CW: transphobia, dysphoria, suicide
NOTE: All dead names have been redacted
In December of 2014, tragedy swept through the trans community. Leelah Alcorn, a 17 year old trans girl from Ohio, had committed suicide by walking into traffic on a busy highway. “Please don’t be sad for me, it’s for the better,” her suicide note posted to Tumblr reads. “The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender.” Alcorn goes on to detail that she felt she was girl since age 4, and that she cried tears of joy when she learned what being transgender meant, at age 14. Her happiness was cut short when she told her mother.
Leelah goes on to detail how negatively her mother reacted. Her mother told her that ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’ and that she would ‘never truly be a girl’. The rejection caused her to begin hating herself and spiral into depression. Leelah was, then, taken to ‘Christian therapists’ for her depression. According to her note, instead of receiving help, she only got “more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.” Other news publications, such as the Boston Globe, would find that what Leelah was actually being taken to was conversion therapy.
At age 16, Leelah asked her parents for consent to begin transitioning. Her parents denied her request, causing her to cry herself to sleep. In an act of rebellion against her parents, Leelah, who was still closeted at school, came out as gay. She felt that this would be a good way to ease into coming out as transgender, so it would be less shocking. Despite support from her classmates, her parents were furious. “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.”
Leelah’s parents removed her from public school, forbade her from using any type of social media, and took away her laptop and phone. This effectively isolated her from any potential support system she could have had, leaving her with only her parents. She felt completely alone. This lasted for five months. When her parents gave her phone back at the end of the school year, she found that her friends had grown apart from her. The isolation her parents left her in effectively destroyed nearly every friendship she had.
This, coupled with the stress that comes with being a teenager about to go to college, broke her spirit. She felt that the world was against her. “People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.” Her situation was so desperate she felt that there was no way she could live happily. She had lost any hope of transitioning successfully, finding someone who loves her, and even having friends. Her suicide note ends with a plea to society to not let this happen to anyone else. “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. Goodbye.”
Even in death, it seemed like her parents tried to erase her struggle. “My sweet 16-year-old son, [REDACTED] Alcorn, went home to Heaven this morning. He was out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck. Thank you for the messages and kindness and concern you have sent our way. Please continue to keep us in your prayers,” her mother posted to Facebook. Her post obscures the fact that Leelah committed suicide, in part due to the abuse she suffered from her parents. In following interviews, her parents continued to defend their actions. In her interview with CNN, she stated, “we loved him unconditionally.” Leelah had wrote an additional handwritten suicide note for her parents, reading “I’ve had enough,” clearly placing responsibility for her death on her parents. After the police made a copy for evidence, her mother threw it away.
Her suicide put a face to all the statistics the LGBT+ community became all too familiar with over the years. As reported by the Family Acceptance Project in 2009, LGBT+ youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers who were accepted by their family. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey reported that 40% of transgender adults had attempted suicide, with 92% of these attempts occuring before the age of 25. A report published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010 stated that each event of LGBT+ victimization, including abuse, increased the likelihood of self-harming behavior by an average of 2.5 times.
Leelah’s death deeply affected many people. LGBT rights advocates began to cite her as evidence for the poor treatment of transgender youths. Vigils were held both across the United States and the United Kingdom. Several petitions were started for the establishment of “Leelah’s Law”, which would ban conversion therapy in the United States. “Leelah’s Law” even received support from then-President Barack Obama.
It has been six years since Leelah’s death, and now, we’re seeing these events transpire once more.
In the past few days, a new hashtag has begun trending across multiple social media platforms. This hashtag is #HISNAMEISALEX. Alex is a teenage content creator on Tik Tok, known for various cosplay videos. He is, also, a trans boy who goes by ‘He/Him’ pronouns. Alex was recording a video of himself cosplaying as Deku, a teenage boy character from the anime My Hero Academia, when his mother Tasha came into the room and grabbed his phone. Tasha recorded two separate videos, featuring roughly the same content, with one being slightly longer than the other. Both videos feature Alex, seemingly frozen in a mix of fear and disbelief, as his mother shouts at the camera. The mother’s comments are as follows:
“This is [REDACTED], and I am HER MOTHER. I gave her the name [REDACTED] for a reason. You will address her as [REDACTED], or you will not address her at all. If you cannot follow her mother’s instructions, you will be removed out of her life. Do you understand that? That goes for every single friend she has. HER NAME is [REDACTED], not Alex. I am done with this.”
Shortly thereafter, Tasha deleted all of Alex’s social media that she was aware existed. Allegedly, Tasha, at some point, sent a threatening message to a 14 year old friend of Alex. Those outraged by this began investigative work, as they feared for Alex’s safety. They were able to find the general location of where Alex lived, and contacted the local child protective services. Alex was removed from the home, and on one of the remaining social media accounts his mother missed, he was able to post a video confirming he was alright.
Those who were concerned for Alex breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, after twenty-four hours, Alex was returned to his mother’s custody and he subsequently deleted all the videos confirming he was fine. A friend of Alex had been briefly posting updates, but they have deleted all of their posts relating to Alex, as well. It has been practically silent for several days, with no update as to Alex’s condition. There is a natural hope, that because of the outrage, Alex will be okay. However, due to the fact that Tasha also lost her job due to these events, many fear that Alex is in a worse predicament than he was previously.
It is easy to draw parallels between Leelah and Alex’s respective experiences. Both were cut off from their social media accounts, which for trans people of all ages is an essential lifeline to their community, especially when they live in an unaccepting environment. Leelah was cut off from all her school friends, while Alex is currently living under the possibility of his mother not allowing him to see his friends anymore. Tasha repeatedly referring to Alex by his dead name and consistently referring to him with ‘she/her’ pronouns clearly is replicating the continual invalidation Leelah faced. The most concerning facet of this, however, is the fact that both Tasha and Leelah’s parents don’t seem to recognize the individual personhood of their children. They want their child to be exactly as they imagine. Leelah identified in her suicide note that her parents wanted her to be their “perfect little straight christian boy”, while Tasha seemingly believes her status as Alex’s mother gives her control over Alex’s identity.
Many are outraged, and ask what can we truly do in this situation. The fact is, in this case, both CPS and the police department have been contacted and they have both failed to do anything for Alex. Many are urging people to contact the fire department, the FBI, or even the governor of Alex’s state, but the fact is these are all parts of a government system that does not respect or value trans lives. This is not to discourage you contacting them, as even I am unsure of their individual effectiveness in handling this issue. I, as a bystander, cannot encourage or discourage this, as I do not have the answers. However, what I do believe is that we must not let these stories die. We, as a community, must carry the memory of trans brothers, trans sisters, and non-binary siblings who cannot be with us today. We have to be loud and supportive, so that when people like Alex or Leelah are getting cut off from their support system, they know that we care for them and that we understand their plight.
We must keep saying “His Name is Alex”, so we never have to say “His Name was Alex.”