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Sarah Ditum wants you to stop being so mean to the parents who murdered their child.

Posted in Uncategorized

I wish this wasn’t the first post of 2015. I wish there wasn’t a reason for this post at all.

You’ve probably seen the name and story of Leelah Alcorn, the teenage girl who committed suicide when her parents refused to accept that she was transgender. After being forced into conversion therapy with Christian psychologists who called her selfish for not accepting the gender assigned to her at birth, Leelah posted a suicide note on Tumblr that begged for a change in the way we treat transgender youth and laid the responsibility for her death directly at her parents’ feet. The suicide note went viral, sending shockwaves through the LGBTA+ community and reaching mainstream media in way that shone stark light on the child abuse perpetrated against transgender children and teens by their parents.

That Alcorn’s suicide note has been so widely read is nothing short of astonishing; many victims of suicide leave no explanation of their actions, or their posthumous statements are read only by close family and friends. In making such a personal, vulnerable moment public for the world to see, Alcorn left a powerful legacy. There would be no erasing and denying her identity, no matter what her parents put on her tombstone or told their community. Her suicide letter has become a beacon of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation, encouraging the world to reach out to transgender teens at risk.

Teens who, writer Sarah Ditum asserts, will use Alcorn’s suicide as a template to humiliate their parents. In her piece for The New Statesman, “If you believe trans lives matter, don’t share Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note on social media,” Ditum worries that the world-wide dialogue Alcorn began breaks important journalistic standards and will cause stress for Alcorn’s family:

Along with a sense of basic dignity and respect for the grieving family, they are the reason that journalists should always take into account the Samaritans’ best practice media guidelines

The lack of basic dignity and respect that caused Alcorn to take her own life isn’t a concern for Ditum, who dismisses Alcorn as an unreliable source in her own death:

The guidelines tell journalists to “avoid the suggestion that a single incident […] was the cause”: the report doesn’t discuss any possible underlying causes, but presents the reported hostility of Alcorn’s parents to her trans status as the sole contributing factor.

Ditum goes on to further doubt the veracity of Alcorn’s account of the experience that caused her take her own life:

“Consider the lifelong impact that a suicide can have on those bereaved by a suicide,” says the Samaritans; Alcorn’s parents are mentioned only as villains, based on a single source, and their grief is not acknowledged.

No outside source could bear witness to Alcorn’s mental anguish better than she could, but Ditum dismisses her as an unreliable narrator.

Ditum fears copycat suicides, not because the loss of another transgender child is a horrifying and unacceptable prospect, but because the abusers of these teens might be cast in what she perceives to be an unfair light:

 The message an unhappy, isolated trans kid can take away from this is that death will bring you all the validation you’re missing in life. Your last words will be republished around the world and your parents will be punished for their failure to understand you. The reports even include a proven method you can follow.

Her concern isn’t for future suicide victims, but the prospect that they might be given a voice in death. She defends the Alcorns from the public scorn they’re facing on social media and in the press, saying:

And there’s another disturbing aspect to the public reaction: Alcorn’s parents, and specifically her mother, have been directly harassed by those who blame them for the death of their child. It is hard to imagine much worse that burying a child, but to lose a child by suicide must bring an almost unbearable degree of self-reproach to the loss.

Considering the fact that Alcorn’s mother persists in describing her daughter as her son “Josh” and referring to her with he/him/his pronouns, it seems unlikely that “self-reproach” is a term that has even a passing acquaintance with the Alcorns’ grief vocabulary. They deny that their daughter committed suicide, stating in a Facebook status update that their son “Josh” was accidentally struck and killed by a vehicle during an early morning walk.

Ditum ignores these facts in favor of lavishing sympathy upon Alcorn’s abusers and offers what appears to be a thoughtful, philosophical view of the nature of life and death in the media:

 Human are messy, overlapping things, however we live and die. We are tangles of love and mistakes. All of us are more complicated than the flat symbolism of the martyr, and all of us deserve to be seen in our full untidiness – the kind of untidiness that would never make for neatly consumable news copy.

Yet one important component of this story is missing from Ditum’s piece, and that is Leelah Alcorn herself. Instead of recognizing her as the “tangle of love and mistakes” and the “complicated” human being that she was, Ditum reduces Alcorn and other suicidal transgender teens to petulant brats throwing fatal tantrums in manipulative bids to ruin their parents’ images. The impact Ditum fears is not that more transgender children will kill themselves, but that the parents of these abused children might come off as unsympathetic in stories where they are, incontrovertibly, the cause of their child’s death.

Leelah Alcorn asked the world to see her as a woman, as a person, and as someone worthy of being loved just as she was. Sarah Ditum asks the world to see her as a liar and wants us all to stay silent out of mock concern for transgender lives. Perhaps a better title for Ditum’s piece would have been, “If you really want to inspire transgender youths to commit suicide, here’s a how-to guide.”

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66 Comments

  1. I was talking with a trans friend about Leelah’s story, and I said that one of the interesting things for me was the parents’ denial that this was a suicide. (Granted, I haven’t looked at their FB page other than the one screencap that’s going around Twitter.)

    What another friend told me that I didn’t realize was that Leelah scheduled her post for Tumblr to post after she died.

    While I’m heartbroken that she felt she had to take her own life, I’m incredibly glad she is able to be known for who she was. Her story won’t be erased.

