All You Holy Innocents, Pray for Leelah

Early Sunday morning a young transwoman, Leelah Alcorn, left a suicide note on Tumblr before walking out in front of a truck. She believed that she would never be able to successfully transition, that she would never be able to live a full life as a woman, that it was impossible for her to live a full life as a man.

Leelah’s mother posted that her “son” had gone for a walk and been hit by a truck. It’s a post that has been reposted, reblogged, tweeted and proliferated all over the internet, and there’s been a lot of hatred poured out on Leelah’s parents. As is often the case in teen suicides, Leelah blamed her parents for her unhappiness. I don’t know whether this is justified in most cases or not. I know that I when I was a suicidal teenager, my parents really had nothing to do with it: I was clinically depressed, and not interested in seeking help.

Leelah, however, was interested in seeking help. As is too often the case in LGBTQ suicides, her parents’ religious beliefs prevented her from being able to access that help. She was taken to counselors, but only to ones who wanted to forward a particular ideological agenda in conformity with her parents’ beliefs. According to Leelah’s suicide note, her parents isolated her from her friends, removed her from school, and prevented her from having access to any network of support from outside of the house.

I don’t want to add to the hatred that’s being poured out on the Alcorns right now. They’re grieving. All grief involves guilt. Grief for a suicidal child involves a lot more guilt. Grief for a suicidal child who blames you in her suicide letter is probably one of the most terrible and heart-breaking things that a parent can go through. Adding a storm of judgements on Facebook, Twitter, national media… No. I don’t think anyone deserves that kind of pain.

But no one deserves the kind of pain that Leelah suffered either.

What needs to be addressed, then, is the attitude within Christian culture that drives genuinely good and loving parents to do cruel, hurtful, even life-threatening things to their LGBTQ children in the name of God.

I have no doubt that it was a burden on Leelah’s family when they decided to withdraw her from public school and keep her at home. I’m sure that taking her to Christian counselors, and trying to “fix” what was wrong with her was a lot of work. I’m sure that being at war with their teenager over her gender identity was a constant trial and a huge source of stress. And I am absolutely positive that the Alcorn family made these sacrifices because they honestly believed that what they were doing was right, that it was the only way to save their child from the fires of Hell.

I can sympathize with that. I remember, one day when I was on the verge of “coming out” queer on my blog, I was reading through an article in a Christian magazine about what I was supposed to do to prevent my kids from turning out gay. Mostly it involved modelling appropriate gender behaviours, and gently correcting gender atypical ones. Just for a moment, I was seized with intense, irrational panic. What if my inability to teach my children to shop and wear make-up was … making them gay? No. That was ridiculous. Obviously I wasn’t afraid of that.

I queried again, and realized that the my reaction to the article had nothing at all to do with my children. The subtext was not “You might be making your kid gay” the subtext was “You might be a bad mother.” I was afraid that as a queer woman I might be literally incapable of raising my children properly. It was a wholly irrational fear, and I knew it. I mean, I’d been researching the subject full time for nearly seven years. I was only reading the article in the first place because someone had e-mailed it to me as an example of misinformation in the Christian press. And yet, the accusation implict in that article had the power to inflict psychologically crippling anxiety.

It’s something that I’ve seen a lot in the Christian parents of LGBTQ kids. One woman once told me that she felt her child’s sexuality was God’s way of telling her that she should never have been a mother in the first place. She was a good mother. She was supportive of her child. But she carried around this incredible sense of guilt and inadequacy because she thought that she had done something wrong to cause her child to be gay.

Another woman said that her young teenage son had come out to her, and that she had supported him, cried with him, told him that she loved him, that she was glad that he had been honest with her, and that nothing would ever diminish her love. She said that she wanted to be a faithful Catholic, but she couldn’t reject her child. She wanted to know if she was still allowed to receive communion.

