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A Response to Recent Deaths of Transgender Individuals

Updated on January 5, 2015

This is written by an Assigned Male at Birth (AMAB) individual who currently identifies as male. The rationale for me, as a non-trans individual, to write this article is discussed at the article's end, and included in this discussion is a call for opinions from those more knowledgeable concerning this issue. The article may be revised in the future based on these opinions.

Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old trans woman, tragically died yesterday; preliminary reports indicate that the cause may have been death by suicide.

This incident prompted me to look into ways that would help trans individuals – and people in general – to live the lives they want. After thinking about this and typing my thoughts (and those of professionals) up, I can see that this article is not about Leelah Alcorn -- or, rather, just about Leelah Alcorn. It’s about the broader issue of respecting other people and demanding that they be given respect. It’s also about how to help friends when they are having a difficult time due to unfair treatment.

One important thing Leelah Alcorn wrote in her note is that her discovery that she was transgender, in itself, was a source of great joy for her that had absolutely nothing to do with her depression – as she put it, “When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was.” Only after her mother ignorantly stated that she was going through a phase, that she would never be a girl, and that God permanently made her a boy did she feel she had to deal with negativity.

Being transgender, in and of itself, is not a problem; trans people in normal environments tend to live fulfilled and healthy lives. The problem is the hostile social environments some trans people are in. There are several resources available for those in hostile social situations that can strengthen a person through the resulting difficult situation, and some of these are in the sidebar – you can find several others via a Google search. You may find these resources helpful for any situation in which you face the prospect of dealing with an environment that is irrationally hostile to the makeup of your identity.

Also, I realize that preventing suicide isn't the main goal here. The goal isn’t merely to keep your friends alive, but to help them thrive in the way they wish to thrive as they live healthy, flourishing lives. And, in that light, what matters here is the way that Leelah Alcorn was treated in life, and how she says it made her feel, and what we can glean from those details in moving forward and treating others with love, respect, and support that helps them flourish.

One of the problems, it seems, is the influence of conservative Christianity. As Leelah pointed out, and as many other current lgbtq individuals state, the fact that churches still exalt primitive bigotry that is over 2000 years old is disturbing and indicates that the literal uses of the Bible in this regard (and, I would somewhat more controversially argue, the Bible itself) should be abandoned – or, at the very least, not taught. As Leelah put it:

“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.”

That, I think, is the worst thing about much of Christianity – it tells a lie about the nature of a person’s actions and traps them in that lie. It seems that we would get much farther if we used the justice and kindness and respect that was in our hearts, as opposed to appealing to an imaginary being that is outdated and constructed by bigoted men. The lies in Christianity hurt people. It is not enough, either, to love the sinner and hate the sin. We need to get rid of that concept of sin altogether, especially where it irrationally and harmfully intrudes on the love people feel for themselves and others.

But this is not, of course, just about Christianity – the problem of lies in Christianity is revealed by a broader principle, which is that constructed ideals that have no clearly beneficial rationale for those they affect should, generally, not be upheld for the sake of a mere tradition or desire to control someone else’s unharmful behavior. Rather, such harmful constructions should be exposed for the unjustifiable viewpoints they are and abandoned, and the fact that people act contrary to the ideals should be seen as solely the problem of the ideals and its preservers, and not at all a problem for those who are acting contrary to the ideals. Ideals should be constructed for the well-being of people, not the other way around.

One thing I'd like to repeat here is that the high death rates among trans individuals have absolutely nothing to do with someone being transgender. Suicidal thoughts and depression (which can, again, be remedied with access to available resources- see links near the beginning of the article for a few examples) are often brought on by a culture of transphobia and discrimination, and in other cases are due to mental health struggles that affect individuals regardless of gender. And trans people didn’t create transphobia; it's existence is not their fault. Such detrimental qualities are exclusively due to issues that those who do not identify as trans go through, and are often results of ignorance and/or their own personal trauma, as Laverne Cox discusses below.

