Her Name Was Leelah: Tragedy and the “Transgender Tipping Point”

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by Eryn Connery

Her given name was Joshua. This is the name her parents continue to use in interviews, referring to her as “he,” “him,” and “son,” in a blatant act of disrespect for the seventeen year old transgender girl who liked to be known as Leelah. On December 28th, 2014, this young woman left a suicide note on her personal blog (which was later deleted by her parents, though the note and many of the posts had been saved by outside sources before this occurred) and took her own life, saying, “They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy[…]There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse.”

NPR referred to Leelah Alcorn’s death as the “transgender tipping point,” although they also said that the news of a transgender death is “hardly news” for many transgendered people. They report that in Ohio, Leelah’s own home state, four transgender women have been killed since March of 2013, three of whom were women of color. Acts of violence in relation to transgendered people are disturbingly common, between murders such as those that occurred in Ohio, the high suicide rate (in a 2011 study, it was found that 41% of the over 6,000 transgender/gender nonconforming people had attempted suicide), and many abuse tactics such as “conversion therapy,” which attempts to “correct” sexual and gender orientations to straight and cisgender.

Leelah’s parents themselves used this tactic. Leelah stated in her suicide note, “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…” Leelah asserts that this was the reason her depression was never cured.

However, her note – and her story – ends not with hopelessness, but with a call to action. She says, “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[…] Fix society. Please.”

It appears that Leelah may be on the way to getting her wish. Since her death, the media has been primarily respectful of her correct pronouns and her given name, and the coverage of her death has been widespread. The Twitter hashtag “#RealLiveTransAdult” has also become popular in the aftermath of Leelah’s passing, containing messages of hope from transgender adults who are living happy, successful lives, and want to share snippets of their stories with those who are young and suffering.

This is by no means the end of the violence against and suffering of those who are transgender, but as Leelah’s message continues to circulate and more and more awareness is raised, people are given the opportunity to step up to the plate and make change happen. Resources for both the parents of transgender children and for the youth themselves are becoming more and more readily available, and society is making its first small steps towards acceptance through respectful news articles and hopeful hashtags. Society isn’t there yet, but it’s getting closer. Rest in peace, Leelah Alcorn. Rest in power. We lost an amazing sister when we lost you, but you will not be forgotten.

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