Think about the shame and guilt associated with being told that you have ruined your child. Not just their life, but their eternal soul. Imagine being told that if you don’t do everything in your power to stop them from being gay, or bi, or trans, you are going to be damned as well.

This is the message that a lot of parents of LGBTQ children have gotten from their Christian communities. It’s implicit in articles that tell us how to keep our kids straight, in therapies that blame poor parent-child relationships for same-sex attractions, and in Christian writings or sermons that vilify LGBTQ people and the people who love them.

Leelah’s parents did what their Christian community had told them to do. They tried to protect her from the “evil” influences that might have saved her life. They thought they were saving her soul.

Both Leelah and her family have my prayers. All trans kids out there in similar situations have my prayers. So do their parents. But we need to do more than just pray. We need to repent.

Leelah’s suicide is not an isolated event. Approximately 40% of trans people will attempt suicide. Those who have faced parental or religious exclusion are significantly more likely to be in that 40% statistic than those who have found acceptance and support. Trans people are at elevated risk for dozens of problems, from suicide to substance abuse, homelessness to sexual assault. For trans people, the Culture Wars are not a bloodless ideological dispute, a set of questions about gender and sexuality to be answered in townhall meetings and academic conferences. For a lot of trans people, and especially trans kids, the Culture Wars are deadly.

Whatever our ideological beliefs about gender and sexuality may be, those beliefs should not translate into an isolated child, deprived of hope, rejected by her parents, cut off from her support networks, denied the ability to be the only person that she knew how to be. The love of God should not translate into the slaughter of the innocents. That was never His work.

Melinda SelmysMelinda Selmys is a Catholic writer, blogger, and speaker. She is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism and Sexual Authenticity: More ReflectionsShe blogs at Sexual Authenticity and can be followed on Twitter: @melindaselmys.

32 thoughts on “All You Holy Innocents, Pray for Leelah

  1. I’ve had years of experience working with homeless LGBTQ youth and over 50% of my caseload at one point were trans youth… so naturally I’m curious about this subject when it comes to support in the church. I haven’t found any, which shouldn’t be surprising since here in San Francisco there is very little even for LGB folks. And I’ve found that it’s even more of a taboo subject with pretty much no understanding about it. I wish people could understand how at risk these youth are and how desperately they need support. I’ve seen too many of them die.

  2. Perhaps I’m missing something — I haven’t read anything about the situation except what I read here — but I think Leelah’s note gives very little information to judge the situation with. There are good reasons parents might have to isolate a child from friends or keep them home from school. Leelah’s counselors may have been bad, but they may have been good too, for all we know; the suicide doesn’t tell us anything about that. Psychology isn’t magic. It doesn’t work if the patient doesn’t do her part.

    • The problem is that there is no verifiable evidence that I’ve been able to find (and I have looked) to suggest that psychology is able to cure gender dysphoria, in the sense of restoring a person’s gender identity so that it aligns with his/her birth sex, even if the person does “do their part.”
      A lot of trans kids get blamed for their feelings of gender dysphoria, particularly by Christian counsellors or pastors who don’t know how to deal with the problem. Basically, the person who is supposed to help doesn’t know how to reconcile their ideology with the reality of the person they are supposed to be helping. So they cast blame instead. I know psychologists working with trans kids in this situation report that the kids have often been told that they are selfish, that they are to blame, that they are resisting or rejecting God by feeling like a member of the opposite sex. Leelah’s suicide letter confirms a pattern that I’ve seen referenced elsewhere.

  3. The worst thing a parent can do is isolate their child. Isolation is cruel. For example solitary confinement is considered the worst form of punishment in jail. Like ostracization, isolation, opens up the room for wrong thoughts to take hold in someone’s mind and those thoughts destroy any will or self determination to fight against their fears and their bitterness. In the case of Leelah the whole time she was isolated she developed a hopeless view of her life and future. She writes about it in her suicide note and those thoughts led her to strengthen her resolve to kill herself. It had the opposite effect that her parents wanted.
    She wrote, ` After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.
    Despite what people think about suicide or who is to blame, it is a tragedy that someone so young had no hope for the future and thought their only choice was to give up.

