By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
On December 28th Leelah Alcorn walked in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer on the Ohio interstate near her home, taking her own life. On her Tumblr page she left a remarkably eloquent, detailed note explaining the struggles that spurred her tragic decision.
Like all trans people, Leelah was issued an erroneous gender assignment at birth, which she struggled to make sense of, before discovering information about transgender identities on the Internet when she was fourteen. In her note she recalls both the elation her findings brought her, and the despair she experienced after sharing the news with her mother, a conservative Christian, who rejected Leelah’s self-conception, saying she was wrong, she’d never be a girl, and that God doesn’t make mistakes.
Following this, Leelah was, in a sense, imprisoned. Her parents withdrew her from her school, and removed her access to the Internet and social media. In place of affirmation, her parents administered reprogramming, taking her to religion-based reparative therapists, whom she says told her she was “selfish” and “wrong” and should look to God for help.
Leelah eventually regained her electronic privileges, but did not return to school, and was instead enrolled in an online “virtual academy.” She expresses great disillusionment about this period, stating her friends did not really care about or have time for her when she wasn’t interacting with them at school.
She also writes heartbreakingly about the dysphoria that hounded her, illustrating the especially pernicious phenomenon of politicizing trans youth identities. Each day Leelah witnessed her body developing asynchronously to her identity, changes she knew could be halted easily with medical interventions–but which, in many cases, would be irreversible as they continued.
We can see her desperation as she writes, “I’m never going to transition successfully. I’m never going to like the way I look or sound,” and “People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”
Medical research demonstrates conclusively that the depression and suicidal ideation brought on by gender dysphoria is alleviated by hormone replacement therapy, which is why the Oregon Health Plan began covering pubertal suppressants for adolescents recently. A teen like Leelah, who self-identifies as trans, and expresses a need for such interventions, though, can have those needs tragically rejected by parents still, in our culture, on the basis of conservative religious arguments.
These pressures appear to have become too much for Leelah. She describes herself as having felt overwhelmed by the needs to maintain her grades, apply for college, and save money to move out, coupled with the impossibility of envisioning a happy transition.
In a separate post Leelah says her heartfelt goodbyes to her siblings, while telling her parents only, “Mom and Dad: Fuck you. You can’t control people like that. That’s messed up.”
Leelah’s mother posted on Facebook on the 28th about her death, misgendering Leelah, calling her death an accident, and saying she “went home to heaven.”
As for Leelah herself, she specifically wrote of the effect she hoped her death create, and the steps that could help bring it about, saying, “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 fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Society can certainly be seen as having failed Leelah, as it fails so many trans children, youth and adults. It’s horrible that it’s taken such a tragic loss to bring the widespread attention to these issues we’ve seen since Leelah’s death. Let’s hope her final wish is granted.
Note: If you or a young person you know is LGBT and thinking about suicide, please call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. For adults over 24, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Note: Ginelle can be reached at email@example.com.