If you’re not a trans individual – in doing some research, I found some ways to keep Leelah Alcorn stories from continuing to happen. One is to keep an eye on their speech. If your trans friend talks about wanting to kill themselves, or says no one would miss them if they died, or thinks that things will never get better – listen. And remember that the problems trans people face have nothing to do with them being trans, and everything to do with how we as individuals and how society in general treats them. So focusing on their being trans as if it’s the only struggle they face seems to simplify things when the problems may include the loss of a loved one, or financial problems, or lack of social support, or physical abilities. Indeed, Leelah Alcorn states that all these were the case. She cites lack of social support (saying she had her most difficult time “after a summer of having almost no friends”), financial difficulties (she mentioned struggling to “save money for moving out”), academic difficulties (she mentions struggling to go to college and keep her grades up), and moral shame (going to a church that was “against everything [she lived] for”). These are problems that would negatively affect anybody, and the fact that many of them may have been brought on because of ignorance towards her being trans is a major problem. But perhaps identifying these problems would have helped – perhaps if someone decided to be a friend, or lend a couple dollars, or provide her a place to stay, or offered to tutor her after school, or gave her moral support outside of the harmful church, or a combination of these things, that would have helped. I’m not saying to force these offers onto anyone – unwanted help is obviously not help. But if they seem to request or need help, it may be helpful to offer it, and then respect their judgment if they decline; they’re in the situation, so they have more information on what they may need in the situation than you do, most the time.

It also seems to be a good idea, in general, to listen to someone’s problems instead of assuming what they are, to be grateful and honored if someone trusts you enough to tell you their problems, to see discussions as opportunities for further understanding, to recognize the validity of their feelings, and to, at the same time, show that your interest is for the other person rather than your own curiosity by understanding when they don’t feel like talking about a particular issue.

If you have transphobia yourself, that’s not a trans person’s problem. It’s up to you to determine the problems in your psychology, including the various fears and insecurities that dictate your own behavior. Perhaps growing up you were told that a man or woman had to conform to a certain stereotype, and traumatic experiences have made you afraid of showing you have a personality that doesn’t conform to that stereotype, and maybe that fear manifests itself in anger towards those who can express parts of your personality that you yourself are uncomfortable expressing. Perhaps it’s a desire rooted in fear and insecurity that prompts you to keep your identity a dominant, authoritative one over other identities, and you irrationally see trans individuals as a threat to the cultural dominance of the identity you embrace. Maybe it’s something else – but it’s important to realize that your psychological issues are the problem, and that the problems trans individuals experience are constructed by the perpetuation of your own fears and insecurities.

The problem isn’t trans people; the problem is you. The humility of recognizing that your own insecurities and trauma concerning gender are the reason for your transphobia may heal you from being trapped by your own fear-induced self consciousness, allowing you to grow more into yourself as a person without hurting someone else who has nothing to do with your own trauma and insecurities.

Which is part of why I’m writing this as an Assigned Male At Birth (AMAB) person who currently identifies as Male. The people who have chosen to identify as the gender doctors assigned them at birth have been the primary architects of the prisons trans people sometimes find themselves in, so it is largely our responsibility to deconstruct it while respecting the experiences of trans people, experiences we don’t have. It’s imperative for us to examine our own psychological issues, our own fears and insecurities, so that we can more clearly embrace reality and show care from an increasingly rational (and sensitive) vantage point, and what I’ve written here is meant to be a step in that direction. Of course, I’m open to criticism from more knowledgeable individuals and from people with much more experience in what it is like to be trans.

As Leelah Alcorn stated,

“One day transgender people [need to be] treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights….Fix society. Please.”

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    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      MizB......I surely would not label you anything negative! Definitely not a "crazy old lady." I think you're awesome, but you already know that.

      In fact, I don't have a difficult time giving your opinion some serious thought. I'm one who can be open to any and all possibilities. Living a particular numbers of years on this planet should have proven to us by now that ALL things ARE possible!

      As for the tragedies addressed in your hub, barrier....my heart can't handle this sort of sadness. Such ignorance and unfairness is simply unacceptable. There should be no room in our lives for hatred, bigotry or this bullying that seems to have gotten out of control.

      Thank you for this hub, the information and for speaking out in support of our fellow human beings...UP+++

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 years ago

      OK, first I’ll admit to setting myself up to being dubbed “a crazy old woman. I believe that the transgender are an evolutionary phase that some people on earth are going through to adapt to planetary changes. We should respect and honor them for that. I agree with Leelah that we are wrong to follow the teachings of a more than 2,000 year old document and believe in the concept of “sin” and that the creations of the godhead under that belief makes only perfect creations. Humans have proved over and over again that they are not perfect, so how can we keep perpetuating this lie?

      The story is tragic. Transgender persons have all the problems of us normals, and then they have the transgender issue piled on top of that. No wonder their suicide rate is high. They deserve our love and understanding. I have met several transgender individuals, one of whom was quite open about it, and I felt no different around them than I do anyone else.

      I merely wish that these people were accepted for whom they are. Please, people, they are no threat to you. Treat them like the “Christians” (Muslims, Jews or whomever) you claim to be.