• author
    • Matthew Najmowicz

      Columnist
    • January 3, 2015 in Columnists

    The tragic and lonely world of Leelah Alcorn

    Leelah Alcorn 1

    A transgender 17-year-old named Leelah Alcorn, born in Ohio, made the final choice of taking her life on Dec. 28. Leelah thought she had to make that awful and final choice. Make no mistake about it — the world Leelah lived in was the biggest factor in Leelah’s suicide.

    Yes, that Leelah’s parents appeared less than enlightened about transgender people were also a critical factor. However, the world’s social attitudes helped harden the perception of Leelah’s parents who tried to send Leelah to Christian therapists. We have all read about conversion therapy in which therapists try to convince homosexuals that they can “pray the gay away.” They apply the same logic to trangenders even though the issue isn’t about sexual orientation but the very issue of genitalia and gender.

    To make matters worse, the social mediasphere went berserk. As the hashtag #leelahalcorn went viral with support, as it should have, social media, in a cheap and hacky way, paints the parents as Christian rubes and ultimately, transphobic. The amount of vitriol, even if some if it is earned, aimed towards the grieving parents is quite startling.

    Leelah’s parents lost their child — a child they knew as a boy and named Joshua. That is a fact that seems to been lost in the sauce of this situation. I’m not defending any perceived transphobia here. All I’m saying is that their child killed herself and they now live in a very public hell of constant media scrutiny.

    leelah-alcorn-picture

    Just imagine the nine layers of Hell the parents are going through. They could couldn’t understand their daughter (in their eyes, they still see their son), they can’t relate to Leelah, they couldn’t help Leelah, and apparently they tried to apply the Christian bible to the situation in absolute failure. In the parents’ eyes, they tried everything to help their child. Perhaps I’m being overly charitable in saying Leelah’s parents were simply unenlightened about transgender people. Leelah was simply living her life and trying to figure out what was going on with her identity. I’m not going to sit here and judge Leelah’s parents. and I’m not trying to take sides. I only wish to present the parents’ pain and confusion about what was truly happening to someone they once knew as Joshua.

    Truth is painful. Truth is violent. And the truth about Joshua, now Leelah, tore the parents to shreds. Leelah needed time to figure things out and to confront her own personal truth.

    And look at what the truth did to poor Leelah. No matter what can be said about the fluid nature of gender, Leelah was facing the truth about her identity. No matter how she got there, Leelah knew the world was going to reject her.

    Why is Leelah’s truth so hard to accept? Why couldn’t the world leave Leelah alone?

    As a red-haired nerd, allow me to talk about being an outcast and the loneliness it generates.

    If you are perceived as someone who deviates from the normal social order, you’re an outcast. As for race, gender, nationality, class, religion, and so on, anytime someone is different, they’re put into an invisible box — kind of like a tiger on display at a zoo. Everyone walks into that zoo and looks at the tiger. Some make faces at the tiger, some say the tiger is pretty, some say the tiger is great, some hate the tiger, and some people just move on to the underwater gallery. That’s how the world treats someone who is outwardly different.

    No one goes to the zoo to observe the blades of grass on the ground. No one was ever afraid of a blade of grass. But we’ve all heard stories about scary tigers, haven’t we? We all have heard rumors and stories about how tigers act, mate, sleep, and live their lives.

    Just imagine for a moment that you are so different, and you know you’re different, and everyone’s looking at you, calling you names, making faces, and making jokes. Some might even hate you. Some might admire you. Some might think you are beautiful. Some might think you are the most amazing person. It’s the hate and anger that oppresses you and silences you. It’s the violence from society that literally beats you and tries to make you normal.

    This was the complicated and ultimately tragic world in which Leelah lived, and those who are reading this column still dwell. My question is: How do we make the world just a little more respectful for those who challenge what is normal and acceptable in society? How can we create a world in which everyone is an outcast and doesn’t have to suffer for being an outcast?

    I don’t think education and compassion will be enough. If we want transgender peoples’ lives to matter, then all lives must matter and be treated the same in our society. The struggle is for equality — equality under the law and equality of economic opportunity. The powerful cannot simply smash and control those whom they perceive as weak and different. For a society that elevates hyper-individualism and egotism, we hate people who are unique. My hope is that the conversation doesn’t boil down to tolerance. It’s not about tolerance. It’s about isolating a person and people so they simply obey their masters.

