When I was 20 years old, I attempted suicide.
The fallout from my conservative Christian parents discovering I was queer had left me in a deep depression. They cornered me in my room. They threatened to take my phone away, or to refuse to allow me to return to college.
I was told I was sinful, shameful, broken, an embarrassment. That I’d been corrupted, and that I’d never know true love this way. My father literally called me the Devil, and I saw only hatred in his eyes. Anyone who supported me, my parents accused of not caring about me at all.
That summer before my Junior year of college was a low point to say the least.
Yet, in part because of my upbringing and a late start to puberty, I was slower than some to even come out to myself. I didn’t start truly questioning my sexuality until after I was at college.
It’s hard to say how things might have turned out differently if I’d been having those conversations with my parents at age 15 or 16 instead of 18 and 19. If college was a dream for the future, instead of a place I wanted to be able to return.
I bring all this up because I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and articles about the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn floating through my Facebook feed for the past week.
Although I’m not transgender myself, the parallels between my own experience and Leelah’s are neither insignificant nor unapparent to me.
She stepped in front of a truck. I walked beside the railroad tracks almost every day that summer, willing myself to just sit down between them and never get up again.
We all know that suicide rates are higher in LGBTQ youth than other demographics. This report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force indicates that upwards of 41% of trans people have attempted suicide. If those statistics are self-reported (and they must be), the actual rates are likely even higher.
The first time I publicly spoke about my own suicide attempt was in the fall of 2010, after the suicides of several LGBTQ youth were highlighted in the media.
Perhaps I’m cynical, but sometimes it feels like there’s a cycle. One or more LGBTQ teens kill themselves, the media has their heyday, people get up in arms for a few weeks, and then we all return to our lives. Until the news cycle catches wind of another heart wrenching story.
Nothing, however, ever really changes. Or the changes don’t ripple far enough to save troubled teens like Leelah. This article by Mintpress News compares the rash of deaths of transgender individuals to a genocide, highlighting its rampant and violent nature.
Every year we celebrate the Transgender Day of Remembrance, but does the list of names ever really get smaller? And that list doesn’t take into account the transgender individuals whose lives were lost due to violence against themselves, like Leelah’s.
I’ve seen a lot of anger and hatred directed at Leelah’s parents, and people blaming them for her death. Part of the outrage stems from the Alcorns’ refusal to use female pronouns, and their insistence on using their “son’s” given name Joshua, even in the aftermath of all that’s happened.
CNN provides an honest and not uncaring look Alcorns’ point of view, ending by highlighting the lack of information and education about transgender issues which contributes to their actions, and the actions of other parents like them.
I haven’t been sure what to think of the outrage directed towards Leelah’s parents myself.
I’ve hesitated to say anything regarding the situation for fear of all that anger on the Internet being redirected towards me.
But I can’t help but think that if I had succeeded in my own suicide at the age of 20, I wouldn’t have wanted that kind of anger and hatred directed towards my own parents. Even if their behavior was a contributing factor, I would never have wanted them blamed or persecuted for my death.
The behavior of the Alcorns was certainly abusive. As was the behavior of my parents. I do not condone it in any way. Yet I believe it’s possible to condemn the behavior without throwing empathy out the window entirely.
I believe Leelah’s parents are truthful in saying they loved their child, and that their grief for the loss of that child is real. Misguided and dysfunctional as their love may have been, and as unconscionable as their actions indeed were and are, what if instead of hate, we reached out to Leelah’s parents with compassion and love?
Many people are ignorant regarding transgender issues, despite the increased media attention of late, both positive and negative. When people are afraid or confronted with something they don’t or can’t understand, sometimes they react badly. Even very badly.
But no matter how unfortunate the consequences of that ignorance, I’m not sure it makes Leelah’s parents (or my parents or other similar adults and parents) into monsters.
Turning all of that collective anger and rage, however justified, towards more positive means than revenge could save lives.
What if, instead of raging at the injustice and ignorance of the world we live in, we worked to raise awareness of LGBTQ and especially transgender issues in society at large?
It may be too late to save Leelah, but it isn’t too late to educate and inform other parents out there who don’t have access to the information and resources which might allow them to love their transgender children better.
If you want to make a difference, you can also sign this Change.org petition to ban transgender conversion therapy, otherwise known as Leelah’s law.
Finally, if you’re thinking of harming yourself, contact the Trevor Project 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Or, if you’re in Austin, call the 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP (4357).
This article was originally published by The Horn on 01/08/2015.