  4. I’m agreed completely, of course, about the dangers of isolation and the tragic nature of this whole story. But I have a question about the larger context. Melinda, you speak of how Leelah was “denied the ability to be the only person that she knew how to be.” It seems that you’re saying that that happened when Leelah’s parents did not provide sex-reassignment surgery. Is that correct? And also that anyone who does not support sex-reassignment surgery in these cases is participating in “the slaughter of the innocents”? Have I read you correctly?

    • There are a lot of ways of supporting a trans kid without getting into surgery. I actually think that it’s morally problematic to allow a minor to undergo any kind of surgery that is a) optional and b) irreversible — especially if that surgery would prevent them from being able to have children later in life. SRS is the most extreme end of the transition spectrum, and it’s definitely not a decision that a minor should be making as a minor, nor a decision that parents should be making on behalf of their child. Simply put, until a person has reached adulthood and is able to establish their adult priorities they simply can’t know what those priorities are going to be. In adolescence, finding your identity and establishing a sense of self separate from your parents is one of the most important things that you’re trying to do. But when you get a little bit older, your focus shifts to building intimate relationships and then forming a family. As a teenager, I was absolutely sure that I would never get married (definitely not to a man) and that I never wanted kids. By the time I was twenty, I was married and had a kid. That’s how little clue I had.

      If a kid does come out as trans in adolescence, I think it’s possible to explain that surgery is an adult decision without depriving the kid of hope. Simply saying “You can wear what you like. I will call you what you want to be called. I will love you no matter what. Surgery can wait,” would communicate that deferring surgery is not rejection, that it’s not punitive, and that it’s a way of respecting the child.

      • Melinda, it sounds like you are affirming of transitioning if its not surgical? You would encourage parents to allow cross-dressing, use of preferred pronouns, etc?

        There is a lot I don’t know about transgenderism so I don’t have many answers, but I have noticed a trend among even side B folk that even though they see same-sex relationships as wrong, they are actually supportive of transitioning. That has never made sense to me because biblically they are based on the same rationale–that there is something important and intentional about male and female. If I were to approve transitioning for someone who is transgender, I would also approve of same-sex relationships. And vice versa.

        I am not sure what the answer is because the mental anguish is apparently quite severe. Is it a matter of taking an “accommodation” view rather than an “affirming” view? But, then the mental anguish for some living celibate lives is quite strong too. So, if an accommodation view is given for one then it seems to follow for the other. I have been open to an accommodation view on a case by case basis, but I am also not entirely comfortable with it. Then again, I am not entirely comfortable without it either.

        I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. What exactly is the path for a transgender person seeking to live for Christ?

      • This (10 years old) is the most complete comment I’ve made on these questions: Reply to an Objection: Transsexuals and Intersexed Individuals.

        I wouldn’t support transition, but I think the question is more complicated than the A/B question, and raises other, mostly unrelated, issues.

        The big unsettled question, I think, has to do with the relationship between body and brain.

        There is no question that some genital modification is permitted, when dealing with intersexed individuals. Such surgery would be seen as trying to bring the body in line with the person’s real sex.

        We know that during development, sex hormones not only affect bodily development differently; they also affect brain development differently. If it turns out that transsexuals have sex typical brain development of the sex opposite to their body, then we would have to ask whether this mismatch in structure is analogous to intersex cases, and if so, what interventions could legitimately be taken to correct it. (Melinda says more about this in Trans-formations.)

        This is the kind of question that needs to be discerned by the church as a whole; I’m not prepared to take any stance on my own beyond what has already been taught by the church. But I think this kind of question leaves more room for considering transition than exists for considering blessing same sex unions. (Though these questions do come up to some extent on the margins for same sex relationships: e.g. in the case of a person with gender ambiguity, how do we decide which sex is the “opposite” sex for them?)

