The Cage of Christianity Leaves No Room For Divergence

In the early hours of December 28, 2014, Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by intentionally walking in front of an oncoming truck. She was a 17-year-old transwoman who had been emotionally and spiritually abused by her conservative Christian parents, and she wrote about it in a suicide note she’d queued to publish on her Tumblr after her death.

In response to her death, many individuals and media sources alike had two vastly different responses, as would be expected. Some did not attempt to conceal their outrage, saying “her parents essentially threw her in front of that truck and they should be ashamed of themselves!” Others claimed “her parents were just doing the best they could, and I’m sure they are heartbroken right now, so they deserve sympathy, not condemnation.”

Middle ground is hard to strive for in a case like this. However, I will say, it’s too harsh to say her parents basically pushed her in front of that truck. There are a lot of factors that contributed to her decision to take her own life.

There was depression, and potentially suicidal thoughts triggered by the Prozac she’d been prescribed. There was the burden of living surrounded by a largely unaccepting society. There were other members of the trans community, who gave her the false impression that if she wasn’t able to transition while she was still young and in the midst of puberty, she’d never be able to pass as female.

In addition, I’m sure her parents are upset about what happened, and I’m sure they are grieving in their own way. After all, she was still their child.

But I would strongly disagree that her parents did the best they could.

Time and time again you will hear about Christian parents treating their children horribly because they don’t fit into their narrowly defined guidelines of acceptability. I don’t want to go into details, because it’s deeply personal, but I can see so much of myself and my situation in what Leelah’s described.

I just can’t comprehend how anyone could be convinced that her parents were trying their best. Just read her words, read the words of the people that knew her.

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Even now, her parents continue to inflict harm, denying reality by calling her death an accident, misgendering her, and referring to her by her birth name. To show you how much her mother cared, she completely forgot the age of her own daughter when she posted about her death on Facebook and only realized her mistake a week later.

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This doesn’t sound like unconditional love. This sounds like essentially writing someone off and not bothering to give a shit because they did not meet your impossible expectations. To her parents, she would never be their daughter, only a disappointment.

They would never even consider her their child. They wanted a son, a boy who would like girls and like church and fall in line with whatever they asked of him. When this didn’t pan out, they did all they could to make her miserable, isolate her from anyone who actually showed her love and acceptance, and make her regret ever trying to be herself.

Sure, gay, lesbian, and bisexual kids living with their Christian parents have it hard. I’ve had it hard. But I would argue that trans kids have it much worse, and that breaks my heart.

Christian parents, I know you fully believe you’re doing what is right, but if your child is driven to self-harm or suicide, in part due to your words or actions, then you need to realize: you’ve fucked up. You don’t mean well. So do us all a favor, stop being assholes and parenting your children to death.

I Won’t Stand for the Silence, and Neither Should You

The handful of feminist blogs I follow cover a lot of territory, from general discussion to current events. I’ve seen tons of articles about Ray Rice, Lena Dunham, and Jian Ghomeshi – and even some about Kim Kardashian’s ass – but in the few months that I have been actively following blogs, I have yet to see an article about being transgender or trans issues.

This is kind of a problem. For a modern day wave of feminism that preaches about wanting to be intersectional and inclusive, so far we’re pretty whitewashed. Though we’re getting better, we’ve been doing a shitty job at addressing the legitimate struggles of women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and an even shittier job addressing trans issues.

I’m not transgender. I’m perfectly content with the body I was born in. I have a lot of thoughts about gender as a social construct and the implications of gendering things or personality traits, but that’s a little irrelevant. Basically, this post is not coming from personal experience.

So then, why am I writing about it? Why does it matter?

  • Because gender dysphoria is a real thing.
  • And because the estimates that have been widely circulated as to how many people experience gender dysphoria are ridiculously low so people don’t realize just how prevalent it is.
  • But also because you shouldn’t need scientific evidence of something to be able to sympathize with people that don’t at all feel at home in the bodies they were born in.
  • Because 41% of people who are transgender will attempt suicide sometime in their lives, and I’m sure many more have at least contemplated it.
  • Because people who are transgender are 28% more likely to experience physical violence.
  • Because 64% of people who are transgender have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.
  • Because the resources for basic things trans people need – anything from makeup application, packing techniques, and binding without harming yourself to dealing with the physical and emotional changes that hormones bring – are not widely available and are largely spread by word of mouth.
  • Because transmen are told that they “just want to be read as men so they can benefit from male privilege.”
  • Because transwomen are asked by cismen “why would you want to be a woman? why would you degrade yourself in that way?” and told by ciswomen “you were still born a male and thus you wanting to be included in female spaces is invasive.”
  • Because people like my mom throw around phrases like “turned into a woman” or “she decided to become a man” like it’s some strange fad instead of a person’s entire identity.
  • Because there is very little trans representation in media, mainstream or otherwise, and what few characters can be found are rarely ever portrayed by transgender actors or authored by transgender writers.
  • Because people toss around slurs as insults and don’t see anything wrong with it. Sure, we’ll argue all day that calling something “gay” is bad, but somehow that same fervor isn’t shown when it comes to trans slurs.
  • Because it is something my friend Dan has to deal with literally every single day. The pervasive transphobia of society, the cissexism of everyday language, constant misgendering, harassment in his workplace, hatred of his body, an abusive household that has threatened to kick him out if he pursues the transitional hormones he needs while under their roof, and much more that most people don’t even realize.

And because people like me have contributed to the problem. I used to be uninformed and – even worse – without compassion about anything related to trans issues. But then I learned more and I grew as a person, and I believe that people would benefit from greater awareness and starting necessary conversations such as this.

It’s a small step – it by no means will fix the problem, heal the wound – but it’s something.