    January 1, 2015
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  2. Laina
    Laina

    I said this on twitter, but I’ll say it again: If you are embarrassed by your child’s death, you have failed as a parent.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Robin
      Robin

      Not to mention your hideous failure as a human being.

      January 2, 2015
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  3. Mary
    Mary

    Them refusing to allow her to receive treatment makes them just as guilty as those parents that won’t give their diabetic kids insulin or any other form of denying medical treatment for a life-threatening problem. With the rates of suicide in trans people, not having your mind and your body align is obviously a life-threatening problem.

    January 1, 2015
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  4. Ack, don’t approve that other comment. The formatting is all screwed up. I’m trying again.

    Here’s a link to a post by a trans man explaining why it’s wrong to expect trans people to empathize with bigoted parents when their child dies: http://reclaimingwarlock.blogspot.com/2014/12/dont-tell-trans-people-to-empathize.html?spref=tw&m=1

    The whole post is worth reading, but this quote in particular gets to the heart of the matter:
    “Empathy for these parents requires seeing it from their perspective… and seeing it ‘from their perspective’ requires assuming that hatred of trans people is a reasonable trait.”

    Your post was a well-written rebuttal to Ditum’s, but it would have been even better if you had linked to what trans people (especially trans women) are saying about Ditum’s piece and the ideas behind it. It’s important that trans people are listened to on issues that affect us.

    January 1, 2015
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      I would love to have some links on there! I find these types of stories through recommendations from people on Twitter/Tumblr/etc., but I haven’t been online much today, and the only thing I’d seen was this woman’s gross article. I’ll take a look tomorrow and add links to the post, and if you have any suggestions please share them, I’ll put them in, too.

      January 1, 2015
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  5. Lieke
    Lieke

    This just makes me sad.

    January 1, 2015
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  6. Jemmy
    Jemmy

    When Robin Williams died, there were several comments I read stating that by calling his suicide as ‘freeing’, it was encouraging others to do the same thing. Something like that, I can’t remember the exact words this early in the day. I don’t claim to understand the issues of copycat suicide, but I can understand why someone may worry about that aspect. Although killing yourself as a revenge against your parents doesn’t seem that plausible to me.

    The rest of the points raised are rubbish. Calling a suicide victim a liar is particularly low, the dead can’t stand up for themselves anyway, but denying the truth of their last statement to the world is particularly cold.

    I hope the response to Leelah’s death helps other kids in her situation make it through. I feel sorry for her parents, they lack something in themselves, something essential, to treat their child the way they did. It is tragic that Leelah felt her life was so hopeless that suicide was the only option left.

    January 1, 2015
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  7. Germaine
    Germaine

    Bullshit to it all. I understand as a parent not being able to comprehend a person not loving their children, but this woman did not love her child. Evidenced clearly by the fact that she refuses, even in death, to acknowledge her gender or suicide. I’m A-OK with the internet mobs after her. Because no one is going to lock her up for child abuse, which is what *should* happen.

    This awful woman is probably even relieved she doesn’t have to deal with her daughter anymore. It’s cold and evil to think about but it seems true. People always want to frame trans/gay suicide like it’s some punishment for parents, and I’m sure to the parents who have fucking hearts it is. But for some disgusting people it must be a relief.

    Suicide is NOT the answer, but we need to listen to Leelah because she felt she had no way out. I read her letter and I understand how trapped she felt. Even if she started treatment at 18 she was truly worried about looking mannish for the rest of her life. It’s heartbreaking. On TOP of that there was nothing she could do to get out. Is she supposed to run away? Emancipate? Coming to terms with the fact that your parents don’t love you is one of the worst things I can imagine, and leaving them when you’re young and still dependent is seemingly impossible. We have *no* support for youth that needs to get away from their parents.

    We have resources for children obviously sexually or physically abused, but then there’s this stuff. It’s hard to determine mental/emotional abuse since so many teens have a hard time with their parents as it is. We need resources for these people, at least for now since there’s so many hateful people out there.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Jemmy
      Jemmy

      I know a woman who loved her son dearly and point blank refuses to acknowledge his death was a sucide. Even insisted the coroner’s report was closed so it wouldn’t become public knowledge. It wasn’t motivated by the emotions you target, however, I think in the case of Leelah’s parents you are probably correct.

      Just don’t generalise particular reactions around suicide. Some people don’t want to face reality for different reasons.

      Leelah’s parents treatment of her life and death is utterly horrible, I’m not excusing that at all.

      January 2, 2015
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      • Germaine
        Germaine

        ‘Just don’t generalise particular reactions around suicide.’

        All people want to do is assume this woman is heart-broken, but I’m here to say she probably isn’t. Cause she’s awful. I don’t really care if that bugs you. It’s pretty clear here why the mother doesn’t want to address reality.

        January 3, 2015
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  8. Because whenever something like this happens it’s always the cis people who victimised the poor girl who matter? I’ve seen similar arguments before – the only time when it’s “allowable” to be critical of the cruel, bigoted and abusive parents who drive LGBT youth to suicide is when those parents have decided to have a (very late) “seen the light” moment (and then make a media and activist profile for themselves)

    I notice she didn’t consider what Leelah wanted – isn’t part of the reason she shared her suicide note on tumblr is because she wanted control of her own story, not what her parents would broadcast? She had a message to spread, she had something she wanted to say

    This is clearly something Ditum doesn’t care about since she’s already dismissed Leelah’s actual words. And “copycat suicides” seem to be her concern while not realising that the huge suicide rate among LGBT youth in general and trans youth in particular is partly because cis, straight people dominate the message and the voices of people like Leelah are not being heard or heeded

    Ditum’s disrespect for Leelah is dripping from this piece

    January 1, 2015
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  9. Cami
    Cami

    Something that I don’t get about the article (and I won’t act as if I know something about copy cat suicide because I don’t) is that Sarah said that the articles describing Leelah’s suicide were dangerous because they described a way of killing one self and showing that it worked.
    But who didn’t know that being hit by a truck could be fatal? Or maybe I got it wrong.

