A Lament for Leelah

enhanced-17727-1419938848-2It’s been forty-four days since Leelah Alcorn stepped out into traffic and tragically ended her short life. Forty-four days since she was immortalized by that fickle siryn named Internet. Forty-four days since the struggles and trials and grief of the trans community was thrust into the public spotlight for the worst reason imaginable.

Forty-four days in a world without Leelah.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, the forty-forth day.

At first, writing about the tragedy of Leelah’s death was so easy. Just hearing the bare facts and watching the worldwide reactions was enough to fill me with the anger and rage and need for justice that fuels a lot of my writing. I sat down in a cafe over a lunch break and pounded out two thousand words of blistering red-hot rhetoric. Against the Christian abuse culture that hurts and damages so many. Against the people who asserted that Leelah had in some way called her mistreatment and neglect on herself.

I wrapped up those two thousand words, gave it an editorial look over, moved the mouse to the ‘Publish’ button.

And stopped.

I couldn’t press that button. Something was wrong with my post. Something that I could feel but didn’t understand, I didn’t want to wait until I figured it out to publish this particular post but somehow I felt that this one, this one was more important than my more standard work and so I held my finger.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, a new day.

Three days after Leelah died, I left America for New Zealand and Australia and my first real holiday in years. Three sun-soaked weeks of booze and overeating and tawdry affairs best left unmentioned here. But even in the sunlit resorts of the Southern Alps thoughts of Leelah still came unbidden, tugging at my frontal lobe as I sipped cider on a beach. I haven’t forgotten you, I promised. Once I’m back home, I’ll write you a real post. A better one. You’ll see.

Those three weeks on the other side of the world did serve to temper the initial rage and grief I felt when hearing about what happened to Leelah. I spent the time not writing but observing the massive backlash against Leelah’s parents who had done everything in their power to repress their daughter’s gender identity. I watched the outpouring of grief from the trans community and all the anger that came with it. I watched Christian leaders, now thrust into the spotlight for their pervasive transphobia, smugly misgender Leelah in every way and assert that her ‘issues’ were all a part of her willful rebellion against God like the trans community at large.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, a new day.

I came home from my holiday and sat down in my kitchen. There was snow dancing across the panes and heat simmering from the kettle of tea on my stove. It was safe and warm and I finally wrote again. I wrote an impassioned attack on the conversion therapy Leelah had been subjected to. I wrote about how angry and embittered I felt about religious people whose sole purpose of their Gospel is to fix people in their image, not love them. How rational I was, how thorough in my defense of the trans community, how righteous was my anger and how needed were my words.

Or so I thought.

Then the time came to move the mouse and click the button. And again, I couldn’t do it. The same sense of wrongness was there. Like a voice you heard years ago but you’ve long forgotten the face and name even though you know that voice.

And the sun set, and the sun rose. And the sun set and the sun rose. Again, and again, and again.

Days passed, weeks passed, and I realised that I’d never publish that post about Leelah Alcorn. There were new concerns pressing, new outrages, new tragedies, and the late winter workalanche didn’t help matters either. Leelah’s name and story faded from the fickle attentions of the siryn Internet, the hundreds of tweets and articles and blog posts bearing her name a fitting epitaph for one lost girl. And if I never understand that wrongness I felt, well, I’d have time to figure it out in time for the next tragedy.

A few days ago I saw an article about Leelah on my Facebook wall. Clicked it, skimmed through. Nothing new, no brilliant or cutting insights. Just a link near the end to the note Leelah left when she died. I had read it more than once but, well, I never did write that article. So why not? Maybe it’d give me the kick I needed to finally get it write. Six weeks late, but what the hell.

I read that note. Read it again. Read it a third time, and only then did I realise what was wrong, what was wrong from the start, how brutally and completely I had failed. Those thousands of words written in Leelah’s name were filled with my anger, and my outrage, and my need for change, and how I felt and what I wanted. And then I listened to Leelah’s lament about how there was no place for her, in her home, in her school, not even in her own body. And I realised.

I had not left any room for her either.

Leelah’s last wish was that her death would matter, that it would make a difference for people, and here I was using her death to talk about what it meant for me. For me. She was my weapon, my banner blowing in the wind on the walls of Jericho. “See!” I had yelled in all my righteous fury. “Do you see? Look how right I was! Look! Look at me and listen to me!”

Oh how easy it was to point out how Leelah’s family and religion had failed her, and how difficult it was to admit that I had failed in the exact same way.

Leelah, I am sorry.

I failed you when I used the death of a bright, funny girl as a rallying point against religion at large, not to serve a greater good as you wished.

I failed you when I waxed eloquent about defending the trans community on Twitter and didn’t follow a single openly trans person.

I failed you when I sat in a pub and listened to a nameless, faceless person say that he had no problem with gay people, just the gays who dress up as women to trick men – and kept silent. Because I didn’t want a fight, and I would have been alone any way. I failed you.

And I’m sorry.

There’s a phrase in the Irish language I’ve used in several posts on this blog that I’ve internalised and adapted as a mission statement. The reason I do this. The phrase is Tá siad mo mhuintir. It means ‘they are my people.’ And never has those four words been more meaningful, or more condemning.

When I say tá siad mo mhuintir I’m talking about Leelah. She is my people. I know religious oppression. I know rejection. I know what it’s like to be alone. And I still had no room for her.

Leelah.

I wrote this lament for you. In the end, I needed it more.

You made a difference to me.

Thank you.

Tá mé do mhuintir.


This article from the Guardian includes a list of support programmes and forums for the trans community. If you have any other resources to recommend, please feel free to include them in the comments below.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/nov/29/transgender-advice-best-resources-online

The National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-8255 in America. It is a wonderful resource that I have used in the past. The Trans Lifelife is a support line dedicated to and entirely worked by trans people. Their number is 877-565-8860.