Leelah Alcorn’s Last Words, Ctd

A reader focuses the Dish discussion:

There’s a pretty basic point that may deserve explicit mention. A major purpose of puberty-blocking drugs, in particular, is to DELAY the moment of decision until one is prepared to decide. One can discontinue these drugs and undergo puberty later on, with no further intervention. I understand fully why people would be worried about young children making complex irrevocable decisions about their own well-being. What I can’t understand is why those people are against puberty-delaying drugs, rather than being fervent advocates!

Here’s a helpful NPR interview of two doctors who specialize in these issues. Money quote:

How long do you use the hormone blockers to suppress puberty?

Until around 16. Then you use the cross hormones to bring on the characteristics of the opposite sex. And remember, if you just stop the hormone blockers at 16, the person will go right back to genetic puberty within months. So the beauty of the suppressant is not as a treatment but for prolonging the evaluation phase … ’til a young person has greater ability for abstract reasoning. It buys you time without a tremendous fear of their body getting out of control.

That interview was from 2008. From September:

[A] new study finds that the results of such treatments are very positive. … Lead Author Dr. Annelou de Vries explained to CBS News that puberty suppression is a “fully reversible medical intervention” and the extra time allows the young people to work out their struggles related to gender dysphoria before taking permanent steps toward a transition.

Back to the in-tray:

I think many readers are missing Leelah’s point regarding appearance.  The question is not attractive versus unattractive, but rather being “visibly trans” versus “not-visibly trans.”

Transitioning early does not ensure you look like Cindy Crawford, to utilize the example of one reader.  Rather, it helps to ensure that the transgender person is not thrust into a life where merely walking down the street threatens their physical safety.  A trans woman was stabbed on a bus in San Francisco the other day while simply minding her own business – all because the perpetrator (correctly) assumed she was trans from her appearance.  In a perfect world, “looking trans” wouldn’t be a problem, wouldn’t lead to violence or discrimination – but it does. To subject a person to a life with that type of physical and economic hardship because of an abstract point about beauty is cruel.

And again, early transitioners aren’t guaranteed “beauty.”  And it’s not nearly as superficial as some readers suggest – quite the contrary. Additionally, the mere outset of puberty and the ensuing physical reactions (body hair, lowering of voice) induces the medically demonstrable experience of gender dysphoria.  Denial of access to transition related medical care is a leading contributor to suicide, not merely because of the potential long-term consequences outlined above, but because the real-time denial of an identity is emotionally traumatic for transgender people.

Puberty blockers are reversible, but, even still, are only prescribed after a thorough medical process, extended gender identity assertion, and conversations between parents, children, and their doctors.  That’s why this process is quickly becoming the medically and psychologically recommended course.  I understand the initial negative gut reaction to allowing a child to transition genders.  It seems like a big step, and kids are fickle, after all.  Indeed, I’m sure many of the parents who eventually let their kids transition initially feel that way.  People are obviously entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.  The facts, and, thus the growing medical consensus, is on the side of allowing children to transition.

Update from a reader:

I have been wanting to share my experience (and my partner’s) on this topic for some time. We are both lesbians. We are both very comfortable with our gender. When we were growing up, however, we both wanted to be boys.  We dressed like boys.  We played mostly with boys. We always chose to play the boy role. It wasn’t until puberty that those feelings changed. I am not sure why that was, but they did. We no longer wanted to be boys. All this is to say that blocking/delaying puberty, which for me, and other lesbians I know, changed the way we felt about ourselves, isn’t risk free.

Another:

Your reader describes how she and her female partner both “wanted to be boys” until puberty, and then got comfortable being females. It may not be possible to know for sure, but this sounds very different from the transgender experience. I do not hear about such people “wanting to be boys” (or girls) as children, but always as insisting that they are boys (or girls). That seems like a fundamental difference.

