Pre-post: I am a student myself, and am constantly learning and educating myself, so I hope this post does not come off as ill-informed or offensive, as I am trying my best to be as clear and as accurate as I can possibly be. However, if I’ve said anything wrong, or used a term erroneously, then please do point that out (preferably in the comment section at the bottom of this post), so that we can all be better informed and in turn learn from each other. Thanks!
I used to believe ignorance was bliss; I really did. However, over the years I’ve come to realize that ignorance is far from bliss; it’s actually quite fatal — murderous even. When we don’t know about something or can’t understand it, our simple solution is to either shun it or annihilate it. This is what ignorance does to you; it blinds you to the notion that, before jumping to baseless assumptions/conclusions, it is imperative to first try to understand the issue, educate yourself about it, analyze it, and then draw your conclusions from it. Yet, when it comes to ignorance, that is rarely the case, because ignorant people have a strong tendency to see everything as black and white; right and wrong. There is no room for understanding or trying to see things from an intelligent and objective point of view. As a result, people suffer from it — innocent youths like Leelah Alcorn suffer from it; suffer from the ignorance imposed on them simple because the people (who are supposed to be the closest to them and serve as their support network) refuse to understand them; refuse to view the world from their (child’s) point of view, because their self-righteousness, holier-than-thou, I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong mentality blinds them from the truth.
Hence, when I learned about Leelah Alcorn’s suicide a few days ago, my heart broke into a million pieces. While still in mourning of the Dec.16 Peshawar attack that killed over 130 innocent children, I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to ever hear/read about more children dying, being killed, or committing suicide as this year ended. Unfortunately, 2014 has proven to be yet again one of the worst and most bloodiest years in history, for on Dec. 28, Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old trans gendered girl killed herself by throwing herself in front of a moving tractor trailer. The reason: Her extremely devout parents (who belonged to the Christian faith) refused to acknowledge the fact that she was trans gendered and further forbade her from transitioning. Shortly after the young teen killed herself, a scheduled note appeared on her blog in which she heartbreakingly relayed the turmoil that she kept hidden inside for so long, and how utterly sad and depressed she was that her parents refused to understand nor acknowledge that she was in fact female. She further goes on to explain how her parents took her to biased religious shrinks who tried to “fix” her by convincing her that she was a boy and that she was only going through a “phase” as do all teenagers. At one point, they (her parents) even took away her phone and forbade her from accessing any form of social media; they even forbade her from interacting with any of her friends, isolating her completely for five whole months. If that isn’t utterly heartless and cruel, then I honestly don’t know what is! The full suicide letter can be read here.
The reason I feel the need to write and discuss this tragic event on my blog is because, earlier last month (December), I was invited to speak at a local event in light of the 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence (GBV), and one of the speakers, to whom I was acquainted at the start of the event, was a trans woman — a sweet, intelligent woman whose personal story and experience with sexual violence was both enraging and heart-breaking at the same time. During her speech, she boldly detailed the violence she experienced, both from men and women alike, where men called her “gay” and sexually assaulted her time and time again, and where women (including “radical feminists”), verbally and emotionally abused her, telling her that she was a “man pretending to be a woman,” and further accusing her of pretending to understand the struggles that women go through, because as a “man, she would have no idea all.” Upon hearing her story and experiences, I could feel my blood level rising at the sheer ignorance and stupidity of these despicable people. It was even more staggering that such abuse and discrimination would happen in a country like Canada — a country that is supposed to be more tolerant and accepting of LGBT rights, but nope, we have a long way to go, still. A very long way to go, very unfortunately.
