It was a year ago today that I heard about the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn. At that time I had only known her by her handle on Reddit, nostalgiaprincess. I was never able to speak with her because at that time I was just someone who would only read what went on in those Reddit forums. Almost daily I was reading posts on pages like “r/asktransgender” and “r/transpassing”. I didn’t have the courage to participate in the interesting conversations that were being had back then as I was way too scared to do so. Though I had been transitioning at the time, I was in hiding. I was worried about how was I going to come out fully with the news of whom I was. There were those who were closest to me that knew, but I was pretty much stealth with my situation. I was worried about where I could go and start a new life where no one would know I was transgender. I worried if I would pass enough and if anyone would see me as anything other than a joke. I had serious doubts about my ability to make it as my true self. That all changed for me the day Leelah took her life.
For those of you who are not familiar with her story, Leelah was a 17 year old girl, assigned male at birth, whose parents would not accept the fact that she was transgender. When she had asked her parents to allow her to transition, they responded by sending her to conversion therapy at their local church. They would say things to her like “You will never be a real girl” and “God will send you straight to hell." They took her out of school and would not allow her use the Internet. Leelah was ultimately forced to lie to her parents and proclaim she was not transgender in order to have some semblance of a life. She lived with the hope that she would make it to the age of 18 when she could get away from her parents.
I remember reading Leelah’s comments on r/transpassing. She was honest about how people looked and often gave advice on how they could improve. She was a positive force for others in the forums despite the negative outlook for her own situation. I also remember comments she made about her parents on r/asktransgender, proclaiming, “My parents have in fact made me want to commit suicide,” as she reached out for help while questioning if she were being abused by them.
“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.” – LEELAH ALCORN
Leelah didn’t make it to age 18. On December 28, 2014 she stepped in front of traffic on Interstate 71 in Ohio and took her own life. She left an automated suicide letter on Tumblr that posted several hours later.
In her letter she stated:
“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 f\**ed up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”*
“YOU SEE I WAS LEELAH. I WAS JUST LIKE HER AS A KID, BUT I WAS TOO AFRAID TO SAY ANYTHING.”
The news of Leelah’s death would change my life forever. She never even knew who I was but it just affected me in ways I was not ready for at the time. You see I was Leelah. I was just like her as a kid, but I was too afraid to say anything. I didn’t have the courage Leelah had. I was afraid that by saying anything I would go through all the things she did and that my fate might just have been the same as hers.
It was at this moment when I heard of her suicide that I realized I was not going to live a life of stealth. I was going to honest with the world regarding whom and what I was. I would be an activist. I would help people and make a difference. I hoped that by doing so one day I could prevent another Leelah moment from happening. I realized I owed this to myself and the universe. I was no longer afraid.
I eventually learned that many of the people who I was afraid to tell were extremely supportive and that many of my fears I had were for nothing. Maybe it was internalized transphobia that made me so afraid? I am not sure if it would have been different if I came out with the news earlier in life.
Today, I find myself writing a weekly column for Transgender Universe. I get to connect with and meet such amazing people on a daily basis. I get to hear the stories of so many and learn something new every day of my life. I am now that activist who was previously too afraid to exist. I now look at this community not only as a member, but a huge fan of the people it incorporates. I have Leelah to thank for that.
Because of Leelah Alcorn an initiative has been set to ban conversion therapy for minors. It has the support of President Barack Obama who was personally moved by the news of Leelah’s tragic death. It sparked a record setting petition on whitehouse.gov that has over 120,000 signatures. She has inspired so many to work harder at “fixing” society. She helped bring more attention than anyone else previously to the alarming number of suicides in the transgender community. She altered the course of the transgender narrative. In the end, Leelah wanted her death to mean something. It certainly meant something to me.
Remembering Leelah Alcorn, November 15, 1997 – December 28, 2014
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and Peace,