Skirting the Issues: The Real Tipping Point
This column-writing business is tricky: the lead for submitting a proposed piece is about five weeks, which means that if I’m trying to write something timely, there’s always a chance that superseding events will come along, making my words stale. Or just plain wrong.
That’s precisely what happened in the interim between when I submitted last month’s column to the Lavender editor goddess and when the column showed up in print.
My January column, “Light Speed,” touted how things had gotten so much better for trans persons in 2014. I cited new pro-trans laws and policies at the local, state, and federal levels and wrote of how, more and more, someone knows someone else who’s transgender. I proffered that society in general is becoming far more accepting of trans folks.
Certainly, I gushed optimism.
Then two incredibly sad events — both deaths — occurred to make me sound a bit detached from reality. Mea culpa!
One of those deaths (by aneurysm) was of Jennifer Gable, a 32-year-old transwoman from Twin Falls, Idaho who died while working at a bank. Jennifer (her legal name) had completely transitioned from male to female long before her death last October. Apparently, her transitioning was without her family’s blessing since following Jennifer’s death, the family went to incredible lengths to erase Jennifer’s true identity.
As picked up by the national media late in November (and thus explaining why I didn’t immediately focus on the story), Gable family members arranged for on open casket funeral in which Jennifer evaporated: her long hair was cut off and she was dressed in a man’s suit. An obituary made no mention of “Jennifer,” and instead used only her former male name and male pronouns. A reader would never know that an extremely brave woman — this was Idaho after all — named Jennifer Gable had ever roamed the earth.
Appalling. I don’t think any other word comes close. From here forward, every act of inhumanity toward deceased trans persons will be measured against the platinum level disrespect accorded Jennifer Gable in death.
Jennifer, if you’re reading this from someplace far better, please know that many others are so very sorry. You deserved so much better.
It was another death, the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn from southern Ohio, that really had me eating last month’s words.
Leelah lived with parents whose religious convictions prevented them from accepting the idea that their child, born with male genitalia, could actually be female. When Leelah’s gender struggle surfaced, her parents forbade her from using social media (because of how it empowers) and arranged for her to be treated by Christian-based therapists. Of course, that meant there was no chance in hell (pun intended) Leelah would ever be able to come out as her true self.
Depressed and hopeless, Leelah stepped in front of a semi on I-71 near Cincinnati in the early morning hours of December 28. Leelah’s suicide note, posted on Tumblr, documents her struggle for both self-acceptance and the chance to live authentically. “After 10 years of confusion,” she wrote, ”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.”
Reading Leelah’s last words will break anyone’s heart. In particular, it’s the depth of her hopelessness that jumps out: “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonely woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out.”
Once again, in death, we have parents who refuse to acknowledge that their child was transgender. In a CNN interview, Carla Alcorn repeatedly referred to Leelah by her boy name, saying “(h)e was a good kid, a good boy.” The idea that Leelah could be transgender was just beyond her: “(w)e don’t support that, religiously.”
If one believes that God doesn’t make mistakes, perhaps the concept of humans making mistakes is more palatable. Simply put, Leelah’s parents made a horrible mistake for which they’ve paid dearly.
The media reported that threats were made to the Alcorn family (something that’s also completely unacceptable), apparently because of plans to bury Leelah as a boy and not a girl. This piece will be submitted for publication before I’ll be able to confirm what the headstone for Leelah’s grave will read.
In “Light Speed” I wrote how Time had described transgender progress reaching a “tipping point” with actress Laverne Cox as the symbol. Sadly, Time has been trumped. Leelah’s suicide now represents the before and the after; going forward, the catch phrase will be, “We’re not going to let her (or him) become another Leelah Alcorn.”
Leelah’s death really hit me, a 58-year-old transwoman, so much so that a couple days afterward, I posted on my blog “An Open Letter to Every Leelah Alcorn in the World” (www.gettingtoellen.com ) where I wrote that suicide isn’t the answer for trans people who struggle. I talked about giving ourselves credit — we’re savvy, resilient, and persistent. No, we can’t control what others say or do to us in life or in death, but we do have the power to persist.
And we’re damn good at that.
Now you have it: Ellie Krug gets things wrong. Call me human. Better yet, call me compassionate. Or for you trans persons who are suffering, just call me.
Ellie Krug can be reached at [email protected]. If you are thinking of hurting yourself, contact The Trevor Project’s Trevor Lifeline: 866-488-7386 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255. Ellie welcomes you contacting her; she will meet with any gender nonconforming human for an hour in a public place, no questions asked.