      • When attempting to discuss this subject with people in the church (or in general really) many seem to assume ‘support” means a sex change operations. But that’s just not the case… even from secular service providers. Especially when it comes to a youth. It’s a small minority that actually end up getting sexual reassignment surgery… for many reasons. For one thing many don’t want that, and another reason is it’s very expensive.

      • Ron, thanks for your reply. I read both of the links. From what I can gather from both, they conclude in the direction of compassion but don’t provide any clear direction on how a transgender person should live their lives (transition or not–and regardless if it’s surgical or non-surgical transition, etc). You say you don’t *support* transitioning, but you don’t seem to oppose it. At least that is how I interpreted your italics. Does that mean you take an accommodation view? Or you are simply undecided?

        I think you and Melinda are both right that we need to engage in this conversation further to bring more clarity. In fact, I think that is precisely at the root of the tragedy of Leelah. The parents were trying to address the issue in the best way that they knew how. What alternative approach were they to take? Melinda has made some suggestions of what not to do and hints at allowing a child to transition non-surgically. But I know many Christian parents would feel concerned about reinforcing transitioning even if it didn’t involve surgery. To do so would be taking an affirming stance. Or at least an accommodation stance. And that is precisely the question at hand. Should we encourage that? And if not, how do we respond in a meaningful and helpful way?

        Mark Yarhouse addresses the issue of sexual identity with youth in a way that seeks to have compassion for the youth while delaying pronouncements of identity, knowing that sexual identity is more unstable in adolescence. That postpones perhaps. Melinda suggests parents do something similar with encouraging postponing surgery. But it seems like allowing non-surgical transition in some ways mitigates the purpose of postponing.

        So, I guess what I am getting at is: it would be helpful to know how we should encourage parents of transgender youth or how to encourage a friend or parishioner who is seeking to make a decision about living as a gender that differs from their biological sex.

        If the rationale being used is that its okay to live out transgender behavior because of possible biological realities, it seems like the same argument could be made for living out same-gender relationships.

        In terms of intersexuality, the issue is much more clear to me. A child should not have any surgery done in infancy (as that usually creates problems) and instead wait until post-puberty to see how that influences gender identification. Since there are usually biological features of both sexes in intersexuality, it is not choosing a gender over above a sex (as in transgenderism), but merely aligning with a pre-existing one. Also, in this case, the surgery corrects physical malformation. Whereas in a transgender situation, if surgery is undertaken, it damages healthy parts of the body. It doesn’t make sense to damage what is healthy, but rather find out what has actually gone amiss–if it truly is a biological etiology.

        There is also the realities that a transgender person is not ever going to be the biological sex of their desiring. It can never be an identical experience to being born a particular sex. And when it comes to laws such as use of bathrooms, it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t experience transwomen as women, I still experience them as men (at least in my experience thus far). Thus, it would feel violating to have a transwoman in places that are intended to allow privacy. I have actually had this experience before, and I had the same reaction as I would if any man had entered the bathroom while I was in it.

        At any rate, I am not trying to suggest a particular answer, but merely pointing out that the logic for affirming transitioning that seems to be evident in some of these posts would lead me to affirm same-sex relationships. And if it is affirmed it has societal implications about trans people still being in an ambiguous category and how that plays out with particular laws, as well as marriage.

        Certainly, we need to listen to more trans people and we need to think more deeply about these issues so that we can help parents and friends respond in more helpful ways. But thus far from what is being presented in this post as well as the links, I am not getting a sense of specifically what is the most helpful response. Rather, it seems to be we all don’t know what is best. How then can we begin to move in a more tangible helpful direction? Compassion is a given of course. But that doesn’t give an answer to the very real decisions about how to live one’s life.

      • Hi Karen,
        There’s a huge difference between deciding how to live one’s own life, and deciding how one’s children are going to live their lives. I experience gender dysphoria, but I’ve discerned pretty decisively that I am ontologically female — so my feelings of masculinity are something that needs to be managed, from a psychological perspective, and offered up, from a spiritual one.