Another notes:

This entire discussion reminds me again of why I’m so grateful you curate comments for discussion of a topic, rather than have an open comments section. I’ve never seen anything like he cesspool that is the Leelah thread going on at Datalounge. I have no doubt this is what a Dish “comments section” would look like right now if one existed, not because most of your readers share these views (or most Dataloungers share these views), but because this is how it always goes with open comment sections on hot button topics. The rational and reasonable on all sides of a debate flee in droves because of the vitriol, and then the bottom feeders really take over, racing to outdo each other in saying the most repulsive things about each other and people like Leelah.

Leelah Alcorn’s Last Words, Ctd

Three readers keep the thread alive by questioning the second emailer in this post:

“Why are all gender non-conforming kids being actively encouraged to transition or to take puberty-blocking drugs?” really made my blood boil. I have a young relative who is trans, and I remember the great pain he had when his parents held back at first from fulfilling his wish to get puberty-blocking drugs because they were afraid that his transgenderism might have been just a phase. I highly suspect that there are many more trans youth who clamor desperately for such drug treatments than there are parents who choose on their own that their kids need to go on hormone-blockers.

A transexual writes:

Your reader asks why gender non-conforming kids are being pressured to transition, saying “maybe in a subset of the community this is advisable”. I greatly appreciate this acknowledgement, but I realize that to a transexual person this “maybe” sounds like denial of something most basic. All transexual people face a great deal of pressure not to transition from all directions, including their own rational selves.

This includes gender non-conforming folks, even some transexuals, who see transitioning as a sad and even threatening capitulation to norms. Let me testify that there are definitely transexuals who benefit from transitioning and definitely benefit from some intervention at an earlier age. Also, one can be a teen or younger and be diagnosed (and I bring in the medical aspect intentionally). I know it is unpleasant for the queer community to include this “subset” who seek surgery and hormone therapy, who make it a medical thing.

I’m a transexual woman who transitioned in my thirties. I’ve been successful beyond my hopes, but I am somewhat lucky, physically. I have support, a good job, anonymity, and an understanding boyfriend. My teens were before internet, so I don’t know what they are going through now, but I can imagine. I clipped newspaper articles on Renee Richards that I hid in terror.

When the internet did arrive, I navigated through the cross-dressing sites and greatly mixed emotions. Women’s clothes and gender transgressions were by themselves momentarily thrilling, I suppose (I’m not especially femme), but they were ultimately depressing. I had a dark time when I saw no options or felt that I had missed my opportunity. I had missed it, but I’ve managed to make up for it to a degree that is remarkable, but also far short of what is possible. I’ve had lots of surgeries, too many revisions. Ultimately, I’m satisfied, but there is a cost to waiting.

Of course, kids who begin transitioning early will regret what cannot be undone or redone. Such is life.

A different view from a self-identified “cis-woman”:

“What’s wrong with ugly women?” This, This, a thousand times this! How is the prospect of transitioning to being a slightly more masculine-looking woman worse than the prospect of wrongly taking early interventions to change your sex???  Children who delay gender-changing medical interventions might be unhappy with their looks in adulthood? Welcome to being an adult human!

If, at 13, I could have taken a pill or hormones or doused myself in battery acid in order to look like Cindy Crawford, I absolutely would have done it. That doesn’t mean it would have been good for me.  Feeling, at your core, that you are a woman with the wrong body is a world away from feeling, at your core, that you are meant to be pretty. Most people don’t have that choice, and those of us without the money to buy a new jawline or more slender wrists (mine look like tree branches) must learn to live with those deformities.

What Leelah went through sounds terrible, and I cannot imagine what it must be like to have those feelings and have NO ONE listen to you, or for everyone to tell you how wrong you are. But there is a difference between the kind of intolerance Leelah went through and loving parents who just want the best for their child and want to wait for medical interventions.  Her parents were doing what they thought was right: thoughts born of a sheltered and intolerant world-view, but genuine thoughts and feelings, nonetheless.

