Why Leelah Alcorn’s Suicide Matters
Only rarely do I find it necessary to talk about a previously unknown individual’s suicide, but the death of Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Ryan Alcorn), 17, has touched me deeply.
Leelah, you see, was transgendered. Apparently her parents, especially her mother, did not like this. At all.
And that is upsetting, for more than one reason. Parents should love their children as they are, not as they want them to be –whether someone is heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered, that person deserves to be loved by his/her parents. Period.
Unfortunately, Leelah Alcorn did not feel that love. And because of that, she committed suicide.
Why has her death touched me? Partly because of her suicide note on Tumblr, which I’ll get to in a bit. Partly because she was a human being who obviously felt she’d be better off dead. And partly because one of my novels, the forthcoming CHANGING FACES, discusses transgenderism in an unusual way, so I’ve at least considered the issue before.
Here’s some of Leelah’s own words in her suicide note, published posthumously (her words were as she wrote them, but I did bold one section for emphasis on my own):
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.
Ultimately, Leelah Alcorn believed that she would never be happy in this world. Because she couldn’t start transitioning, because she was continually called “Josh” or “Joshua” when she already knew she was Leelah inside, because her parents believed that “good Christian values” meant that she should be happy as God (monotheistic, male) made her — as a male, not as a female — Leelah Alcorn took her own life.
This young woman knew in her heart that she was female, just as I’ve always known my entire life that I, too, am female. The only difference between me and Leelah is that I was born female. I never had to fight to become who I was in that regard (fight in other ways, yes, as we all do to become ourselves). And I never had to worry about saving enough money to start the transitioning process, or any of the other things Leelah was obviously worried about in her suicide note.
This is a heartbreaking story, one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever read. Leelah clearly believed nothing she would ever do was right in her parents’ eyes, and she clearly believed that not being able to transition until age 18 or later (after she’d saved up enough money) would make it impossible for her to find love.
What bothers me most here is that she obviously didn’t know some of the stories I do from pop culture. The role model here that strikes me the most is Chaz (born Chastity) Bono, because he came out to his parents as lesbian early on, but only came out as transgendered (and male) much later. So why didn’t Leelah know the entirety of Chaz’s story? (My guess is that Leelah only had seen Chaz’s “It Gets Better” commercial and maybe one of his dances with pro dancer Lacey Schwimmer on Dancing with the Stars and that’s about it. But it’s only a guess.) Why didn’t Leelah know about Christine Jorgenson, born George? Why didn’t Leelah know about transsexual tennis star and ophthalmologist Renee Richards?
All of them — all — transitioned to their proper sex later than age 18. And all did so successfully. All found at least a few lovers and friends who accepted them. And all of them, eventually, found their faith — whether it was in themselves or in God/dess is immaterial.
Leelah Alcorn did not have to die. She did not have to feel like a failure to her parents. She did not have to believe she’d be “Satan’s Wifey” (the original name of her blog on Tumblr, though apparently later she changed it to Lazer Princess) by dying and declaring exactly who and what she was.
She did not have to feel unloved, unwanted, bereft of hope and friends.
And for those who dismiss this as a typical teen suicide story and believe she would’ve grown out of it — well, you’re probably right, but how does that change anything?
A young woman is dead today at least in part because her parents apparently would not accept her for who she was. Her friends were not strong enough to accept her, either. And she, herself, was ultimately not strong enough to stand up to years of unrelenting criticism from her parents, so-called friends, and idiotic “therapists.”
Somehow, as Leelah Alcorn herself said, we must do better than this. No more LGBT youth should be treated this way. Ever.
Lest we have even more heartbreaking stories like this.