There has been an absurd amount of media coverage over Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s son (originally their daughter) Shiloh asking to be called John and referred to in male pronouns.
With everyone feeling the need to put in their two cents, I’ve seen a lot of comments about how the parents should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such behavior, and that if she’s a girl she should act, dress, and be treated like one.
Here is why those closed-minded people are wrong, and Brad and Angelina are setting an example for exactly what parents should be doing for children who may be transgender/transsexual.
On December 28, 17 year old Leelah Alcorn took her life due to lack of support and acceptance by her family.
Born a male, Joshua Alcorn, realized at the age of 4 that she wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, like a girl trapped inside of a boy’s body. It wasn’t until 10 years later when she learned about the term transgender that she finally found some comfort in knowing that she wasn’t alone, and that what she was feeling is perfectly normal.
Only her community, and many other societies in this world, didn’t find it normal at all. When explaining to her mom how she felt, she was immediately met with backlash: the typical “it’s just a phase” response that most LGBT community members face when opening up to their phobic parents.
Not only was Leelah told that her now decade long internal struggles were just a phase, but she was told that she would never be a girl, and that what she was feeling was wrong.
Can you imagine spending your entire life confused and unsure of who you are? Imagine believing in a God who you’re told made you perfectly as you are, but inside feel like he got it all wrong.
It is already so difficult to be a young teenager, especially between the middle school and high school years. Those years are crucial for discovering your true identity, but that is much harder to do when your body feels like a prison that you have never belonged in.
The depression one can experience when struggling with identity can be lethal. And in these times of darkness, we go to our parents for help and guidance. We go to the people we trust the most to help us figure it all out.
And what did Leelah get?
She was sent to see a therapist whose biases were highly religious, reflecting the views of Leelah’s parents. Instead of getting the help she needed to treat her ongoing depression, she received more verbal abuse, told that what she was feeling was wrong and selfish, and that only God could help her.
But how could God help her if he’s the one who assigned her to be a male at birth when in her heart she knows she’s a female?
A person must be 18 in order to receive hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery without parent permission. On Leelah’s 16th birthday, she asked her parents for their consent to begin her transition from male to female. After their denial, Leelah understood that her parents would never understand, nor would they accept her for the young girl she truly was, regardless of what body she had.
With that understanding, Leelah decided to rebel and do things on her own. She came out as gay in her school, hoping that when the time came for her to come out as transgender, the transition would be smooth.
To this, her parents took her out of school and removed any access she had to social media, including her phone and her computer. She was completely isolated, the only people in her environment being people that not only didn’t understand her, but refused to accept her.
Why did her parents react this way? Because they were embarrassed by her.
As I’m sure you can imagine, Leelah’s depression grew worse. But why wouldn’t it? No one was willing to put themselves in her shoes. No one cared that she was depressed. No one did anything to actually help her. Instead, she was put down and ostracized.
So it was no surprise on that Sunday morning when Leelah walked in front of a truck, ultimately ending her life at only 17 years old.
Unfortunately, her premature death isn’t the saddest part about this story. The day of her death her mother, Carla Alcorn, posted a status on facebook stating:
“My sweet 17 year old son, Joshua Ryan Alcorn went home to heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck.”
Even after her tragic death, Leelah’s parents still deny the fact that she identified as a female, and made her suicide a simple accident of bad timing.
Instead of taking responsibility for their actions and lack of acceptance, they continued to further hide their daughter’s struggles. They denied her the right to let the world know who she truly was, how she truly felt, and that she was left alone in a world that refused to acknowledge her heart and soul.
But Leelah would not go without leaving a legacy. On the blogging site Tumblr, there is an ability to save posts to a queue, in which a blog can post at any time you set it to. She wrote a suicide note on Tumblr that would only post if she had decided to go through with the act.
December 28, the note posted to her blog. In it, she highlighted where her parents, society, doctors, and friends failed her. Pointing out specific events in which her parents deliberately rejected her feelings, and emotionally neglected her. She calls out their flaws and their failure to be successful, understanding parents to a child who only needed love and acceptance.
In her note, Alcorn pleads with any parents or future parents reading the note, asking them not to do what her parents did to her.
“…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.”
Anyone in the mental health field uses the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose mental disorders. For the early editions of the DSM, homosexuality was considered a mental illness.
In today’s world, the idea of that is completely heinous. The acceptance of homosexuality has risen drastically since then, and in 1973 it was removed from the manual as a mental disorder and accepted to just be something that people are.
So if it can be accepted that someone is born loving a member of the same sex, and that doing so doesn’t make one abnormal, then why is being transgender still considered a mental disorder today?
In 2013, the APA came out with the 5th edition of the DSM, and on page 451 there is a section for diagnosing gender dysphoria, the term professionals use to diagnose someone who is transgender.
This basically means that anyone who feels they were assigned the wrong gender at birth, and identifies with the opposite gender is mentally ill.
Why can it be natural for someone to love someone of the same sex, but it be unnatural if someone doesn’t feel they were born the proper gender?
The answer is obvious: ignorance. There is lack of education when it comes to gender.
We are taught that there are only two genders: male and female. And within those two genders males have penises and females have vaginas and breasts. Anything else is wrong because nothing else could possibly fit into such a tightly structured system of gender.
Therefore, there are millions of people in the world who do not understand that there are cases where a man may want to transition into a woman and vice versa. And there are millions of people in the world born in a certain body who mentally, emotionally, and spiritually do not feel like it is the right one for them and do not understand why or how that is possible.
The fear of transgender people stems from the lack of knowledge. And it is this fear that results in hate, cruelty, and discrimination.
It is what causes parents to not accept their children.
It is what causes trans people to take their own lives.
It is what causes murder and abuse amongst members of the transgender community.
The average life expectancy of a transgender person is 30 years old. This isn’t hundreds of years ago where people would die that young because of disease and lack of health science. This is the 21st century where 41 percent of members of the transgender population attempt suicide because they are unfortunate enough to live in a society that would rather shame than try to understand.
Within the first four months of this year, 102 acts of violence against transgender people were reported. These reports are voluntary, which means the actual number of attacks are probably much higher.
Of these 102 acts 36 were shot, 14 received multiple stab wounds, 11 were beaten, three burned alive, three were dismembered, two were tortured, two were strangled, one was hung, and one’s throat was slit. They’re all dead.
What’s even more horrifying is that 10 percent of the 102 reported for January through April of 2014 was against children and adolescents.
Some of these reports include an 8 year old who was beaten by his own father. A 14 year old who was strangled and hidden under a bed. Two 16 year olds who were shot. And three 18 year olds who were stabbed.
All seven of these young people were transgender, and all seven of them are dead.
Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note has gone viral when most stories of transgender suicide, attack, or murder go unreported and unnoticed. It is unfortunate that there are times when it takes extreme measures for changes to be made.
We cannot let any more blood of innocent lives be shed when these people have done nothing but try to be who who they are.
We can’t help how we feel in our own bodies. Every single person on this earth has had a point in their lives where they didn’t like something about themselves that they could not change. At one point in time we have all been lost and confused, trying to decide our identities. So who are we to tell someone what they decide is wrong because we do not understand it?
When we are afraid of something we do not understand, we educate ourselves. The solution should not be to murder, attack, or make someone feel so emotionally trapped that they choose to end their life.
Leelah was a young soul gone much too soon, as the case for all transgender deaths, but I hope that this tragic event can be the spark that ignites a revolution of knowledge and acceptance.
“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****d up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.” –Leelah Alcorn