    The responses on twitter are nice, there are ones that I liked:

    Oh shit, while writing this response I went back to the article and she blocked me on twitter… I didn’t think my twitter had been that bad, I said that about the truck and “I don’t think protecting the abusers of a trans woman is a good way to show how much you care about trans lives” That’s not so bad, is it?

    And… I’m still writing here. Ok I’ll stop.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Cleretic
      Cleretic

      It’s a funny little quirk of journalistic guidelines; in some countries (I know it’s true in Australia), you aren’t allowed to give details of a suicide for exactly that reason. And while that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to say when you’re talking about things like drug overdoses, it doesn’t exactly apply cleanly when you get deaths as simple as this.

      January 1, 2015
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    • Lieke
      Lieke

      The point about copycat suicides is about the only reasonable point Ditum makes in her otherwise fairly ridiculous piece. If the media pays attention to a suicide then a rash of similar suicides often follows. That is quite a good reason not to publish suicides (and the how of them).

      However, I think that in this case the benefits might outweigh the downsides. There may be trans kids who read/hear about Leelah and consequently decide to take their own lives, but I’m sure that there are also plenty of trans kids who will be positively influenced by how overwhelmingly negative the reaction towards Leelah’s parents has been and how horrified the majority of us is about the methods employed to attempt to ‘fix’ Leelah. The suicide note has opened up a dialogue and that’s a thing Ditum appears to have overlooked (on purpose?).

      January 2, 2015
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      • ElBandito
        ElBandito

        “but I’m sure that there are also plenty of trans kids who will be positively influenced by how overwhelmingly negative the reaction towards Leelah’s parents has been and how horrified the majority of us is about the methods employed to attempt to ‘fix’ Leelah. ”

        So true–there are now many trans people coming forward to talk about their transitions when they were past 18 (many of them provided pictures showing how transitioning at 30+ can still cause a happy ending). I’ve frequented LGBTQA sites and blogs and I’ve never seen so much outpour of advice and support.
        I just hope that all the other kids would feel more hopeful. Us older people have complained so much about recession, low job opportunities and student debts that it’s no wonder that the future seems so bleak for many teens.

        January 8, 2015
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  10. Guy Masterleigh
    Guy Masterleigh

    In a sane and rational world her parents should be on trial for murder, or at least manslaughter. One of our children came out as gay – we’d noticed she was two years before they realised themselves and were wholly supportive, as we would have been had they been transsexual. But that was, apparently, extremely rare amongst their gay friends, 90% of whom were judgemental and hostile, at least at first. Religious bigotry kills, on the domestic scale as well as genocide, and that has to be brought home to all the bigots.

    January 1, 2015
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  11. the-great-dragon
    the-great-dragon

    All the stuff Ditum’s complaining about hasn’t been happening in journalism, though. All the articles I’ve seen are just “this is the issue, here’s her note, here’s what her parents have to say, here’s how people are reacting” which is how journalism works. It’s everyone on social media that’s forming opinions and driving the rhetoric of the dialogue, and they’re not bound to journalistic standards.

    Also, I think if there were any indication that some other underlying cause contributed to Leelah’s suicide, the news would report it. More importantly, I think people would even be open to it and they’d be happy to discuss it as part of a dialogue on mental health and trans* issues. But considering her parents haven’t offered one while continuing to call her ‘Josh,’ misgender her, and deny she even committed suicide, I think it’s incredibly odd of Ditum to claim that there’s some flagrant disregard for the truth and that the parents are being scapegoated.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Robin
      Robin

      Ugh my reply got eaten by an iPhone crash!

      Anyway, I agree with you so much. This made me so angry. Social media exists as a way of communicating amonst ourselves, about the things we see and experience in our lives that interest us, amuse us, infuriate us, etc. In the same way that you can’t expect perfect essays in text message conversations, you can’t expect rules of journalism to apply to casual communication. Tumblr is, surprisingly I know, not CNN. Twitter is not the New York Times.

      As for your second point, I have to be a little cynical and feel like probably if there were other factors we would hear about them from apologists for her parents. Even so, we would still hear them.

      January 2, 2015
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  12. If it had been a woman escaping from an abusive husband who had committed suicide and left a suicide note in this way, I can guarantee the Ditum’s article would have read very differently. But her disconnect – because this was a transgender girl – is not unusual: Ditums’s belittling of Laverne Cox on the cover of time (complaining that the ‘revolution appeared in a short tight dress and covered in makeup’) came on the same day she praised Dolly Parton, country queen of make up and tight clothes, to the high heavens.

    She attacks the use of rape myths and tropes against women, but used them against Shia LaBeouf. She places the responsibility of rape, not on the choices of men, but on the actions of penises. (Sorry to be blunt there). The abuse she would not accept for white cis women, she turns a blind to for transgender women/of colour and it doesn’t surprise me at all that she erased Leelah in her article and reduced her in that way.