Leelah Alcorn’s Last Words, Ctd

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A reader notes that Leelah was also posting on Reddit – here and here. Another continues to question the conventional narrative:

Yes, it’s a tragedy that she didn’t feel accepted by her parents and had to endure Christianist “therapy.” That said, her decision to step in front of a truck was a terrible and selfish one. I’m sure being transgendered is hard, particularly if you have to deal with bigoted parents. But when I read her postings I hear a typically – I dare say even beyond typically – self-centered 16 year old. No matter how just her grievances, she chose the worst and most selfish way to get satisfaction.

We know that glorifying suicide can bring a rash of copycats. There was no glory in anything she did. Millions of people in this world have suffered worse but didn’t ruin a stranger’s life by forcing him or her to be the instrument of her death. If it were my blog, I’d ignore this particular story and instead focus on a more mature example of responding to transgender intolerance.

The Dish has actually covered the subject of trans children and teens pretty extensively, including posts such as When Is A Kid Truly Transgender?, Transgender Six Year OldsThe Father Of A Transgender 10 Year OldPuberty On HoldIntegrating Trans Kids, The Youtubes Of Trans Teens, and Transgender In A Small Town. And we had a long thread here on “pink boys” who dress and behave like typical girls but who are not transgender or gay. Another reader:

Why are all gender non-conforming kids being actively encouraged to transition or to take puberty-blocking drugs?

Maybe in a subset of the community this is advisable, but check out the trans reddit forum or any online trans forum and you’ll see adult transwomen actively encouraging kids in their early teens to get on hormones (as if they didn’t have enough raging through them) in preparation for transitioning. Sure, there may be some truly gender disphoric kids who need help, but all you have to do is “question” on one of these forums and you’re encouraged to pursue medical intervention.

Sorry, but WTF?  We’re relying on children – and Josh/Leelah was absolutely still a child – to self-assess?  I would have liked to have been a pretty girl when I was 13 or 14, but I ended up a perfectly happy adult gay male.  Yeah, I get that it was harder for me, but I can’t imagine as a confused kid of that age being told I was trans and that “I’d never be a pretty woman” unless I started transitioning before puberty.  Why isn’t anyone calling the trans community out on this gross misogyny?  What’s wrong with fem gay guys and butch dykes?  What’s wrong with ugly women?

Update from a reader:

I am touched by the story of Leelah’s suicide, but more, I am spurred to react to the person who pointed out the selfishness of Leelah’s suicide. Suicide is ALWAYS a “selfish” act in our society. The fact that Leelah added to the selfishness by involving another person is beyond the point. She was desperate, hopeless, driven to the ultimate act of self-destruction by the self-centeredness of everyone around her who scorned/condemned/renounced her. Her parents and the world wanted her to conform to a very narrow parameter of Acceptability, and she couldn’t be what they insisted she be.

How many people, not just transgendered, feel the same despair at being different? How many suicides are caused by society’s lack of compassion, or harsh judgement about the way we think or feel, or who we are or what we need? Look at any media page and the comments to see how readily people flock to the snark, the vilification, towards any who might opine something outside the box people seem to want to put everyone in. It is amazing to me, especially given the “Christian Nation” we’re so often told we are.

I say let’s start pushing to be interested in what makes us different, and how that makes us wonderful. And, like your reader who wants to discuss Race vs. IQ, let’s have conversations that don’t immediately devolve into finger-pointing and rude comments about how “oh, you’re one the Them!”. As to the “selfishness” of Leelah, let us forgive a 16 year old her thoughtlessness and, instead, focus on what drove her to do what she did. Let’s look at our own selfishness, too.

Read the long Dish thread on suicide here.

Leelah Alcorn’s Last Words, Ctd

Readers react to the suicide note:

The death of Leelah Alcorn is a tragedy.  However, what about the poor driver of the vehicle that killed her? That person is now stuck with the guilt associated with killing someone.  Alcorn may well have been mistreated by family, but committing suicide by foisting it onto an innocent party is not something that should be overlooked. This callous action should be condemned by everyone.

