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This is not the positive story with which I planned to start off the New Year on my blog. But it is a story that needs to be told as often as possible. Leelah Alcorn, an Ohio teenager, took her life because of the rejection she felt from parents. Leelah Alcorn identified as female and as transgender. Before her death, she wrote in a suicide note posted on a social media site that she knew she was female since she was four years old and finally learned the meaning of “transgender” at age 14.
According to a friend and next door neighbor, Leelah did not have problems coming out at school. The problem was with her family.
An indication of the problem is that Leelah’s mother did not acknowledge her child’s gender, even in death. She wrote that her “sweet … son” had died from being hit by a truck when going for a walk.
That walk was along Interstate 71 somewhere between 2 and 2:30 AM. That is not the time or place that people go for a casual walk. That is where someone goes to get up courage to dart out of the dark in front of a tractor trailer truck.
I preach compassion and understanding. It is the right thing to do. I’m sure her parents really thought they were doing what was best for their child. I can even understand why they embarked on a course of Christian counseling for Leelah. After all, it is consistent with the teachings they had been given by those they relied on for spiritual guidance.
But at what point do you stop and realize that it isn’t working? That no progress was being made after at least two years? (One strange discrepancy in the news stories is that they uniformly report Leelah’s age as 17, but Leelah’s mother posted the age of “her son” as 16.) Leelah remained depressed and apparently uncommunicative with her parents. Leelah was even put on medication (a rather drastic step for most faith-based counselors) that did not help.
The spirit of this human being, their child, was being oppressed and crushed day after day. She was isolated from friends and effective therapy that might have saved her life: the life she wanted; the life she was entitled to as her own.
My heart goes out to Leelah’s two sisters and her brother. My heart aches for the truck driver who had the ill fate of driving along that stretch of road at that moment in time. Logic knows that there was no possible way to avoid hitting Leelah. But logic will not ease the pain of reliving that moment: seeing Leelah, experiencing the moment of impact, and then seeing her destroyed, bloody, lifeless body. I have not seen the name of the driver released, but God knows the name. Pray that the truck driver will find peace.
It will be harder to pray for Leelah’s parents. But I cannot and will not join in the backlash that has formed against them. The most likely result is that they and the members of their congregation will rally around them and dig in their heels. Being judgmental (ironically a charge often leveled against Christians), is not an effective way to change hearts. Nor does it bring Leelah’s final wish, that her death would mean something, any closer to reality.
Leelah’s suicide note has made the rounds on the Internet. Even so, I will give her one more venue in which to speak for herself, especially since her Tumblr page on which the suicide note was placed was removed from the Internet in response to a demand from Leelah’s parents. I will intersperse comments clearly marked as mine.
When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
[Lois’s note: On 12/3/13, my blog post titled “God doesn’t make mistakes” deals with this very topic, but points out that this is actually supportive of those of us who were born transgender. Since we were born this way and it is not a choice, and since God made us the way we are inside as well as outside, then we are only being who we have been created to be by God. Many of my blog posts deal with this from various Biblical perspectives. See any post under the category “The Bible on transsexualism”. I also know that the one time my mom caught me dressed, what she told me was unintentionally hurtful. But it was easier to take because I had much other tangible evidence that my parents loved me. Apparently Leelah did not feel that same assurance.]
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 and that I should look to God for help.
[Lois’s note: Leelah says that her mom took her to a therapist, a positive step. But then she writes “therapists” as in plural. So my guess is that when therapist number one didn’t make any progress, all that happened was a revolving door of Christian therapists, the parents never willing to admit that the reason for the lack of progress was the closed-minded, biased approach of the therapists. It truly is insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Furthermore, the haughty, condescending attitude of these so-called therapists is deplorable. Although I have no evidence regarding Leelah’s relationship with God or her prayer life other than that she went to church at her parents’ request, the remarks of these people in the name of therapy is something that I and many of my trans Christian friends have been told by Christian pastors, counselors and former friends who think they are setting us straight. And since all of us are many years older than Leelah, it is even more insulting to us. We are called selfish when we sacrificed our own lives for decades trying to please others by being something we are not. We are called wrong even though the Bible verses they use (if any) are so flimsy that they can be answered without breaking a sweat. And they disregard our testimony, in effect calling us liars, when we tell them how much we have reached out to God in this matter, in prayer, in studying the Bible and in seeking someone we could trust to be discreet, honest, open-minded and insightful in providing counsel. Ignoring our testimony that knowledge of our gender identity goes back to childhood, they treat us as if we were bored one day and decided this would be a fun and interesting thing to do. They have no concept of how long we wrestled with this and counted the cost before proceeding.]
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 in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say, “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
This is the way that Leelah concluded her suicide note. Leelah, dear soul, I and many other people are telling your story to honor your last wish. You are more than a victim: you are a martyr in the cause of social justice for all transgender people. If there is any human decency in the world, your plaintive final words will strike a chord that will move the hearts of fair-minded people, just as images of attack dogs, fire hoses, bombed churches and lynchings moved fair-minded people 50 years ago in the cause of civil rights for black people.
As for Leelah’s parents, I continued to think about them as I wrote this post. And I have come to understand that their punishment has just begun within their own minds, far worse than anything mankind can do to them. Regardless of what they are saying in denial or to save face or in their own grief, they will have to live with the knowledge that this child who they have brought into the world blames them for driving her to suicide. They will have to live with the knowledge that Leelah left this earth comforting her brother and two sisters, but with a curse to them. They will have to live, wondering how their other children feel about them now, or perhaps even knowing that one or more of them also blame them for Leelah’s death. They will have to live wondering if their children can forgive them for what they did to take their sister away from them. And while I will not pretend to know if or how God is speaking to their hearts right now, they will still have to live wondering how their parenting of Leelah will be judged on that day when all that we have done will be judged as either precious or worthy of nothing more than to be burned in the fire.
And will they wonder if, in thinking they were saving their child, they actually put a stumbling block (i.e. offended) in the way of Leelah and drove her further away from God? Will their hearts be pierced whenever they read these words or hear them preached upon?
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. – Matthew 18:4-6,10,14
And if Leelah’ parents were face to face with me right now? I serve a God of redemption. I would hold out the right hand of fellowship to them. If they have ears to hear, I would do my best to unfold the Scriptures to them that I have discovered in my 25 year search for truth on this topic. And I would do the same for any Bible-believing Christian parent who has a transgender child, regardless of the state of their relationship with that child. I do not hold myself out as a therapist. But I have shared the Gospel and taught the Word of God and have decades of study to show myself “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2nd Timothy 2:15)
God forgive us,