    Leelah was a beautiful outcast. She was one of my tribe and family: The family of outcasts. I simply want to live in the world in which I don’t ever have to write about this situation ever again.


      • Dani

      • January 3, 2015 at 1:17 pm
      • Reply

      Very well said Matt!



    • This is a great article. I truly mean that. But I cannot and do not agree with the statement that it “tore her parents to shreds.” If that was the case, they would show some love and acceptance, at the VERY least, now that she is dead. But they cannot even call her by the name or gender that she died justifying, explaining and defending, with her very last words! They are not victims. And, they should feel absolutely destroyed. They should carry the guilt every.single.day for the rest of their lives. Because Leelah’s blood is 100% on their hands. They made her feel isolated. They made her feel rejected, trapped and unloved. They showed no love and no tolerance and they did it under the mask of religion. It’s bullshit. It’s acceptable. I believe they should be charged with manslaughter. I hope it haunts them the rest of their lives. Acceptance and tolerance? You don’t think compassion will cut it? Wrong again. Even now, the world shouts and mourns for her, and stands to defend. In 17 years, that was more than her parents did one time! EVEN NOW.



      • Grace, for the most part I agree with your assessment of the parents. But I do think on a certain level, Leelah’s parents were devastated that they could never be able to fully relate to, in their eyes, son. You, Grace, and I sitting behind the computer fully understand that Leelah is a transgender and a woman. We understand it because we are simply more exposed and educated about gender issues. I am willing to bet that Leelah’s parents were not educated. And at this point, they are in shock and in mourning over the loss of their child who died so tragic and now publicly. I don’ want to restate what I wrote. All I am saying is perhaps we should give Leelah’s parents the, forgive the word, tolerance than what the parents gave Leelah.

        What if the parents finally accept their daughter? What if the parents finally understand what problems, frustration, isolation, and anger Leelah was going through? It’s unfortunate that Leelah had to die the way she did to finally expose Leelah’s parents to Leelah’s personal truth.

        I am not ultra-sympathetic to Leelah’s parents. But there is a tragic element to how they treated Leelah. They didn’t hate Leelah, I think they just tragically misunderstood her. That is the horror of this situation. A lack of understanding and compassion.



        • Your sympathies for the parents are massively misplaced. This is not a good article and shows no understanding of gender, queer, or even feminist issues regarding identity (and that isn’t even taking into the account of “hey, let me, a straight cis white guy, tell you about being an outsider” attitude that is also hugely problematic).
          Her parents drove her to suicide. They do not deserve sympathy for treating their daughter the way they did. They should be in jail for abuse and hate crimes. They can also speak for themselves, and have made their position very clear. They “loved their son,” someone who never even existed while their daughter walked in front of a truck. They don’t need you to come on the scene and speak for them and ask the world to back off and give them space.
          “They didn’t hate Leelah, I think they just tragically misunderstood her.” How can you even SAY that? Their actions show that they clearly did hate Leelah because they sent her to a therapist to make Leelah disappear. Again, why are you speaking for a couple of bigots who have done a pretty damn good job of speaking for themselves?
          Feel sympathy for Leelah, not only because she died, but also because she (and countless other trans-teens like her) live in abusive homes like her’s every day. Do not give these people a pass because they carry a shield of religion. Religion is not a protective barrier against abuse.
          If you want more information on this issue from people who have walked in Leelah’s (and very similar) shoes, read this http://powderroom.jezebel.com/your-sympathies-are-misplaced-1677301110?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow



    • Geeze Matt, this lady tore you a new asshole! Glad I didn’t write this. Ha.



    • Yes, the cis white male will talk about how it was to be an outsider. I won’t talk about the racial tensions of my old high school. I won’t tell you about how a gang of guys would say “hey you white piece of bread” and tried to beat the shit out of me on a daily basis.



    • Granted, what I had to deal with isn’t nearly as bad as what a homosexual or transgender person deals with- I don’t deny that fact. However, this is a tragedy. And Leelah’s parents do deserve a bulk of the blame. But they also get my sympathy. Because they didn’t understand Leelah. Every day and night they will live their lives with their daughter’s blood on their hands. Yes, I am sympathetic to Leelah’s parents in a limited way and I defend that stance. Sorry that I am not an outsider enough for you, Leigh.



    • You aren’t totally wrong, Leigh.



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