    January 1, 2015
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    • the-great-dragon
      the-great-dragon

      Oh god. I’d never heard of this woman before and now I’m glad, because everything you’ve said about her is utterly horrifying.

      January 1, 2015
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  13. camber
    camber

    Isn’t there a journalistic thing about being very careful how suicides are reported so as not to glorify suicide – so as not to convince at-risk people that they are worth more dead than alive? And I definitely have seen, in places, Leelah’s choice to commit suicide celebrated, or at least framed as The Most Important And Influential Thing About Her. Which, maybe it is, but that’s not exactly a fact to be celebrated. I haven’t seen so much of the IF YOU ARE THINKING OF TAKING YOUR OWN LIFE, PLEASE DON’T, PLEASE SEEK HELP! / My Gods, what can we do to help others in situations like Leelah’s?

    Perhaps that’s what Ditum was getting at, although I agree that she could have chosen her words with more care.

    I can also feel for the parents whilst simultaneously shaking my head at their actions. I am sure they are not feeling happy fluffy emotions right now. Maybe they truly thought (however misguidedly) that they were doing what was best for their child. Maybe the opposite. But I can’t help but feel sorry for them. I hope that in time they are able to take a long, hard look at themselves and the ways they contributed to their daughter’s suicide, acknowledge that they did great harm, and strive to be better (My Gods, the lifelong guilt one would have to accept in order to do that! Of course I feel for them, facing that) . But I also think it’s a lot to demand her parents do a 180 on their entire belief structure in the midst of (a) grief, (b) a media storm and (c) outpourings of hatred from strangers on the internet.

    Obviously, as sorry as I feel for Leelah’s parents, I am MORE sorry for Leelah and for those in her situation. She is the victim here; she gets the greater share of empathy. It is just heart-wrenching to me that Leelah did not get the help she needed, that the people she should have been able to depend on for support were the very people undermining her wellbeing, and that she felt so entirely bereft of hope for the future.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Leighanna Rose
      Leighanna Rose

      Her parents killed her. We don’t need to “feel” for them and if all you’re doing is shaking your head, then there’s something wrong with you because you’re putting a lot more effort into attacking her supporters.

      January 1, 2015
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      • Hth
        Hth

        Just as someone who has worked in prisons before, I would ask you to consider being more careful with rhetoric like “her parents killed her; we don’t need to feel anything for them.” It only contributes to a widespread cultural idea that there are people who have emotions and can be empathized with, and then there are Criminals/Monsters/Bad Guys from whom it’s totally reasonable to withhold any emotional connection. That’s just a hugely damaging lens through which to see the world, on a macro and a micro level.

        I’m making no attempt to shift blame. Her parents are largely, and maybe entirely, to blame. But I’m just so uncomfortable every time I hear “well, these people did something terribly wrong, so I don’t care anything about them or what happens to them.” Having dealt with murderers before, I can definitively say that we do still have a choice as to how much we respect their humanity, even when we don’t condone much if anything about their lives.

        January 2, 2015
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        • rateltje
          rateltje

          Leighanna Rose: the fact that you won’t seem to allow to feel for Leelah’s parents – in this case even scolding camber for “only shaking their head at them” – makes me infinitely sad.

          Firstly, what happened to Leelah is a tragedy, but suicide is a complicated thing that cannot be reduced to “her parents were dicks” – even if their behaviour was obviously (from Leelah’s note) a contributing factor in her death.

          Secondly, I truly believe that Leelah’s parents thought that they were doing the right thing. Their worldview obviously did not allow them to see being transgender as a natural thing – God doesn’t make mistakes! – and they thought that if they could help her accept what they saw as her “true” identity, that of a cis male, that she would be happy again.

          I’m obviously not saying that what they did wasn’t misguided, but I don’t believe it was intentionally abusive and I do believe that these people are now mourning their child. And yes, this may “just” be their idea of who their child was, but isn’t that more or less true for everyone anyway? In Leelah’s case, her parents’ idea of who she was is just a little (a lot) further removed from Leelah’s idea of who she was than usual.

          Fighting for the world that Leelah wished she could have lived in is impossible if we dismiss or demonise people whose worldview directly contradicts that world. If we can’t respect them, how can we expect them to respect us? Coming into the conversation telling them “YOU ARE WRONG!” will only ensure that they won’t listen to us, and if they won’t listen to us, we cannot hope to explain our ideas and beliefs.

          January 4, 2015
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          • It does not matter if they thought they were doing the right thing. Most abusive people think their behavior is justified. If they had bothered to try to understand their daughter, they could have found a plethora of evidence that not supporting their child and sending her to conversion therapy would kill her. But they didn’t because they cared more about what they thought the Bible “says” about being transgender than about loving their daughter for the sweet young woman she was.

            They are not grieving their daughter. They miss some boy who never existed. They still didn’t respect her enough in death to acknowledge her death. It’s just not a matter of their ideas about her not quite marching up with who she was. Transphobic misgendering is not an innocent misunderstanding or difference of opinion. It’s ugly and evil and violent.

