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Seventeen-year-old Leelah Alcorn wrote a bitter farewell to her conservative parents. Then she walked into traffic.
Leelah Alcorn’s three-year struggle to assert her transgender identity in a staunchly Christian household came to an end Sunday, when she was struck and killed by oncoming traffic on I-71 near Cincinnati.
Before she died, the 17-year-old left a heartbreaking note on Tumblr detailing the depression and increasing hopelessness she had experienced since attempting to come out to her parents after first learning the word “transgender” at the age of 14. Though she wrote that she initially “cried of happiness” when learning there was a name for the gender dysphoria she had felt her whole life, her joy was short-lived:
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. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.
After three years of dealing with the toll her parents’ reaction took, Alcorn wrote that “The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender.”
Shortly after leaving this note on her Tumblr, along with a final series of goodbyes to friends and family, Alcorn reportedly walked into traffic on the interstate early Sunday morning. She was struck and killed by an oncoming semi-trailer.
Despite Alcorn’s stated reason for her tragic decision, her parents prepared an obituary that described her as a “loving son.” Though a photo that misrepresents her as a boy has since been removed from the website of the last public school she attended, screencaptures of it are circulating the Internet.
Though Alcorn’s Tumblr reveals evidence of suicidal ideation (“i want to fade away without ruining everyone else’s plans” she wrote at one point), it also paints a portrait of a fun, warm-hearted artist who occasionally drew fanart, who loved Sailor Moon and other magical-girl anime series, and who longed to live in a more tolerant world. When one of her followers sent her a message calling her an inspiration, she responded with typical self-deprecation:
awwhhh! I don’t know what’s so inspiring about a gross tranny who has a weirdly proportioned body and sucks at make-up, but thank you, I wish you the best of luck ✿♥✿ (ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧✿♥✿
This wasn’t false modesty. Alcorn’s final note speaks of having her self-esteem decimated over the years as a result of parental rejection, harmful anti-therapy, and enforced isolation:
My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.
When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.
I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.
Alcorn wrote that her parents pulled her from public school and confiscated access to the Internet and social media, leaving her essentially stranded, with no way to contact her friends for about five months. After this period of isolation ended, Alcorn wrote that she could no longer convince herself that her friendships were real.
Alcorn’s description of her life is not extraordinary, but rather a typical example of what millions of transgender teens face around the world. Rather than continue to deal with familial and societal rejection, Alcorn joined the staggeringly high number of trans teens who take their own lives annually. A January report from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 45 percent of genderqueer adults ages 18–24 had attempted suicide; a November study in Britain found that 48 percent of trans adults age 26 and under had attempted suicide. Overall, the transgender suicide attempt rate is more than 26 times higher than that of the general population. Bullying and societal rejection, along with physical violence and legal discrimination, are all frequently cited as reasons for attempts.
Alcorn was adamant that her story and testimony should be added to the public record of trans suicides.
On Facebook, gay Cincinnati city councilman Chris Seelbach wrote of Alcorn’s death, “it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
We have to do better.”
On Tumblr, a post memorializing Alcorn went viral Tuesday morning, garnering over 25,000 notes in a matter of hours as Tumblr users reacted to the tragedy. On Twitter, users were critical of Alcorn’s parents.
A screencap of Alcorn’s mother discussing her daughter’s death on Facebook also made the rounds, attracting scorn from users. In the screencap, Alcorn’s mother reportedly describes the incident as a tragic “walk” gone wrong—and continues to misgender Leelah by referring to her as her son.
While supporters on Tumblr and Twitter urged tolerance and expressed outrage at the actions of Alcorn’s parents, it’s Leelah herself who might have had the last word—in an image she posted to Tumblr shortly before her death:
The image depicts the trans flag in the form of fairy wings, and a clueless set of parents trying to shear them off.
At press time, Tumblr users were reblogging it with a note simply reading:
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to remove portions of the Alcorn’s final note that were not essential to the story.
H/T mememas/Tumblr | Photo via lazerprincess/Tumblr
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.