What seemed like another progressive year for LGBTQ rights is now slightly soured by the death of a male-to-female (MTF) transgendered teenager who committed suicide a few days after Christmas. Published only hours after Leelah Alcorn stepped into traffic, Tumblr suicide note caused an uproar about how society approaches the trans community. Why is this still happening? Why are trans people still not getting the support they need? How can parents do this to their child? What can we do to ensure the safety and health of transgendered individuals?
We can’t do everything. We cannot be in their own homes to protect them from emotional and physical abuse. We can’t trail them and discourage damaging remarks or prejudice. Most of all, we can’t prosecute guardians that don’t offer support, as some LGBT rights activists urge. Leelah Alcorn chose to commit suicide. We need to accept that it was her choice. What purpose would prosecuting her parents serve? It would do little, except maybe confirm those religious communities’ beliefs that the government is unrightfully persecuting them. It’s hitting a bully instead of teaching him how to love. What we need to do is tackle society’s stigmas with trans people.
Stop conversion therapy
Leelah Alcorn’s parents forced her to undergo conversion therapy to “cure” her. What a load of shit. I don’t know if people are born trans, gay, bi, or straight. I don’t know. But I definitely know you don’t choose to be a certain identity or sexuality. And I know many psychological associations dispel conversion therapy and cite it as potentially harmful. Telling someone they are unnatural then going through the techniques they sometimes use is horrible. It won’t help.
Use appropriate pronouns
I once heard a story from my coworker about a customer who was a transgendered MTF. She was waiting in line, and it was clear she was just starting to transition. Her hair was still short, and her breasts hadn’t grown in yet. The coworker remembered her chosen name, though: “She lit up when I called her name, like she was surprised. She was really happy.” Using correct pronouns and being respectful of whatever name they prefer is an important part of supporting someone as they transition and after. Sometimes people don’t mind which name they’re called, but make sure to communicate with them first.
I’m not just talking in schools. Schooling systems are supposed to give us the sex talk, and they kind of failed on that one (at least for me). No, I’m talking about hospitals and doctors. I’m talking about churches. I’m talking about any place where people look for guidance about children. Why not introduce gender dysphoria in a parenting class? And school counselors should be open to speaking about this unique issue as well.
Committing suicide is not the answer
“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 fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society.”–Leelah Alcorn
It’s really difficult for me to say that. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been on/off depression medication, and I can’t say I’ve never thought about killing myself. Really thought about it. But it’s not the answer to anyone’s problems. It wasn’t the answer to mine.
I don’t want to judge Leelah Alcorn’s decision to end her life. It is rare, but sometimes there is no other way to stop the pain. Brittany Maynard chose assisted suicide because she suffered from terminal brain cancer. Some secret agents kill themselves to avoid painful torture and execution. In this case, Alcorn chose to kill herself because she was isolated and unable to be herself. And what she went through sounds horrible. I don’t know what choice I would have made in her situation. But she incentivized suicide. She also did it as a fuck-you to the world, something she readily admits in her Tumblr note. She wanted to be a number that shocked society into change. Please, whoever you are, don’t try to shock society into change. Don’t. It’s rarely worth your life. Instead, be the change you wish to see, as Ghandi said in a nutshell. Be active in your community. Educate people, and try to accept others.
Suicide is not something to take lightly or dismiss. If you or someone you love is having self-harming thoughts, please talk to someone.
1 (800) 273-8255
For transgender people the Trans Lifeline can help:
US: (877) 565-8860
Canada: (877) 330-6366
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ youth: 1-866-488-7386
The GLBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564