            It’s true; Leelah’s parents were not solely responsible for her suicide. A transphobic, transmisogynistic society that told her that her goal for transition should be passing for cisgender and if she couldn’t transition early enough to avoid a testosterone-fueled puberty then she wouldn’t be beautiful and her life would be miserable and lonely is also to blame. The shitty “Bible therapists” her parents sent her to are responsible. But her parents have a huge load responsibility for not providing a loving environment in a transphobic world & for putting her through ineffective abusive therapies. Withholding their support and isolating her from her supportive friends is abusive. It’s, like, textbook abusive.

            Transphobic people can’t expect trans people to respect them because they have not done anything to earn respect. Transphobia is inherently udisrespectful. I am so tired of being told that the boot on my neck won’t be removed unless I ask nicely. I am tired of being told that I have to treat people who deny who I am like their worldview is equally legitimate. It’s not. There is room for even-toned debate with bigots, but that doesn’t require that I respect people who make the world an unliveable place for me and others in my community.

            January 4, 2015
    • I know you probably don’t know this, but Ditum is notoriously transphobic, claiming that excluding trans women from women’s spaces is necessary to keep them safe & treating trans people’s very existence as misogynistic. Sarah Ditum and the New Statesman do not care about the well-being of trans people.
      Just because you haven’t seen people talking about how to prevent more people from taking Leelah’s path doesn’t mean those conversations aren’t happening. And yes, you have to be careful not to romanticize suicide in reporting, but honoring Leelah’s voice doesn’t do that. Ditum is attempting to twist journalistic ethics to silence discussion on the things that led to Leelah’s suicide and cause other trans people’s suicides.

      I don’t feel anything resembling sympathy for Leelah’s parents. They abused her and isolated her from supportive friends. She named their behavior as a major leading factor in her decision to end her life. They won’t even acknowledge her identity in death, nor do they own their jabs in causing her death. They aren’t grieving HER; they’re grieving a son who didn’t exist. So no, I don’t feel sorry for them. I don’t feel sorry for abusive parents under any circumstances.

      January 1, 2015
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    • the-great-dragon
      the-great-dragon

      I feel bad for the parents too. I haven’t seen Leelah’s suicide glorified, but tbh I haven’t been keeping up with all of this very thoroughly, because I find it really upsetting and draining. I think it’s absolutely shameful to glorify her suicide, and I think any article (or person) that does needs to take step back and reconsider some things.

      I actually think Ditum raised some good points, but I think the way she expressed them was really insulting and problematic and buried inside an attitude that held no sympathy for Leelah. I feel bad for the parents too. I don’t, for a minute, think they were right, but they shouldn’t be attacked or abused (criticized, yeah, but…), because that doesn’t help the situation. I also think they thought they were doing what was best for their child, and that’s the real problem – that trans* people and issues are so invisible or demonized that there’s a very large population of people that think it is in any way okay to put their child through what Leelah went through.

      Like you, I do feel sympathy for the parents’ loss, but I feel more sympathy for Leelah. It’s not a one-or-the-other situation for me.

      January 1, 2015
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      • the-great-dragon
        the-great-dragon

        *clarification: that penultimate sentence was poorly phrased. I was trying to say I feel the same as you, in that I feel sympathy for both with a greater emphasis on Leelah, because I know you said you felt more sympathy for Leelah than the parents. I wasn’t trying to say you only felt for the parents.

        January 1, 2015
        |Reply
    • Lainiejay
      Lainiejay

      Very well said. My thoughts exactly.

      January 1, 2015
      |Reply
  14. Raging Brainer
    Raging Brainer

    I currently live in Cincinnati where it is pretty conservative and they actually reported this on the local news while also have a few doctors speak about the resources for trans youths. They spoke of hormone therapies and options for transitioning, which surprised me because I didn’t think this area would have a newscast about a topic like this without turning into and anti LGBTQ story. It is really sad that she felt she had to take her own life but here is hoping that her legacy is such that changes people’s minds about how we deal with transgendered people.

    I dealt with some major issues from my religious parents and have since cut ties because things got too bad. While the world constantly tells you that family is the most important thing ever and if you don’t get along with them then there is something wrong with you. In this situation I can empathize a bit about how she felt (to a lesser extent since I wasn’t dealing with being transgendered) and I wish I had to ability to speak to her and tell her that in a few years she can head off on her own and things will be completely up to her. The choices I made when I finally freed myself from the toxic influence of my family have greatly improved my life, when I was still in contact with them I drank every day to self medicate and I considered myself an alcoholic but the day I got away I stopped drinking without a problem. I had no idea how badly I really was feeling and how close I came to ending it all until I got away.

    This post may not make sense because my thoughts are scattered, but I hope that other kids going through rough patches will see the support that is coming from those who have seen her suicide note and are able to seek help (I saw a counselor who was the one who told me that family is what you make it and blood doesn’t always mean family). I don’t think I would be have as well adjusted as I am if I had not moved on, giving how close I got to suicide myself.

    January 1, 2015
    |Reply
    • Raging Brainer
      Raging Brainer

      I also have a friend who is trans and he has written many articles that really enlightened me. I wish I had links but I can’t remember what they are. He mentioned that there are ways people talk to transsexuals that they don’t realize are not okay. Even those who are accepting don’t realize what they are saying. One thing that stuck out was that people tend to ask if someone is preop or postop and it is not okay to ask about their genitals. You wouldn’t walk up to a cis person and ask them about their genitals.

      January 2, 2015
      |Reply
  15. If there’s anyone more morally bereft and deserving to be scorned without forgiveness forever, it surely is the person who uses the death of an innocent to add power to the very forces which caused the death.

