On Sunday the 28th of December – Leelah Alcorn – a teenage girl tragically took her own life. Her gender did not correspond with the one assigned to her at birth and despite great efforts to embrace who she was, her parents weren’t willing to afford her that right. The attempted coercion of the male gender onto her precipitated feelings of despondence.
Her passing has ignited a national debate on the maltreatment trans people are subjected to, with many calling for legislative action to protect trans youth. The intrusive and odious conversion therapy – which was imposed on her by her parents, has been denounced – and there has been a social media campaign to have the therapy outlawed. Many have also taken to Twitter to show solidarity to trans people, utilising the hashtag #translivematter to express their care and love; this is just a testament to how indispensable social media is to the socially oppressed.
Her plight which can be attributed to the scourge of transphobia is not anomalous — the suicide rate for trans people especially women of color is harrowingly high – and it’s long overdue society confronts the transphobia which pervades it. There needs to be a concerted effort, both socially and politically to ensure trans people are afforded the same rights and privileges bestowed onto others.
The responsibility lies on the shoulders of cisgendered people to rectify this, since trans people account for a very slim proportion of the population. They must solicit the advice of trans people and defer to their wishes; cis people have to fix this but they must elevate the voices of trans people.
Another component of this tragedy is the glaring issue of parental neglect. Leelah was very explicit in her disdain for her parents due to their callousness and disregard of her gender.
When she revealed her true gender to her parents they were dismissive and insistent that Christian therapy would be the remedy; this inevitably exacerbated the inner agony plaguing Leelah.
It’s incumbent on the APA to call for prosecution for the charlatans who administered dubious unscientific therapy to Leelah; this constitutes gross negligence at the very least.
Leelah found some sanctuary in her friends support and acceptance but eventually her mother sequestered her from them by removing her from school and forbidding social media access; this draconian approach to parenting is conducive to resentment and indignation.
Sadly her friends abandoned her too which compounded her suffering. All she desired was her identify to be acknowledged – when her work colleagues exhibited acceptance and used accurate pronouns it elicited feelings of happiness in Leelah.
Even after she passed her parents continued to misgender her – which further stigmatises her, it’s grievously disrespectful to her and triggering to other trans people. An integral part of parenthood is unconditional love and Leelah’s parents betrayed that requirement when they bludgeoned their daughter into concealment, which engendered despair. I still feel sympathy for her parents, while their actions amounted to abuse, they still have to suffer the desolation of losing a daughter.
While people will correctly lay blame on the parents, this tragedy is emblematic of systemic transphobia. It’s imperative that societal and legal issues are confronted: Legal recognition of their gender, a universal prohibition of conversion therapy, awareness of the harm of misgendering, statutes forbidding workplace discrimination, access to tax-funded hormone replacement therapy, trivialisation of trans issues, ignorance about gender and the like. The bigotry which manifested in her parents, is reinforced by a culture which marginalises and is generally apathetic to the adversity of trans people. Her parents’ support which remained conspicuously absent throughout her ordeal could have conceivably been counteracted by a society that protects the oppressed. But alas that society is still an idyllic concept.
An extremist group notorious for transphobic prejudice known as “Terfs” are cynically exploiting this tragedy to suppress discourse about the transphobia which is prevalent in society.
They are masquerading as concerned individuals, but their agenda is decidedly transparent. They avowedly despise trans people and want to sweep under the rug the blight of transphobia. While it’s true reporting of suicide ought to be done with extreme responsibility, tact and caution – it’s equally true prejudice towards trans people has to be confronted. If we fail to address the prejudice which so patently contributed to this tragedy we are disrespecting the memory of Leelah and the millions of others this odious prejudice adversely affects.
Posthumously her letter instructed us to fix society, her ultimate wish being that trans people be afforded unmitigated equality. A goal that may appear elusive, but we owe it to trans people to heed that wish and to galvanise us into realising that dream. And when that bright beam of equality emerges, amidst the grim cloud of prejudice, Leelah will rest in peace.
A collation of suicide crisis lines for anyone in need of support: Wikipedia.org/SuicideCrisisLines