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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Leelah Alcorn, transgender: a story to learn from

Leelah Alcorn is to be buried in a suit with the wrong name on her gravestone.

She was 17, born Joshua Ryan Alcorn, and transgender. The weekend after Christmas, she walked in the middle of the night to Interstate 71, stepped out in front of a tractor trailer, and left a suicide note that went viral and burned its way from her Tumblr blog to national media and beyond.

Like hundreds of thousands of other bloggers who were just scrolling through their Tumblr dashboards expecting cat gifs and tired holiday memes the week after Christmas, I ended up sitting in front of my computer angry and horrified, her suicide note blazing on the screen before me. Her letter must be read, word by word. The punch and the truth of it must be felt.

This was a girl trapped in a boy’s body who saw no way out. Her devoutly Christian parents pulled her out of school, deleted her Facebook, took away her electronic devices and kept her isolated in the house for five months. They sent her to Christian-only therapists who told her, continuously, that God doesn’t make mistakes.

Leelah Alcorn was not a mistake. She was trans. At some point, religious belief must give way to truth. As much as the conservative religious like to say that gender identity does not exist beyond female/male, the simple science of it cannot be denied.

Gender identity is a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman, or another gender. Being transgender is not a choice, just as being gay is not a choice.

Most of us reading this now sit easily in our own skins, comfortable with the gender we have. Most of us have never known the struggle Leelah went through. Most of us never will, but the truth is no one has to be trans to support transgender people.

Leelah Alcorn will have the name Joshua Ryan Alcorn on her gravestone, and she will be buried in a suit, not a dress. Her parents still refuse to acknowledge her gender identity. Her mother’s version of the story is that her “beautiful son” was out on an early morning walk — yes, on an interstate highway — and was hit, accidentally, by a truck.

There is still a battle to be fought. The media will forget Leelah, eventually. The posts and the anger will die down. Leelah Alcorn and her story will move out of the public eye, and people will forget not only her death, but the reasons why she did it.

We as a society cannot let the transgender fight become yet another issue shunted to the sidelines. Leelah was not alone in her pain — is still not alone — and we must remember, whether it be through expanding gender education at the high school level or just standing up for our friends who don’t fit into a gender mold. We are the living, and we have the capacity to change ourselves and the world around us.

Her note closed with a plea. “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was … 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 f*cked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

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