    In this Sarah Ditum and Leelah’s parents are equally to be censured. RIP Leelah.

    January 1, 2015
    |Reply
  16. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    Leelah’s story just devastates me. I cried when I read her suicide note, and I really wanted to say something mean to her mother when I saw her FB post, but I didn’t.

    I saw somewhere, a note written by a trans person/advocate (I can’t remember who now) that it was the most sad that Leelah felt she couldn’t successfully transition after 18 and that she seemed to think she would never be able to “pass” or find love, because it wasn’t true. That was an important takeaway for me – that we need to encourage trans youth that it won’t be too late if they can’t start transitioning until after they get away from their parents. But then, I have no idea how it feels to be trapped in the wrong body or how impossible it would seem to be told “another few years, just wait a little longer.”

    Her parents are in deep denial. Deep. I hope they realize what bad choices they made, and have more compassion for their remaining children.

    January 1, 2015
    |Reply
  17. Petra Newman
    Petra Newman

    http://edition.cnn.com/2014/12/31/us/ohio-transgender-teen-suicide/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter
    The link above is to an interview Leelah’s mother gave to CNN basically defending herself. It’s a difficult article to read not least because of the evasions and denial she employs in justifying her treatment of Leelah. The saddest thing for me was the fact that she claims to have loved her child “unconditionally” yet seems to have little concept of what the word actually means. Having lost my best friend to suicide when we were 21 I know first hand that for those left behind, guilt abounds. Questions like “what could we have done to let her know she didn’t need to do this” dominated our thoughts in those early days and continue to be asked even now twenty years later. What I found so sad about this interview is that Mrs Alcorn doesn’t express that sentiment at all though, given Leelah’s note this doesn’t surprise me, it just makes me question futher the type of people they are. So in response to Sarah Ditum I’m afraid all my empathy is being given to the young woman who was made to feel so bad about herself that she felt her only recourse was to end her life; not the people who made her feel that way.

    January 1, 2015
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    • Robin
      Robin

      I have so much to say about this, but I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, I am beyond grateful for the dialogue this has opened up. For the unexpected voices among my more conservative friends and family speaking up and saying “no. This is bullshit. You love your kids no matter what. You do what you can to make them feel safe and whole. This is bullshit, and we need to talk about this because goddamnit, trans lives matter.” My very conservative Christian family members are sharing the “don’t be your child’s first bully” post on Facebook. It’s… absolutely astonishing.

      It’s absolutely horrible that we lost a bright, artistic, *amazing* young woman because her horrible parents refused to accept who she was. Their community’s opinion of them continues to be more important to them than their child. It’s incredibly fucked up that it’s taken this to get some people talking about this stuff, but I feel like this conversation, this opening of minds and hearts, was her gift to us.

      January 2, 2015
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    • Robin
      Robin

      Ack, did NOT mean to reply to this comment. Let’s all pretend it was a reply to the original post.

      January 2, 2015
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  18. Juliet Oosthuysen
    Juliet Oosthuysen

    I find this commentary disingenuous in the extreme. You’ve inferred motivations that simply aren’t there (and also misquoted the mother, who, however horrendously she may have treated Leelah, never actually claimed it was an accident.)
    I found Sarah’s piece compassionate and responsible. There are alternatives to how this awful event was reported – the majority of coverage didn’t even provide help lines for trans teens in similarly torturous positions.

    January 2, 2015
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      • Juliet Oosthuysen
        Juliet Oosthuysen

        Nowhere does that claim it was an accident. And Sarah is not, ‘Terf Trash’. She has in the past talked about the difference between male and female biology, as I have. And telling a feminist she cannot discuss the biology at the root of her oppression is another damaging ideology. Ironic that.

        January 2, 2015
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        • rekhyt
          rekhyt

          “He went out for an early morning walk and was hit by a truck”.

          No. She went out to kill herself.

          Her own wording heavily implies that she wants it to be perceived as an accident. It takes some serious bending and twisting to not understand her phrasing as “it was an accident”.

          Pulling the “they didn’t say that” card because they didn’t spell it out directly word for word is never a really solid argument because that is not how communication and language works.

          January 2, 2015
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          • Robin
            Robin

            This is it exactly. Her words may not have been “it was an accident!!!!” but her intent, in light of all of the rest of her acts of erasure, sure as hell comes across that way.

            January 2, 2015
        • Hayley
          Hayley

          Oh please. How else are you supposed to read “hit by a truck on an early morning walk”?

          No, Ditum IS TERF trash. Here are examples of her being TRASH:

          https://twitter.com/sarahditum/status/474527324306944000

          https://twitter.com/youngvulgarian/status/550714018772832256

          https://twitter.com/auntysarah/status/550643711189999616

          She also follows several TERFs on twitter who make a point of harrassing trans women – including one who sexually assaulted an underage trans boy and then wrote about in an article. So yeah, I will call Ditum a TERF because that’s exactly what she is.

          January 2, 2015
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    • Marvel
      Marvel

      Found the cis person.

      January 2, 2015
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      • Robin
        Robin

        A lot of us are cis and toootally got the same things from the article that Jenny did. Not to be all “NOT ALL CIS!!!” because that’s bullshit, of course. It’s just that the comments have been overwhelmingly supportive, except for this one single person choosing to ignore reality.

