they feel. Imagine feeling that stigma and transphobia from your own parents?


Many people criticised Leelah's parents for not supporting their daughter, which resulted in her committing suicide, and for misgendering her even after her death. I'm sure that they did love their daughter and must be heartbroken by her death, but they never supported her and made her feel isolated and that is tragic. I think a big part of loving your children, or anyone for that matter, is supporting them with decision's they make, even if you do not agree with the decisions they are making.
At the Transgender Day of Rememberance conference, a transgender speaker, Channyn Lynn Parker, said that her mother said this in response to her transition: "I named you because you hadn't the voice to name yourself. Now that you have found your voice it's for you to tell the world what your name is." I think that is a great parental reaction to something like transition, and is the reaction that all parents should aspire to if your child ever confides in you about something as personal as being transgender. I mean, what's worse? Accepting you child's gender identity or burying them because you couldn't?


I've heard the phrases 'its just a phase' or, 'they're confused', a lot when people are talking about gay people and those same people (like Leelah's parents) would probably apply these same phrases to transgender people as well. However I completely disagree. I don't think its just a phase people go through because that insinuates that it isn't real and its just a pretence and I for one, don't think people 'pretend' to be something just to try and get attention or to try and be different, which is what a lot of people believe. I think that gives young people a really negative image and makes it seem like we're all attention seekers, just trying to rebel against our parents etc. I think in most cases, people are born transgender, meaning that they don't suddenly just decide one day that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth, but that they've always felt that way. This has always been a widely debated topic; whether someone is born a certain way or whether they were 'made' that way later on. I believe that in the majority of cases, people are born the way they are, which includes with which gender they identify. For example, Debi Jackson gave a speech in 2014 at the Unity Temple in Kansas City with regards to her transgender daughter. She said: 
"My daughter is 6 years old. She transitioned, which means she changed her outward appearance from male to female and started living full time as her true gender, when she was 4. Until that point she was quite a rough and tumble little boy with a buzz cut and a shark tooth necklace. But then I noticed her pushing down on her genitals a lot and I asked her what was wrong. But her answer shocked me. She said that they bothered her and were in the way. She wanted them gone. Thank God for Google because I immediately jumped on the computer and typed in a search. What came back was a very short list of results, but they all pointed to one thing: my child might be transgender. I had never even heard the word transgender before and I really didn't know what to think. We made an appointment with a pediatrician. She recommended a child psychologist, but before we could even get an appointment my daughter, then my 4 yeard old son, said these words to me: 'Mom, you know I'm really a girl, right? I'm a girl on the inside.' That moment changed my life."


The main purpose of this post was to pay tribute to Leelah Alcorn, a girl that was so sad, lonely and isolated that she took her own life, and that the people that should have been behind her, supporting her, were the ones making her feel that way. R.I.P to Leelah Alcorn and to all transgender people who have felt the need to take their own lives.
 



"Women are women, regardless of sex. And men are men, in the same respects. You can be both, or a mix of the two. Or you can be neither, if that's what suits you. But people are people, whatever their parts. Because what really matters is inside of our hearts."

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