Monday, January 5, 2015

Be a Beacon of Hope

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." This is my attempt to break the silence.

A transgender teen named Leelah Alcorn (who lived just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio) killed herself on December 28, leaving behind an online suicide note that begins, "Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would've lived isn't worth living in … because I’m transgender." I originally planned to link to her suicide note, but Leelah's parents had it deleted from Tumblr. Luckily, before its removal, I pasted a large chunk of it here:
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.
I'm not going to pretend I know what it's like to struggle with gender identity. Nor will I pretend to understand how difficult it must be to parent a transgender teen. Of course it's a challenge. And I won't even begin to fathom how devastating it must be to lose a child. Just heartbreaking.

But I believe Leelah's suicide can serve as a wake-up call for millions of people around the world. In the midst of this tragic loss, my question is this: Aren't goodhearted Christians tired of seeing others (especially young boys and girls) struggle to be accepted? How many suicides will it take before we stop and listen to their cries for equality? How many lives ruined before we reconsider our position?

I understand how—if you feel like someone's behavior is destructive—a loving act would be to help him stop that behavior. If my friend is addicted to smoking crack, the loving choice would be to help him put down the pipe, not accept him for the crack-smoker he's become. But if your version of love leads to a teenager's suicide, that analogy begins to break down. Maybe "tough love," or an "intervention" isn't always the most loving response.

I'm not asking everyone to change overnight. All I'm asking is this: Be open to dialogue. Get to know people misunderstood by society. You might be surprised how similar you are. For those of you who share my desire to see the oppressed set free, it's time to speak up. Stop playing it safe. Life's too short. Someone you care about might be struggling right now. You could be his or her beacon of hope. Life's seas are so dark and so treacherous for so many people—why not provide safe passage? Why not be the one to offer safe harbor?

Elie Wiesel wrote, "I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Amen.

I'm honored to know Paula Stone Williams. If you haven't read any of Paula's work, you're missing out. She's brilliant (and one of my favorite writers). Paula is also transgender. If you want to learn more about her experiences, check out Paula's blog here.

I'm also inviting you to read Paula's recent post here. If nothing else, that could be your starting point. Education is a good thing, and everyone—including myself—can learn something from her story.

If you've landed on this page, and you're struggling to accept your unique, wonderful self, please know that people care. People are fighting for you. Don't hesitate to reach out for help: Visit www.thetrevorproject.org or call 1-866-488-7386 to speak to a trained counselor.

May we all find the courage to live free as our true selves. Rest in peace, Leelah.

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