        January 2, 2015
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        • Laina
          Laina

          Just think of it as a spin-off of “found the vegan” 😛

          January 2, 2015
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          • Robin
            Robin

            Haha, fair enough! 😉

            January 2, 2015
          • Marvel
            Marvel

            That was the intention, yes. Though I should also make it clear that I appreciate the comments section here very much for being so excellent!

            January 2, 2015
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Sarah’s piece did show compassion. Just not for the girl who actually died. Sarah painted her as an unreliable source on the subject of her own motives for suicide. That doesn’t smack of compassion to me.

      January 2, 2015
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    • Marvel
      Marvel

      With respect, the opinion of one transwoman (I am leaving out the usual space intentionally, for reasons explained below) does not invalidate the opinions of the hundreds of other trans women and men who have been speaking out since Leelah’s death on Sunday.

      That particular transwoman is also a radfem who possesses many opinions that are looked upon extremely unfavorably by the wider trans community–she believes in concrete male/female biological dichotomies and bathroom segregation, for instance. She actively demonizes the notion of genderqueerness, or any identity other than “male” or “female,” and scorns those who choose to use the term “transgender” rather than “transsexual.” She identifies strictly as a transwoman and NOT as a woman, and she does not support the rights of other trans women to identify as women. She would have us be something “other” rather than being accepted for our gender identities–in fact, she considers the whole notion of gender identity a sham. No shit she’s not jumping on the pro-Leelah bandwagon.

      To me, she’s akin to the strictly celibate, self-hating members of the gay community, to be honest. There are Model Minority fallacies all over everything she writes.

      In conclusion: her opinion is her opinion. But it doesn’t make your argument any more valid.

      January 2, 2015
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        Thank you. I didn’t feel it was my place as a cis person to point this out. As all gay people don’t agree, all feminists don’t agree, or all black people don’t agree, selecting one dissenting voice from a sea of voices in agreement and singling that person out as a representative of their entire group is blatant tokenism.

        January 2, 2015
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        • Juliet Oosthuysen
          Juliet Oosthuysen

          You’ve posted that you want to hear TW voices, even if they disagree. So I posted one. *baffled.*

          January 2, 2015
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          • Laina
            Laina

            I believe the term for this is “Cherry-picking”.

            January 2, 2015
          • JennyTrout
            JennyTrout

            That’s fine. But the impression I got (and that apparently Marvel got as well) was that the link was being offered to further your argument that Ditum isn’t a TERF. Now that I look back on the comment thread, I see that the link you provided isn’t a reply to the thread started by your first comment. I think the commenting system in this layout makes it difficult to recognize the parent comments in a thread. So, sorry for accusing you of using that woman as a token transgender woman to back up your argument.

            January 2, 2015
          • Marti386
            Marti386

            That’s fine. But let’s make it crystal clear that the trans woman”voice” you chose to post is one of the very, VERY few that actually agree with your hateful rhetoric. In fact, you’ve only got like THREE trans women radfems out there.

            So let’s NOT pretend that she speaks in any way for the vast majority of trans women, and let’s not pretend that she isn’t another TERF asshole, trying to mute the voice of Leelah Alcorn.

            January 5, 2015
  19. M
    M

    I teach at a school next to a shelter for LGBTQ homeless youth. The teenagers get there because they’ve run away (usually from abuse or lack of acceptance) or have been kicked out of their homes for who they are.

    When the shelter opened and we were informed those students were going to all come to our school, we knew we were going to have to learn to help students who had suffered incredible pain because of being who they are and who might be further teased and bullied as they entered our school.

    What we didn’t expect was the incredible acceptance from our student body.

    *Oh, you’re biologically male but identify and dress as female? Okay. Let’s go get lunch.*

    *Oh, you’re gay? You know, that’s one thing I disagree with my church about…*

    *Oh, your parents disowned you because of who you are? That sucks. I think you’re awesome and they’re missing out.*

    All of this without any preparation for the students, any “sensitivity” training. I see it every single day, and it gives me hope.

    I also see bullying and the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative. My school isn’t paradise, but slowly and consistently I see support overwhelm judgment. Many of us teachers have something on our walls letting students know we’re a safe teacher to talk to about sexual orientation and gender identity (unfortunately, not all teachers are, but even that is getting better year by year).

    Recently, a staunchly conservative, loudly anti-gay friend of mine had an awakening. He said, “You know, when I was young, my parents’ generation was saying the same thing about black and white people getting married as I have about two men getting married. They sure look stupid now, and I just realized what I’ve been thinking is just as stupid.” It can be tempting to dump a friend whose biases and prejudices are so in contrast with my own, but if I had done that, first of all, I’d have never seen his transformation, and, secondly, there may have *been* no transformation as he would have been surrounded only by people who shared his beliefs.

    Another conservative friend (one of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” types) did a complete 180 and became an ally and a gay rights activist within her church.

    One of my (straight) students is writing a proposal for gender neutral bathrooms on campus.

    The world is far from perfect when it comes to accepting people for who they are, but I feel like I live and work in the epicenter of positive change. What we need to do is start advertising loudly that that change is happening and is welcome. Public schools and public service announcements should inform all people that there are shelters and free counseling services available. The fact that our school loves and accepts our higher-than-average population of LGBTQ youth should be celebrated as publicly as our winning sports teams. How are we going to let people like Leelah know there is hope when we keep that hope hidden? (The shelter by our school, for the protection of the residents, is something of a secret. You can’t find its address on Google, for example, and while I see the logic in that, I also fear it means many LGBTQ youth have no idea such a place exists).

