You may have heard of Leelah Alcorn, a trans girl who committed suicide last December. Her suicide note and her story touched everyone who read it as a tale of suffering and injustice, as it traveled everywhere in the media, including social media. In a few weeks, she’s become an important (yet posthumous) trans rights icon.
Now, I have a confidence to make: I didn’t really give much attention to Leelah’s story at first. I only read more when I saw that it really caught on. Yeah, I skimmed an article on or about the day the news started to be shared around my network, but I didn’t give it much attention. I was sad to read it, to be sure. It is a sad story. A tragic, horrible one, full of suffering. However, it didn’t hit me that hard. It wasn’t news to me. I didn’t learn a new way or a new experience of being trans, but rather one particularly deadly combination of sufferings I knew already.
I knew that trans people commit suicide at an absurd rate: between 40 % and 50 % of trans people have attempted suicide (I did), according to many studies. I knew that many Christians (though not all) resisted strongly to accept trans people as who they are. I knew that parents would prevent their children to transition. I knew that many trans youth strongly desired blockers and/or hormones before puberty hit, because its effects are hard or impossible to reverse (and that many trans adults such as I regret not having said blockers in their own youth, even though the focus on passing is something of a problem as well). I knew that many people were forced unwillingly into detrimental psychological treatment as an obstacle to transition (I was, though less violently than she).
Although it was a new and original story in its details, I knew much of it already, because it’s made of various bits of all our stories. They are all very different and personal, yet often share some traits. Many of these traits are in her story, but many more are not. And we’ve been telling these stories forever between ourselves and to the world.
We’ve been proposing solutions, in fact, to prevent them from happening again. We’re trying our best to implement them, but people, groups and governments everywhere have been preventing us to do so. They have been causing many a Leelah Alcorn while nobody listened to us.
Why didn’t all of you listen before she died?
Will you listen now?
I have a challenge to all of you people: From now on, share our words when we’re alive. Don’t wait until we’re dead. If you thought Leelah’s story was important, it must be because you think that trans people should not die, right? That our situation is unfair? If you think that, don’t you think something should be done?
If you’re a journalist and wrote an article on Leelah, go on and do that again. Write on the struggles of our communities and activists. Follow trans issues all year long, even when no one victim strikes the public eye (especially since there is something racist in how this public eye registers trans experiences). We know her story and many more, and these stories are the reason we’re asking for specific changes. And after all, she willed all she had to us, trans activists as a whole, so that we would “fix society”. If she matters to you, listen to us from now on.
If you’re an ally and shared Leelah-related articles or commented on them with sympathy, do the same when the aforementioned journalists and others talk about our continuing fights. Because safe access to hormones, budget for community support, and education on trans issues, well… these things that Leelah needed and asked for, we’re asking them all the time, and oh do we need them. If you’re sympathetic to her, you should support us as well when we keep saying what we always have, and when we ask for support.
And if you’re some kind of official in a school, in government, in the health system, anywhere, think about us when you make up your policies. Know that if you don’t allow people to use their preferred names, if you cut funding to community organisms for trans people, if you don’t provide access to trans health services like hormones, you continue creating new Leelahs every day.
We have always been talking. We have often told stories like hers, we gave solutions to stop them from occurring, but you didn’t listen. Like many before and many since, Leelah died mostly because of this: you didn’t listen. Now, please do listen. Always. Change must happen. Help us fix society. Please.