Woman Lying in Badlands National Park

Leelah Alcorn couldn’t see a future for herself. Now Twitter users are making trans survival visible.

Statistics spell out just how difficult it is to be a transgender teen, but on Twitter, the trend #RealLiveTransAdult aims to show that survival and happiness for trans teens is possible. 

On Sunday, shortly before her death, transgender teen Leelah Alcorn left a long and heartwrenching note on her Tumblr explaining that a combination of parental rejection, isolation, and inability to receive proper medical care had left her hopeless. Referencing Dan Savage‘s controversial “It Gets Better” campaign, she wrote, “People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case.”

As news of the 17-year-old’s suicide made international headlines, many supporters of transgender rights pointed to the parts of Alcorn’s note that showed a teen in desperate need of a supportive community of adults and others like her. Alcorn, under the false impression that she was already too old to successfully transition.

On Tumblr, user mschatelaine wrote, “Leelah died because she was isolated, deliberately by her parents and community and culturally by the images that she was given, that did not show her a way in which she could live. We need to do better.” 

As a response to Alcorn’s death, comedian and activist Red Durkin reacted by coining this hashtag:

Twitter’s transgender community immediately began using the hashtag to describe their own lives and paths to survival. 

Many adults spoke of having to move long distances to find their communities, and of the importance of having other trans friends around them for support and acceptance.

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Responding to Alcorn’s fear that she was too old to transition, many adults using the tag pointed out that they were much older when they made successful transitions:

The hashtag also served as an inspiration to many teens and young adults who were still struggling with their situations and their lives.

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On Tumblr, a short post collecting some of the early tweets garnered nearly 90,000 notes. Meanwhile, mourning continued for Alcorn, with supporters posting fanart of the girl who wrote on her Tumblr that she only rarely got a chance to express her true gender:

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The visibility of the hashtag also underlines the need for education about transgender issues and awareness. As Alcorn herself wrote, “Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better.” On Change.org, a petition to have Alcorn’s chosen name put on her headstone instead of the male name assigned to her gained over 30,000 signatories. Another, proposing to create “Leelah’s Law” to ban the kind of anti-transgender conversion therapy to which Alcorn’s parents subjected her gained over 80,000 signatures at press time. 

By allowing trans teens to see and hear from former trans teens who’ve made happy lives for themselves into adulthood, the hashtag has proven eye-opening for everyone—and hopefully a boon to those who need it most.

For more information about suicide prevention or to speak with someone confidentially, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) or Samaritans (U.K.). 

Photo via PagingMissPage/Twitter

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.