One Year On
Sunday marked 365 days since Leelah Alcorn stepped in front of a truck in Cincinnati and ended her young life, leaving behind an on-line suicide note which asked us to “change the world” in her memory. With apologies to John Lennon, “and what have we learned?”
Among the points that were, at least, reinforced are these:
That there’s a troubling conundrum presented by the desire to honor those who’ve lost their lives and the potential that we make things inviting for another hurting soul to follow suit in an effort to be more well regarded in death than in life. There’s not really a solution to this, I fear, short of eliminating suicide altogether which is, sadly, an unrealistic goal. It is right and proper that we call their name and call on society to change the factors that lead to these deaths – imperative even. But to do so is to inevitably raise a formerly anonymous person to national prominence and for some of the most lonely and wounded among us, it can be almost irresistible, and when you see young people who did, in fact, have a lot of support (as opposed to the opposition Alcorn received) nevertheless follow her path, it’s easy to conclude that posthumous celebrity played a part.
That “repairitive” therapy can be deadly. One of the things we learned about Leelah’s personal history is that her parents had sent her to people who made an effort to “fix” her (obviously without success). While the year ended on a high-note with the long overdue news that Kenneth Zucker’s clinic in Toronto, which had given an air of legitimacy to his thesis that parents should reject cross-gender claims in pre-teens (to be fair, even he acknowledged that if the claim persisted past puberty it was unlikely to desist), there are still a lot of ill-informed religious counselors whose names you’ve never heard afield in the hinterlands breaking the spirits of young people (and adults) who’s names you will also never hear until it’s too late to make a difference for them.
That many average people around us are shockingly unwilling to think critically about things they believe to be true. Logically, you’d think it would be impossible, but as one who girds up her loins and wades into comment threads on a regular basis, I can attest to you that it’s not uncommon to read an article which specifically states that the suicide victim was subjected to this sort of “help” and state, in their comment, “we need to get these people help” (in the context of help to “fix” them). This is the part of the battle that can’t be won with activism in the halls of legislatures and suits won in court of law. It is very much a personal “one heard and mind at a time” battle that will last a generation.
That our politically motivated opposition has no compunction whatsoever with deliberately engendering ignorance and propagating a false narrative even if it results in the death of innocents Like Leelah. In one location after another across the country, Traditionalist leadership attempted (and often succeeded) to make political gains on the back of demonized trans people, and reminding them of the young people driven to suicide by their words and deeds does not move them to reconsider even a little bit. Our opposition has sold out their ability to reason, or to empathize, in service to political ambition and that motivation cannot be reasoned with. I do not speak here, by the way, of the rank and file Southern Baptist (or Mormon, or Catholic or whatever) but of the political actors like Tony Perkins, Linda Harvey, Peter LaBarbara, Matt Barber, and many many others. They lie to themselves (or lie to you knowing full well it’s a lie) and claim that their actions reflect their concern for these “poor confused kids” (you probably know the term “concern troll”) but someone who’s really acting from a place of empathy is willing to reconsider their position based on new information. You’ll never see any of these NeoPharisees reconsider their position.
Most of all, these points collectively teach us that our effort to make things better, to change the world – is really only just beginning. Because even as our legal situation improves, marginally, the real challenge is in the homes of our neighbors where any given child might turn out to be trans – and all too often find themselves oppressed by those they thought loved them. Those hearts and minds need our winsome, firm but not abrasive, persuasion – and that campaign is only just beginning. It will take far more than a year.
Photo by mrsmullerauh