Leelah Alcorn and Cultural Transmisogyny

TW for suicide, transmisogyny, parental abuse. Contains quotes from Leelah’s suicide note.

I didn’t know Leelah Alcorn, and I don’t think I know anyone who did. As small as our community is, and as much as we try to remove isolation, online and on tumblr it can feel very big and distant.

But I read her note and it felt familiar, because it was filled with things I knew and had felt. I think most of us feel the same.

Her parents aren’t calling it a suicide. They’re refusing to admit to who she was. Media are using her deadname and the wrong pronouns. Her parents, who put her through conversion therapy, are now mourning the loss of their “son” in much the same way as contemporary psych tells parents of trans children that they must, except they’re doing it literally instead of accepting and caring for their daughter.

Leelah’s note indicates problems beyond her parental abuse and their refusal to accept her, however. While anger at her treatment is fair and reasonable, we need to come out of this with a firmer, angrier attitude towards cultural transmisogyny.

Leelah felt like she would never successfully transition. Our world has such a narrow definition of success in this area. Successful transition, successful passing. Upon her parents’ refusal to give consent to begin transition at age 16, Leelah felt like she was going to look like a man in drag for the rest of her life. She talked about how she was never going to like how she looked or sounded.

She eased herself into coming out at school by coming out as gay, because coming out as a trans woman seemed impossible. Her parents reacted by isolating her for five months. When she was eventually allowed back online, she talks about feeling alone, like her friends didn’t care.

She talked about how she felt she would never get enough love. How she’d never find a man who’d love her, how she’d never be happy. And when we live in a society that bombards us daily, from every angle, with messages telling us this, it’s no surprise. When our representation in media is either the gross trap, hypersexualised and tricking men into sex, the fetish to be fucked in the dark then ignored, or the mentally ill freak of nature, it’s hard to feel like we’re worthy of love.

These are all things that every trans woman I know, myself included, feel, even if we consciously understand why they’re fucked up. Worrying about transition, family reactions, feeling like it’s impossible to receive love.

Cultural transmisogyny is killing our youth. It informs bigoted attitudes from parents, police, institutions, laws – things which often directly kill us (specifically trans people of colour). It leads to bullying in schools, and it leads to parents refusing to acknowledge their childrens’ gender. It leads to kids like Leelah, who was 17 when she died, believing they have no possible future, no chance of being happy or loved.

This isn’t just about parental abuse, or how conversion therapy is basically torture, or the problem of bullying in schools or teen depression. Those are all symptomatic of cultural transmisogyny, of the idea that we aren’t women, that we don’t exist, that we’re not worthy of love and care.

Leelah Alcorn knew that:

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.


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