Monday, 5 January 2015

A Cry for Hope

They were fairly simple needs. To be known. To be happy. To be loved.  It was a simple final request as well, "Fix society. Please."

I have shied away from writing following the death of Leelah Alcorn, who took her own life aged just 17 last week.  There's a young person's life cut tragically short.  There's a family grieving and Leelah's parents have come under immense and direct attack for the way they handled her being trans; the real fuel behind that attack coming from Leelah herself, in her suicide note.

It is that same note, scheduled to post to Tumblr after her death, which asks to make her life something to be talked about, widely.  A cry that was in equal measures pain, anguish, isolation and a desperate hope that what happened to her, never happens to another.  A selflessness, in that sense.

Social media empowered her with a voice.  In that same spirit, I include an unaltered copy of her words below and decided to share her story, as an addition to the many other writings you'll find online in a similar vein.  Leelah's final paragraph highlights her wishes:
"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."

Because I know not everyone will be aware of Leelah, I'll cover her story in part here.

The response from the trans community across the world, was instant and intense.  Intense because the feelings that Leelah expressed (with considerable eloquence and awareness) have been deeply felt by so many of us.  Leelah's was a life never realised - she was never able to begin her transition. The most distressing element that I felt, the biggest waste, was that she had a future.  At least, in the world I experience and enjoy, she had a future.  By the way she writes, in all likelihood, that could have been a bright future. But the world I and many others experience never became a reality for Leelah.  Even with the international connectivity that now permeates our lives, that was never a truth for her. 'Could have' became 'should have'.

The thing about depression, is that negativity is deafening and positivity's volume is turned way down.  Reasoning your way through it takes herculean effort and most often the support of others.  In Leelah's case, as she describes coming out aged 14, "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." She continues, "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."

"People say 'it gets better' but that isn't true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse."

The #itgetsbetter campaign and many others with a similar message are far reaching.  But last week we saw evidence of barriers put up to block that kind of message.  Leelah heard it but didn't believe it over everything else she was hearing.  Her parents should have heard it and believed it, but they "Don't support that, religiously".  It is why we should never apologise for saying it and saying it proudly.  It is simply evidence of the beautiful natural diversity in human experience.  It is evidence of real, lived experience.  Young LGBT people, in particular, need to understand this, but as Leelah experienced, this is far from enough.  Parents need to understand.  Families. Teachers. Pastors. Peers.  All are needed to make this reality... real.  What's the worst that can happen?  Surely with the current system, the worst is already happening and that's a tragic loss for all of us?  As I've heard said before, 'this doesn't take the brains of an Archbishop'.

The response by individuals, groups and worldwide media has been to seek to place blame for the forces leading to Leelah taking her own life.  Much of that has been directed at her parents, alongside the 'therapists' that Leelah describes - "I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help."

I am not religious myself for very deliberate reasons, though I have been in various ways in the past.  I don't blame any religion or Christianity directly, but like many, I hold the pastors from the Christian-right and the 'reversion therapists' who broke Leelah's spirit and advised her parents, entirely to account - it is important to recognise that her parents acted on the best information they had and are mourning the loss of their child. Reversion therapy and the culture that supports it must be the focus of anger, and not Leelah's parents themselves. These 'therapists' (and anyone practicing reversion therapy) have serious questions to answer with governing bodies and wider society.  Even putting emotion to one side, the evidence for 'curing' being LGB or T is minimal, while the evidence of the destroyed lives it leaves is monumental.

We need to be careful not to make this about religion, which is easy to do.  That's a separate debate.  This is about humanity and giving people a chance to be known; something that Deacon Ray Dever and Vicky Beeching understand from a religious perspective and is better coming from the likes of them than from me.  The two things are not mutually exclusive.

I am struck by the size and breadth of the outcry over this in the past week, by media and individuals around the world.  The tone has been consistent though; never again.

Leelah's story is far from an anomaly.  She has though, had her cry heard by as many people, across as wide a demographic, as almost anyone else I can think of in recent times - and she needs remembering for that.  I am distraught that she wasn't given the opportunity to see that #itgetsbetter.  More so because I know there are so many others like her right now.

Allies are critical at this time. Young people particularly, especially those working out their gender or sexuality, need to hear the message, clearly, consistently and from as many of us as possible, that we need them to become their wonderful authentic selves.  That we'll help them work it out and that contrary to being a millstone around their neck, authenticity can be the biggest enabler to their lives.  The finest way to stick two fingers up to those who would crush your spirit, is to live and live well.

Messaging doesn't just stop within the LGBT community and vocal allies are, in fact, the ones who take that message and make it known.  Engrained.  They are the ones with the power to normalise and I salute the many who are doing just that.  People like myself can stand up and say, "Hey, look, proof that it get's better..." But it takes allies to validate that statement and to ground it in reality for society to see.  It requires people to stand up, be seen, and to help up those behind them.


It's a simple cry for hope.








Leelah's letter:
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 “fuck 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 shit 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 shit 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 shit 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 fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please. 
Goodbye, 
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn



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