        I would note, however, that I use the word “discernment.” The fact is that we don’t know what causes trans conditions. We don’t know whether they are biological. We certainly don’t know what the ontological “gender” of an intersex or trans person is — to be perfectly honest, it’s not entirely clear whether gender is ontological in the first place. The role of masculinity and femininity beyond the eschaton is mysterious, and probably falls into the “nor has it entered into the mind of man” category. The Biblical evidence is scanty, and by no means decisive. Genesis 1:27 can’t be taken as the last word on the subject (because it excludes intersex people), any more than verses about the earth being “established” and “never moved” (Psalm 93:1, e.g.) are the last word on Geocentrism. If an interpretation of Scripture seems to deny the possibility of verifiable facts, then the interpretation is faulty. It seems to me that something along these lines has happened in the case of “male and female He created them.” Without denying the importance of creation, male and female, we have to acknowledge that creation also includes people whose sex is indeterminate. If trans conditions have a biological etiology, then trans people would fall into this category.

        That said, it’s not the same thing as same-sex intercourse. In the case of sexual ethics maleness and femaleness are important because they indicate the purpose of sexual intercourse: reproduction. Wearing pants, or a dress, or using male or female pronouns, or going by a “boy’s” name or a “girl’s” name has nothing to do with the essence of maleness or femaleness. These things can be accepted for the sake of the mental health and well-being of the individual because they strike only at things which are inessential. Homosexual sex, on the other hand, is sex which seeks sexual pleasure without reference to the purpose for which sex exists. That is, it is sex deprives of its essential finality.

      • Melinda, thanks for your response.

        I hear what you are saying about Genesis and the reality of intersex people. Certainly Jesus seems to acknowledge intersex people. Albeit a birth defect is not ontological. So, I don’t think it cancels out the intent of Genesis. We live in a fallen world, but normally we seek to live into restoration rather than live into fallenness. I suppose the difficulty then is knowing what is ontological for a person and since sex/gender is not merely some airy spiritualized concept but a product of the physical world, that complicates things. That is, do we consider something ontological based on genetics? On genitalia? On hormone levels? Chromosomes? There are different ways to try to classify male and female for intersex folk.

        But I do have concern when people try to argue that because birth defects exist, there is no such thing as male and female, and try to convert birth defects into something that is ontological. There are scientifically documentable congential conditions. Often, these conditions can be associated with other health problems in addition to the sexual aspects. It seems in these cases we try to live into restoration as much as possible as opposed to leaning into fallenness. How that manifests for each person might be different.

        It is true that gender beyond the eschaton is mysterious. Although if I am not mistaken it is the consensus of the Church that gender continues in the eschaton. In any case, whatever God has in the eschaton does not negate what God has for this dispensation. Marriage is very much for this time, but even though it’s temporal and will not exist in the eschaton, it does not change God’s intentions for it in the present. So also, I would argue, for other aspects of sex/gender.

        You write: “Wearing pants, or a dress, or using male or female pronouns, or going by a “boy’s” name or a “girl’s” name has nothing to do with the essence of maleness or femaleness.”

        I would agree that rigid gender roles and stereotypes are meaningless. But I would not say that actively seeking to live as the opposite sex “has nothing to do with the essence of maleness or femaleness.” And I don’t think Scripture sees maleness and femaleness as reduced to reproduction. The OT laws condemned cross-dressing. And Paul, however culturally influenced, seems to believe that recognizing gender is important–that they are not interchangeable and one should not try to become or look like the opposite sex.

        I can see why you would prohibit same-sex relations based on procreation. But I guess my logic was more:

        I have feelings of being the opposite sex.
        It could be biological.
        It causes anguish.
        Therefore it is acceptable for me to *act* on my feelings and transition to the opposite sex.