    I understand the critique of this article under fire, but I will agree with one thing the author argued: it is WRONG and completely irresponsible that so many of the articles and posts about Leelah’s suicide do not include links to services for those dealing with similar issues and/or contemplating suicide.

    Maybe each of us enraged by this avoidable death can donate to or volunteer at an organization that helps LGBTQ youth in our community or demand that our community establish one if there isn’t one yet. Maybe we can encourage local businesses that give back to our community to add such charities to their recipients. My grocery store, for example, gives to homeless shelters and women’s shelters; they could easily add the shelter by my school to that list. Maybe, if and when we post about these issues, we can try to always remember to include resources for those who need them, just in case our posts go viral.

    I wish Leelah could have come to our school.

    http://www.glbtnationalhelpcenter.org/

    January 2, 2015
    |Reply
  20. Juliet Oosthuysen
    Juliet Oosthuysen

    I think there’s a false dichotomy going on where if you have reservations over the note being published it means you’re, ‘anti-trans’ or phobic. I’m genuinely scared of considered, researched guidelines being ignored because I think there will be other kids who copy this. I also think Leelah’s story needs telling and the Christian community needs to wake up and realise their behaviour towards trans and gay people is violence. I just don’t personally agree with doxxing the parents and again, worry over the validation it may give kids on the brink. My oldest friend committed suicide- a week after the funeral his cousin did. It’s a real risk and is believe there are alternatives in how it is reported.

    January 2, 2015
    |Reply
    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      I definitely thinking doxxing the parents is unacceptable. If they make their facebooks private, their instagram accounts, etc. people need to stay the hell away from that, as well as not release where they work, their home addresses, phone numbers, etc. Especially since doxxing is a huge online weapon against transgender people.

      If Ditum had just written about the journalistic practices here, that would be a different story. But she twice referred to Alcorn as being “one source” on her own suicide and asked for us to sympathize with the parents. That’s why she’s being called transphobic; she has more feeling for the parents whose actions resulted in the death of their child than she does toward the teenage girl whose emotions apparently need backing up by independent research before she’ll accept them as a valid source.

      January 2, 2015
      |Reply
    • Marti386
      Marti386

      Here’s the thing. We don’t care what you think. It’s NOT about you. This isn’t about cis women, and it isn’t about feminism. So how about you sheath your massive sense of cis entitlement, and stop lecturing trans people about how we should react to this, ‘kay?

      January 5, 2015
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  21. Marti386
    Marti386

    I can’t say I’m surprised to see Ditum chiming in on a matter of the trans community that has nothing to do with her. I’m not surprised at the recent, pathetic attempt by the radfem community to smear the trans community. I’m not surprised by the monstrous attempts by radfems like Linda “Gallus Mag” Shanko and Cathy “Bug” Brennan to victim blame Leelah. I’m not surprised by the vile attempts by gay male radfem Justin “Whoiscis” Norwood to disregard Leelah’s suicide note, and try to claim she was just a gay male who committed suicide because of homophobia.

    Really, I’m not surprised at ALL. In fact, when I first got word about it, I began a mental countdown to see how long the TERFs would take to start trying to spin this. Sadly, I didn’t have to wait long.

    I knew it would happen, because this is what happens anytime a corporation or political movement gets caught doing something reprehensible. It’s called “damage control”. And right now, the TERFs are in full blown damage control mode.

    See, the TERFs are absolutely TERRIFIED of what happened in the Leelah Alcorn story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them more in a tizzy than they are right now. They’re terrified because this one simple act by Leelah has galvanized and united the trans community like no other in a long time. They are terrified because this act has made the trans community angry like no other in a long time. They are terrified because this act has brought the plight of trans people into the light of the mainstream media like no other in a long time. They are terrified because TERFs have spent years claiming that trans people don’t commit suicide because of being trans. They are terrified because TERFs have spent years claiming that misgendering and failing to recognize trans people’s gender identities does not lead to suicide. They’re terrified because they’ve spent years claiming that the horrendous toxic environment they contribute to with startling regularity doesn’t result in the suicide of trans people. They’ve been claiming that they have no blood on their hands. And Leelah, a 17 year old kid who they’ve never heard of, just proved them wrong. So utterly, horribly wrong.

    They are terrified of Leelah. They are terrified of what she represents. They are terrified of what she makes their TERF movement look like. They are terrified of the scrutiny she brings to their “trans critical” theory. With one simple act, Leelah just took them apart like a clock. So of course they would be in damage control right now.

    So I’m not at all surprised Ditum wants to shut this down. She and her TERF buddies don’t want the message of Leelah Alcorn to get any more widespread. She doesn’t want cis people to be moved to help us. She doesn’t want the trans community fired up. She doesn’t want this opening up discussions on how to better help trans people, or our rights. And especially, she doesn’t want the world to notice how much her “trans critical” radfem theory is total hogwash.

    So the best thing we can do is NEVER forget Leelah Alcorn. Never stop talking about her. Never stop fighting for trans youth and trans rights. Never stop trying to make this a better world for all trans people. And never stop until the TERF movement is long gone and forgotten.

    January 2, 2015
    |Reply
  22. […] • Sarah Ditum dosn‘t belive Leelah Alcorn was a good enough source to say why she took her own life. […]

    January 17, 2015
    |Reply

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