Another:

This has been making the rounds and I check every day for news about the parents’ reactions. I’m not very proud of my own feelings about this.

I want to be angry at parents, to see that they’ve changed their minds and that they have regrets. I want to see that Leelah’s death has shocked them into seeing reality and repentance. What I really want is a morality play.

What an ungenerous and small-minded attitude on my part. Losing a child is an unimaginable horror. Add to this loss the fact that the child has blamed you, perhaps correctly. Add even more that the issue is something you can’t get your mind around; that you’ve spent a lifetime striving toward something you sincerely believe is right and good and that tells you that what your child was telling you couldn’t be true and was even evil. Obviously, too, there was sadly a tremendous amount of fear and shame at work inside these parents.

I guess I’m just left with the sense of what a tragedy this was and is for Leelah and her family, and what an incredibly human story.

Activists are going to get on their soapboxes, and the blogosphere and Twitter are going to light up with condemnation – more grievance politics and demonization of the other and dehumanization of the commentators in this ultimately redeemed human fuckuppery we live in. And maybe that should happen if things are going to change. I do hope Leelah’s death makes a difference, but not at the cost of more suffering for the Alcorns.

Another reader:

The Leelah Alcorn story is so incredibly sad. There have been many great responses to it, especially the #reallivetransadult hashtag and accompanying stories. But what I worry about a bit is that a lot of what I’ve seen kind of misses Leelah’s point, about transitioning early.  It also lets her parents off the hook with the idea that if she had just persevered, then things would have gotten better later on, even if they were being jerks to her.

But being transgender is different from being gay in important ways, especially re: what a tumblr_nh42atfkcv1tddhzxo1_500body does post-puberty.  A gay kid can grow into a gay adult and be very happy with the body that develops naturally. For a transgender kid, often once certain things have happened, there is no going back. While most pictures of Leelah show her posing in that black and white dress (or a similar feminine pose), there are other pictures that show that she had become strong-jawed and broad-shouldered (included); those are physical characteristics that can be kept from developing, but once they’re there, they’re there.

So “it gets better” encourages a wait-and-see approach when for many of these kids; they are going to be stuck with a body they profoundly don’t want unless some active intervention begins fairly early. I do get that this is an incredibly difficult decision for parents, and I wouldn’t wish that decision on anyone.  It’s not something I personally have experienced, but I’ve watched a friend of mine deal with this with her young daughter, who knew she was a girl from very very early on.  My friend has handled it stupendously well, and it’s been a real education for me to observe the process.

Leelah Alcorn’s Last Words

Heartbreaking in so many ways:

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 tumblr_nh42atfkcv1tddhzxo2_500I’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.

tumblr_nh42atfkcv1tddhzxo4_500At 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.

Goodbye,

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

More on the story here. Leelah scheduled one final post before signing off:

And now for my sorry notes to some people I knew…

Amanda: You are going to have such a wonderful life. You are the most talented and pretty little girl I’ve ever met and I love you so much, Amanda. Please don’t be sad. I’m going to miss you so very much. I love you.

Tiffany: We haven’t talked much recently since we’re both so busy but I’m so happy you’re my tumblr_nh42atfkcv1tddhzxo3_500sister. You are so courageous and determined to achieve what you want, you can accomplish anything. I love you.

Justin: We’ve been jerks to each other a lot recently but I really do love you. You get on my nerves almost all the time but no matter what a part of me will always love you. Sorry for picking on you so much when we were kids.

Rylan: I’m so sorry I’m never there for you. I love you so much.

Abby: Thank you for dealing with my pathetic problems, all I did was make your life harder and I’m sorry.

Mom and Dad: Fuck you. You can’t just control other people like that. That’s messed up.

I don’t really feel the need to apologize to anyone else… odds are you didn’t give a shit about me and if you do, you did something that made me feel like shit and you don’t deserve an apology.

Also, anyone who says something like “I wish I got to know him better” or “I wish I treated him better” gets a punch in the nose.