Georgina Guedes

Learn about transgender acceptance BEFORE you are confronted with it

2015-01-02 12:00

Georgina Guedes

Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide in the United States after realising her parents would never accept her for who she was left a heart-wrenching suicide note that has gone viral.

In it, she explains how the anguish that she went through as a result of her parents refusing to allow her to transition drove her to make her decision. She threw herself in front of a truck.

She posted the note to Tumblr with the publishing delayed until after her death. This is some of what she wrote:

"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.

"Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something."

Her parents’ response

This is a tragic story of the preventable death of a lost and hurting young woman. The media have accepted the guidelines for naming the gender that a transgender person chooses to identify with. But not Leelah’s mother Carla Alcorn.

In an interview with CNN, she said, "We don't support that, religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy."

After Leelah, her parents have paid the biggest price in all of this. Losing a child is the worst thing that a parent can imagine or go through. But tragically, Leelah’s final message has not changed the minds of her parents. They can’t see beyond their own bigoted views or help other people to avoid the same kind of loss.

The lesson for all of us

At some point in our lives, all of us disappoint our parents - whether it’s through a bad grade, a poor romantic choice, an unexpected career path or our gender identity. But while other obstacles to parental approval can be overcome, an acknowledgement of gender identity is the one thing that many will not accept.

Gender and transgender awareness isn’t something that should be learnt about once someone you love “comes out”. It should be taught as one of the many ways in which people can be different and act differently.

Leelah Alcorn’s mother told CNN that her daughter had only ever brought up her gender identity with her once, and Leelah herself described her mother’s response: that God doesn’t make mistakes.

Sometimes one chance is all you get to do the right thing, and if you’re not prepared for it, you could end up paying the ultimate price, as Leelah’s parents did.

Prepare yourself

While they express no remorse for their actions, perhaps their loss can inspire others to tread lightly and speak gently around those among us who do not conform to our expectations of gender “normality”. As Leelah suggested in her suicide note, the complexity of gender needs to be taught in schools, and if schools won’t teach acceptance, then parents need to.

Otherwise, like Leelah’s parents, they might find themselves mourning a child who never existed, while the rest of the world acknowledges who she really was.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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