Regarding the Death of Leelah Alcorn

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully understand gender identity. I know that it is a very complex, nuanced issue. I know that I have never struggled with gender dysphoria. I know that my experiences are not every person’s experiences. I know that life can be complicated and painful and difficult. I know that life’s problems and pain, for those whose experiences differ from mine, can be much worse. So much so that research suggests, as adults, transgender people attempt suicide at an astounding rate of 41% – even higher for those who come out to their communities as transgender, 50%.

Leelah Alcorn (Source: Google Images)

I wrote a short piece about teen suicide and the LGBT community a while ago, but that post focused primarily on gay and lesbian teens. In light of Leelah Alcorn’s recent death by suicide, it’s clear that this conversation deserves more attention. I was especially moved by this piece by Dese’Rae L. Stage. My heart broke as I read the news this morning, learned about Leelah’s experiences, and came to realize that she believed that no life at all was better than the life that she had. That she’d reached out for help, but didn’t find the hope she was looking for. That, in her eyes, her own family had failed to recognize her struggle as legitimate. In the suicide note she left, Leelah had this to say:

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…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.

I know that I don’t have the answers that can fix society. All I know is that I have questions. Questions like:

What’s gender? What’s gender dysphoria? Or, maybe, why gender dysphoria?

Does a lack of knowledge about this issue give us the right to treat people differently?

What if I’m a Christian? Doesn’t this issue get a lot more complicated?

Can one’s views about the morality of gender uncertainty be a legitimate excuse to mistreat those who are transgender, or gender-nonconforming?

Should the age of majority factor into the discussion? Do we know enough about human development (as it relates to issues like gender) to help children make the choices that are best for them?

Like I said, all I have are questions. But maybe, just maybe, our questions can lead to conversations. And maybe our conversations can lead to understanding and empathy. And maybe that understanding and empathy can help us take a step forward – a step toward a society where suicide doesn’t seem like the only choice for people who struggle like Leelah. I hope so.

I hope so because Leelah has begged it to be so. Leelah and every other child who has struggled to fit in, struggled to understand themselves and the world, have begged it to be so. I hope that this post can serve as an invitation. An invitation to ask questions. An invitation to answer questions that have been posed. I think we can do better. I don’t know if we’ll find #justiceforleelahalcorn, or what that would look like. But, I think we can do better.

If you are struggling with suicide or suicidal ideations, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. The folks at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have dedicated their lives to helping hurting people, and they can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 anytime. If you prefer to text, you can text “START” to 741-741 and reach a helper at the Crisis Text Line. You can also read the stories of people across the U.S. who have survived suicide attempts at Live Through This.

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