Nevertheless, when it comes to understanding what being trans gendered is, that is where many people fall short and may even get a little confused. And that’s fine; normal even. We, as humans, are constantly learning, constantly evolving, and constantly acquiring new knowledge. We can’t claim to know and understand everything, otherwise we won’t be human. I have to admit, when I first learned about what being trans gendered was, I, too, tried to grasp it and the more I read into it, the more I began to understand what it was, and the more it started to make sense to me. The problem with most people — people like Leelah Alcorn’s parents, the individuals who abused/harassed the trans woman I met at the local event, and so many others — is that they refuse to understand that there is more than one form of sexual identity out there. Their little minds are only limited to one form of sexual identity: heterosexuality, and that a relationship should only exist between a man and a woman, and that any other relationship is ridiculous, a “sickness,” or simply just “morally” wrong. And these mindsets are usually conditioned either through religious/cultural beliefs, or the societies in which people live. However, just because we have been brought up with a certain belief system that tells — forces — us to believe what it thinks is right/wrong, isn’t always so. And being a trans woman or a trans man is not wrong. In the next section to this blog, I explain briefly what exactly it means to be trans gendered and the dynamics around it, because it’s important that we explain what it is, as many people assume too many erroneous things about it which is simply not true.
Being trans gendered: What is it?
There appears to be a common misconception that being trans gendered automatically means that one is homosexual; however, the fact of the matter is that, that is far from the truth. A trans gendered person could either be straight, bi, or homosexual; one can’t categorize them simply based on their narrow-minded and skewed perceptions/assumptions. And as for its definition, a trans person is one whose gender or sexual identity, expression or behaviour, is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. For example, a trans woman is one who identifies herself as a woman even though she is born with male sexual organs; similarly, a trans man identifies himself as male, even though he is born with female sexual organs (vagina, breasts, etc.).
They further believe that the sex they were originally born with is wrong, and that they should have been born either male or female, depending on whether they are a trans woman or a trans man. Hence, this is why this creates so much loathing and controversy amongst religious folks, as they strongly believe that “God does not make mistakes,” and that trans people are befuddled and hence need to be “saved.” Yet, trans people are neither befuddled nor are they confused. Trans women are women, and trans men are men. This is who they are, and this what they were supposed to be. There is no rocket science involved in this. Who are others to say that they are in the wrong, or that they are lost or confused about their sexual identities? There are many trans people who strongly and deeply associate their identities with the opposite gender as early as two or three years old, as was the case with Leelah Alcorn (who actually associated herself with the female identity as early as four years old, despite being born male). How do religious folks explain that (if there even is an explanation)? And why can’t they just let it be? Why force something on someone, just because it doesn’t go according to your norms; your beliefs? Not only is that psychologically harmful, but physically as well. And Leelah Alcorn’s sad story is a harsh and painful example of these harms. We are all human beings at the end of the day, regardless of class, gender, sexual identity, etc. Yet, our failure to grasp that we are humans first, above all, is what makes us destructive towards each other.
What can we do?
Not everything we see or witness necessarily need to be explained or understood according to our views, beliefs or perceptions of what we consider to be right or wrong. And I honestly cannot stress that enough. The biggest mistake anyone can make is telling someone that they are wrong; that their strong, instinctive association with a gender (different than the one they’re born with) is wrong, and then finding ways to rectify that. That’s ignorance, because you are simply paving the path for intense psychological trauma and destruction — something that you, yourself, will never truly understand because no one ever told you that the sexual identity that you are associating with is “wrong.” Leelah Alcorn may have killed herself, but the real killers are her intolerable parents, as well as the society that refused to acknowledge her struggles; they killed her long before she even decided to take her own life. They killed her hopes, her dreams, and her desire to ever become and live like a normal girl — a normal human being. And that is the most tragic reality of it all.
However, it was reassuring to learn that Leelah Alcorn’s death has now opened up critical dialogue, all around the world, in trying to understand and eradicate the misconceptions and stereotypes associated with trans gendered people. And while having a meaningful dialogue and discussion is important, as it’s one of the first steps towards improvement, we need to do more, as a society, in order to bring some sort of change. And that change needs to start with us — with our mentalities and thought-patterns, because if we don’t change that first, then there is no way we’ll be able to educate and inform others — those not as informed (I won’t say ‘ignorant’ because one is only considered ignorant, when they deliberately refuse to understand something, allowing their arrogance and personal biases/beliefs to come in the way) as us — to be more understanding, respectful, and accepting of others.
May Leelah Alcorn rest in peace, and may her death serve as a reminder that intolerance and refusing to understand something is never the correct way of going about something. You can’t change someone, just because you think they are wrong; chances are you are even more wrong.