Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.
Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. 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,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.
The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “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.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”
When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “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 lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”
“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.”
We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)
Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.
For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now.
Steve Grand, a formerly unknown singer/songwriter from Chicago, hit a nerve of longing and reconciliation with his County Music ballad of unrequited love, “All-American Boy.” In less than two weeks since Grand put the video up on YouTube, the song has received nearly a million hits, measuring up favorably against the offerings of some of the most recognizable names in American music. What makes “All-American Boy” so compelling at this time in our culture is the way Grand’s breathtaking roll-of-the-dice for love, approval, and self-acceptance touches the nation’s soul.
Betting everything on one video, Grand maxed out his single credit card and drew on the kindness of friends to put together the story of a campfire crush that leads to a single kiss, and then to a gentle, heartbreaking rebuff. All the elements of the familiar story of unreciprocated love are there: desire, forlorn hope, vulnerability, the awkward kiss, rejection, and then the disappointment and the aching hurt that go with it. But Grand injects the story with a crucial twist that only could work today: the unrequited lover and his object of desire are both men.
Grand’s back story provides the spiritual energy that connects his song with the life experiences of so many people. The child of a Catholic Midwestern family who discovered his attraction for his own gender at age 13 in Boy Scout Camp, Grand came out to his disapproving parents who put him through several years of “straight therapy.” It didn’t work. Closeted but gay, Grand struggled with shame and self-doubt into adulthood, feeling like a disappointment to his parents, and led a furtive life so many gays and lesbians can relate to. Music gave him joy and passion, but to make ends meet, he took odd jobs, modeling stints, and, ironically, singing gigs in churches. Finally, unable and unwilling to endure the self-betrayal of the closeted life, Grand came out as gay in one, stunning moment, telling his story to the world in “All-American Boy.”
The soul of America is responding to Steve Grand in a powerful way, searching for reconciliation between LGBTQ people and a heterosexual majority who are striving to understand them. Spiritually, reconciliation is more compelling than rejection, since its motive energy comes from love. It is the power that drew pagan Ruth to Hebrew Naomi, the force that reconciled the Prodigal Son first to his father, and then to his older, disapproving brother. It is the way of justice the prophets walked, paving the way for estranged humanity and a seeking God to reach out to each other and embrace.
In a time of seemingly hopeless political gridlock in Washington, war fatigue at home and anxiety over Egypt, Syria, and the Middle East, not to mention frustration with the NSA’s invasion of personal privacy in the name of national security, Steve Grand’s gracious, plaintive song cuts through the defensiveness and aggression of this age. It is the pure invitation of a son to his parents, of a lover to his beloved, and of millions of oft-rejected citizens to their country: “Be mine.”
Hundreds of thousands have taken Steve up on his offer so far. He has remained humble in his newfound success. The only thanks he says he wants is in the email messages from people who recognize their story in his. His greatest moment so far is the admission of his mother that she and his father are finally proud of him, just the way he is. The “All-American Boy” is reconciling with himself and his world, and now Steve says he is truly happy and at peace for the first time in his life.
Steve Grand is no media messiah, no lawyered-up diva . . . yet. May he never be. He is enough like most Americans that we feel the pull to reconcile at least some of our differences with each other when we hear him sing. His heartfelt cry awakens something in the American spirit Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature.” Perhaps songs and stories like Steve’s will prompt more healing and understanding between gays and straights than any legislation or court ruling ever could. Of course, there will be losses. Unrequited love does not have to end in bitterness and despair, however. It may become the engine of a future reconciliation, an invitation not to settle with failure, but to get ourselves up, reach out again, and pursue the peace we all long for.