On New Year’s Day, I did something on my radio show that I’d never done on the air in more than a decade’s worth of radio hosting: I cried.
I cried for someone I didn’t know but who I felt I’d failed nonetheless. I poured it into my microphone because I knew I wasn’t crying alone.
I cried for Leelah.
For her loss, certainly. For the pain and isolation she endured during her much-too-short life, absolutely. It’s about more than just those things, though, as important as they are. I cried because I know, as we all should, that Leelah Alcorn should have had a better chance to live.
It’s easy to blame the parents, and they’re certainly not without moral and perhaps even legal responsibility here. It’s arguable that completely cutting your child off from the outside world for five months is nothing short of child abuse.
But if we are to dole out blame here, then we need to step up and accept our own share as well. Leelah didn’t see any options for herself. She believed she had nowhere to go, and no one to talk to who truly understood what she was going through.
Two months before she took her own life, Leelah posted in the asktransgender group on Reddit, all but begging for help. There were no shortage of supportive responses to her plea, but none that offered her what she really needed. As we are wont to do in the trans community, everyone was quick to offer Leelah verbal morale support, but no one said the words Leelah most needed to hear, the words which might have saved her life:
“Let me help.”
Still, we mustn’t forget that it was Leelah herself who stepped in front of that truck. Her parents and life situation surely had an impact, but Leelah Alcorn willfully and intentionally ended her own life. No one and no thing is ultimately responsible for Leelah Alcorn’s suicide other than Leelah herself.
As adult trans people and allies, we have a responsibility here, a responsibility we’ve been shirking. When a trans kid (or trans adult, for that matter) who’s struggling needs an understanding ear, we need to be there for them. When one of our own needs to escape a bad situation, we need to be there. When a trans person feels their only options are an unbearably painful status quo or suicide, we need to be there.
If there’s any pattern I’ve detected in the attempted and actualized trans suicides I know of, it’s that they usually happen when someone feels they’re out of options, that there’s no path to happiness for them and there never will be. That’s how it was for me when I tried to end my own life and that’s how it was for Leelah when she stepped in front of that truck.
Options. That’s what trans people in crisis need and that’s what we as a community have failed to provide, until now. There’s a new organization called Trans Lifeline, a hotline for trans people in crisis. It’s staffed by trained trans-identified operators who can be that option, to provide a friendly and understanding ear, to connect trans people in need of help with those who can provide it.
This is exactly the kind of thing we need, but it’s just the beginning. It has to be. We have a responsibility as LGB and especially trans adults to reach out and do what we can to make sure that the next Leelah Alcorn knows we’re here and we’re ready to help.
We can’t afford to lose even one more trans kid who could have been saved.
Not. One. More.