michael j. morris

Leelah Alcorn, grief, and rage
31 December, 2014, 12:32 am
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , , ,


If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

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.

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.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. 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 about 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.

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn”

Leelah Alcorn, 1997-2014

This was the note left by Leelah Alcorn who died on Sunday, December 28, 2014. She was killed on a highway in Warren County, Ohio, after walking in front of a tractor trailer.
I did not know Leelah, and I realize that there are always complexities to public displays of grief, especially when expressing grief for the loss of someone that one did not know. But I feel compelled to write, to acknowledge this loss, to grieve this death, as an intentional act to move towards a world in which the deaths and lives of trans people matter, specifically when, far too often in our world as it is, they do not. Lives that are not or cannot be grieved when they are lost cannot be valued while they live.
I want to be careful to not transfigure Leelah into a symbol, an icon for trans lives or for all trans* or gender-nonconforming people. To do so would be to perform a different kind of erasure. That is why I wanted to begin with Leelah’s words, Leelah’s voice. I want to grieve the loss of this person.

And: I am angry. I feel rage. I feel exhausted by the thoughtlessness of the world, and I am furious that Leelah and people like Leelah continue to struggle to live and sometimes die in a world that refuses to see or hear them, recognize them, love and care for them. She writes, “The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender.” She writes that she learned to hate herself from her parents and from Christian “therapists.” She writes that her parents made her feel like an attack, an embarrassment, a disappointment. She writes that people didn’t give a shit about her. She writes that she will never “transition successfully,” that she will never be happy, never be loved, that she would only ever be lonely.
I am enraged that this is the world in which Leelah lived. I am horrified by her parents, and by people claiming to work in the field of mental health who treated her the way they did.
But my anger and frustration opens onto a world of social practices more broadly, the norms and behaviors that enable and produce this kind of living and dying.
What does it mean for any of us to grieve this loss while also perpetuating narrow definitions of gender, sex, and desire?
What does it mean to write posts on Facebook and twitter and tumblr and wordpress about this being tragic, this having to stop, insisting that #TransLivesMatter?
How are trans lives to matter when how we continue to define women and men—at structural, institutional, and personal scales—excludes the lives and bodies of many trans people?
How are trans lives to matter when how we continue to define and practice our sexualities operates along rigid and narrow gender binaries—heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual?
How are trans lives to matter when how we define ourselves and our desires often forecloses the possibility of loving trans people from the start—if there are only women who love women, men who love men, or women and men who love each other, where “women” and “men” are narrowly defined?
What does it mean to “matter” if there seems to be no possibility of being loved, or being cared for, or being desired?
How are trans lives to matter when the inflexibility of our (English) language persistently asserts only two possibilities with which to recognize and name subjects?
What does it mean to “matter” if you are unspeakable or remain unspoken, if you feel unlovable and remain unloved, if you feel unrecognizable and remain unrecognized, if you feel undesirable and remain undesired?
And what does it mean to be an “ally” who does not critically interrogate their own assumptions about gender—the genders of others and one’s own gender?
What does it mean to be an “ally” who does not critically examine one’s own language?
What does it mean to be an “ally” who does not question and deconstruct the normative apparatus of one’s own desires?
What does it mean to say that trans people should be loved and cared for and celebrated and desired and recognized while abdicating oneself from loving or caring or celebrating or desiring or recognizing?

In August, I wrote a post about appearance and how we construct social spaces in which others can appear. I continue to believe that the only way for lives to matter is through the practices and behaviors through which a society of others extend recognition. What does it mean to be recognized? To feel visible, to feel viable, to feel that there are others who will meet the needs that one cannot meet for oneself, to feel desired, to feel loved.
And for lives that do not feel recognized in these ways, who do not feel like there is a place for them in this world, who do not feel that they matter, the only way that they can come to matter will be to change the practices and behaviors through which we extend recognition, not only in loss, in death and grieving, but in life, in living, in loving.

Leelah wrote, “Fix Society. Please.”

To those ends, a few suggestions, for myself and for others:
Question the certainty of your own gender, where it comes from, and why you believe it to be yourself.
Engage the possibility that all genders are processes and approximations that never fully account for all that a person is or might become.
Let the world—others and yourself—change; if we all accept that we are all transitioning in any number of ways, we might be more accepting and caring towards people who are trans*.
Be willing to experiment with language, to alter your own habits in order to create a space in language for others for whom there have not been words.
Let your desire be experimental; do not assume you know who you might love or what you might desire.
Do not assume that how you practice your own gender, language, or desire is innocent; be willing to challenge what has felt true if doing so would allow for more livability for others.
Grieve losses that might not otherwise be grieved.
Be caring, thoughtful, and loving, even if you do not understand (advice from Justin Vivian Bond.)
Do not assume you understand, and still be caring, thoughtful, and loving.