How will you answer Leelah’s call for change?
The recent death of Leelah (Joshua Alcorn) has created a storm of responses. Some coming from a place of love and compassion, others ringing with anger, blame, and the same intolerance that propagated the pain, which led to Leelah’s fatal decision.
Those of us who’ve read Leelah’s suicide note (printed below), especially those of us who are parents, may have experienced great pain, perhaps even guilt, when we read Leelah’s final plea–that her death needed to “mean something.”
Leelah was obviously experiencing a deep sense of hopelessness. Her parting words seemed a call for change, and something more…
Leelah’s sentiments reminded me of times in my own personal teenage angst when I wondered if ending my life could stop the pain.
Today, as an adult, having had friends and loved ones who’ve made such a decision, I know that suicide does not end the pain, it only disperses it.
Perhaps by recognizing this reality, we can truly make any young persons’ suicide, “mean something.”
The statistics are staggering. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. Often cited as a result of bullying, “reported” suicides are the third leading cause of death among young people in our country.
Without Leelah’s note on Tumblr, we may have assumed this death, too, was accidental. Leelah’s mother wrote on Facebook that morning: (Our son, Joshua) “went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck.”
Such profound loss, makes us want to find a reason, we want to know “Why?”
In this case, Leelah’s note answers her side of the story. Now, great outrage has been expressed toward Leelah’s parents, and their believe systems, as well as their words and actions. Publicly, the Alcorns have defended their love for their “son.”
Personally, I have no doubt that the Alcorns truly believed they were doing the right thing. Moreover, I think it is important as we work together to make Leelah’s death “mean something” that we seek to understand, rather than find fault. Judging Leelah’s parents, whose sincere religious convictions could not “condone” or support who Leelah believed she was, will only fortify the walls of fear that divide us according to our differences.
For those who “blame” Leelah, could any of us have promised her that “it would get better” as she battled daily with a belief system built on shame, sin and judgement. In her mind, and perhaps in her reality, this precluded any possibility that she would ever be accepted or loved for who she was.
Isn’t love what we all long for most in our lives? Without it, why would we go on living?
It’s a basic human need, and thus, should it not also be a basic human right? For those of us who believe in a loving Creator, how do we fulfill our obligation to love one another, despite our differences. It seems to me no matter who we are or what we believe, we all bear responsibility for those who’ve lost hope, and for creating needed changes.
Some of our communities have stepped up, with vigils, petitions to stop reparative therapies, and pressure to create awareness around the issues that trans teens face. Yet Leelah’s death, one among many, is unique because in death Leelah found her VOICE.
This fact alone, should give us all hope. Especially, those of us who are, or who know or love, a transgender teenager.
If you are “different” from the majority of your peers in any way, my plea to you is to find your people. Those who will love and accept you. Those who can overcome any need to judge, reshape, control, or remake you into their image of who they want you to be. Seek out those who share the same struggles, and keep building your support systems!
Though it may feel like it–you are NOT alone!
If you are being bullied, excluded or abused, and you cannot find support at home or at school, trust that no one can keep you away from phones, computers, or supportive people, forever.
Go to your local library or community center, keep reaching out until you find someone who will listen.
You WILL find someone!
When you do, don’t shut up, don’t isolate, keep talking, stay alive, stay with us, work with us, live into the solution, your voice matters, your story matters and most importantly, YOU MATTER!
There is no one on the entire planet exactly like you, and we need your gifts, your persepctive, your unique contribution to our collective existence. As an artist, and an Earth-loving-gay-quasi-closet-Christian-Buddhist of sorts, I believe that the immense diversity on this planet is unequivocal proof of a Divine Creator.
There is a Source from which we all came; and I believe diversity is not “God’s mistake,” but God’s greatest gift.
Often rainbows are most visible after the worst of storms. Let us, together, young and old, gay or straight, trans or intersex, continue the work that has begun, let us answer Leelah’s call. Begin at home, in your own families and communities: Is there a Leelah in your life?
In a recent Advocate interview, Tyler Clementi’s*, Mom urged compassion for Leelah’s parents and family:
“Nobody knows better than my family that ending life cannot create change”… “after Tyler took his life, our mission has been to ensure that no family endures the pain that Taylor and Lelaah both endured and that we are sure that the Alcorn’s are experiencing. It’s only by building a world where every life is sacred that we move forward.”
To make the death of any young person’s life “mean something,” to create true “change,” to “fix” what is broken, to heal the pain on all sides, including the man who was driving the semi-truck, and to answer Leelah’s call–we must first summon the courageous compassion to accept ourselves and one another in all of our beauty and diversity.
*Tyler Clementi was the 18-year-old Rutger’s University freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after being video recorded kissing another man. This is a picture of him and his mom, who started a foundation to raise awareness and save the lives of LGBTQ youth.
LEELAH’S SUICIDE NOTE:
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.
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn