[Content note: suicide and transphobia]
On December 28th, Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl took her own life. On Tumblr, she left a suicide note that discussed being rejected by her parents.
From USA Today on December 30th*:
“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,” Alcorn wrote in a post on Tumblr. [Tumblr has subsequently made the post private at her parent’s request.]
Her parents, she wrote, wanted her to be a “perfect little straight Christian boy.”
“My death needs to mean something,” she wrote in the post, which she scheduled to appear the day after her death.
Her final public words: “Fix society. Please.”
In the past week, Alcorn’s story has gone viral. Many trans and cis people have been mourning her death and calling for greater awareness of the crisis of suicide in the trans community.
Someone** on my Twitter feed mentioned that cis people need to respond to this suicide in a very different way than trans people do. That’s a very, very important point, and I want to take some time to spell out why.
Not all trans people attempt suicide, but an alarming number of us do (the latest estimate is 41%). It’s hard coming to terms with being trans in a society that views trans as one of the worst things a person can be.
That’s an understatement.
Most of us endure years or decades of being completely numb to the world around us. Even for those of us who go on to “succeed” by cis people’s standards, deep scars remain.
I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. I have on-and-off struggles with depression and thoughts of self-harm. Regardless of how I’m doing at any point in time, the odds are pretty good that someone I know is battling depression.
In my opinion, major depression is one of the foundations of the trans community. I’m not saying that to be, well, depressing. I just really need to get the point across that we spend our days worrying about our friends. I don’t know who I might lose next. I don’t know which of my friends might drop offline, reinvent themselves, or otherwise leave my circle of friends without warning. This sort of worry is pretty standard for us. Our communities are built around it.
This self-destruction and marginalization has let us to create powerful support networks. We do a lot to help each other. We check in on each other. We tell each other about our successes, and try to ensure that all of us have positive role models. We form our own support groups. We train each other, recruit each other, and when possible, hire each other. We share vital information and spare medication. We open our couches to each other. We even staff our own suicide prevention hotline.
If you’re not part of our community, you don’t see a lot of this. If you are, you might take it for granted or be caught up in the horizontal violence that plagues us. Make no mistake, though. Our community is tight and supportive, and has been for decades. In the past decade, we’ve increasingly claimed our identities, and have been connecting in ways that were once unimaginable.
For most of us who are trans, our reaction to Leelah Alcorn’s death has been as deeply personal as it has been routine. We are hurting, but we are strong.
Meanwhile, many of our cis “allies” are hopping on the death of this young, white, presumably innocent, teenage girl to make it clear that they really care about us.
Allies have embraced #pinkforleelah, which asks people to show support for trans youth by paint their ring fingers pink on January 6th.
Allies have organized and attended vigils.
Dan Savage is outraged.
This is all fine and good. I appreciate it, even. But there’s a world of difference between me painting my ring finger pink in support of a fallen sister and resolving to take care of my family and some cis person painting their nail so they feel like they’ve “done something.”
We’re already doing everything we can. What, exactly, are y’all doing, cis people?
I know, I know, #notallcispeople. But the overwhelming majority of you aren’t doing enough for us. I’m lucky enough to have several cis people in my life who I trust. But a lot of them don’t live anywhere near me. Those that do can’t constantly follow me around offering me support. My wife can’t even do that, although she came close in those early months a decade ago.
All of us are aware of the awesome power you have over our lives. It’s not just that a parent can punish their child for coming out. You can hurt us at any time.
You can take away our hormones when we move, get thrown in jail, or just need to get a new doctor.
You hold meetings to decide where we can piss.
You hold meetings to decide whether we can come to your meetings.
Even those of us who have reclaimed our identities years ago are constantly under threat.
Once it becomes known that one of us is trans, many of our coworkers turn on us. Our friends become scarce, all while whispering reassurances about their one gay uncle. We may need to find new cities, and new careers.
We don’t even need to choose to come out to be in danger. Some of you dox us for sport. Some of you do it in the name of journalism.
I’m sure we’ll continue to talk amongst ourselves about how to handle the current crisis. Cis people don’t get to lead that conversation. We don’t care what you think. We’re more concerned with what you do, or more often, what you don’t do.
I understand all too well why you want to honor the passing of this one particular girl. If it feels right to you, do it. But do something for the rest of us, as well as for future generations of trans people. Make our humanity a priority on par with your own.
*I’m not including the link, as the story uses the name Leelah rejected. Almost every story I’ve seen includes that bit of information.
**Apologies to whoever was talking about this– I can’t find your tweet, otherwise I’d cite it!