        I have attractions to the same-gender.
        It could be biological.
        It causes anguish.
        Therefore it is acceptable for me to *act* on my feelings and be in a monogamous same-gender relationship.

        Whereas the second does not recognize sex/gender for the sake of marriage’s purpose that includes procreation. The first also does not recognize and accept the sex that one’s body indicates. They are both a rejection of some aspect of sex/gender—if acted upon. So, if it is okay for trans to reject the reality of their body, then it follows (in my mind) that it is okay for gay people to reject the reality of their bodies.

        Anyway, I am not sure what the answers are. Ultimately, I have no desire to add to someone’s incredible burdens. I cannot fathom how difficult it would be to be trans. I have no interest in judging someone. And I will love and affirm someone regardless. We live in an imperfect world and I think we just have to make the best of it with as much mercy and compassion as possible. But, I feel like I need to pray and think about this issue much more for the sake of knowing how to be an encouragement since trans people often do seek counsel and input on what to do. I want to have a better sense of how to best respond with wisdom. I think the next step for me is to do more research on the science. And also listen to more stories of those with this experience.

      • When it comes to identity, it is usually the parents that overstep their bounds, not the kids. Parents think they “know better” when in fact they’re not really seeing their own kid but rather the image of the kid they want to have. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that my masculine activities and manner of dressing was dismissed by my mom as a “phase.” Well, twenty years later, I still play football and wear guys clothing.

        I agree with Melinda about respecting one’s child. You cannot truly love another person without respecting the fact that they are an individual, apart-from-you. It’s the difference between loving a person and loving a pet or an object. Giving people space to disagree and make their own decisions. Even God, who really does know better, gives us this space of freedom.

    • Dr. Jacobs,

      In Christian communities there is an overemphasis on the surgery portion of the transitioning processes. That seems to be what everyone fixates. It is very clear from the note (and Leelah’s reddit posts http://www.reddit.com/user/nostalgiaprincess/submitted/ ) that she was primarily concerned about not getting hormone replacement therapy in time to avoid experience the irreversible effects of male puberty. There are some things (such as bone structure, height, voice deepening) that cannot be reversed once they happen. Starting HRT is the first step in the medical transitioning process. General transgender health guidelines require at least a year of counseling, HRT, and living full-time as one’s gender, and two notes from professionals (at least one medical) to qualify for gender-affirmation surgery.

      In a world where people still get assaulted and sometimes killed simply for being trans, passing is an issue of safety as well as psychological well-being. The longer one waits before starting HRT, the harder it will be to pass. One of my best friends from Wheaton came out as transgender last year. She is going through the enormously painful process of electrolysis to permanently remove her facial hair one follicle at a time. She grieves the fact that she didn’t come out at a younger age so that male puberty could have been stopped (even though it probably wouldn’t have mattered as her parents would’ve reacted in a similar manner to Leelah’s at that time). Puberty was a difficult if not traumatic time for her–the sound of her own voice made her increasingly dysphoric. She went from a talkative child to a silent teenager.

      Even for parents that disagree with transitioning, there is a hormonal option called spiro that will simply halt puberty. It is completely reversible and commonly given to transgender children to postpone puberty until they reach an age where the parents and doctors feel they are able to make their own decisions regarding the more permanent estrogen/testosterone therapies.

      • I wanted to make sure I corrected your information about puberty blockers, as your stated is incorrect.

        Spironolactone is not safe for use as a puberty blocker, as it does cause irreversible sterility and will also cause feminizing effects, such as breast and hip growth. Lupron is the commonly used blocker that most trans kids are prescribed. There is a big difference between these two drugs.

        Source: I’m a trans woman.

  5. When I read this, it makes me wonder whether there’s any likelihood that conservative Protestants will ever be able to disabuse themselves of the shameful ways that they’ve dealt with LGBTQ people.

    I was thinking about this last night, as my mother asked me whether I’d had any reconsideration regarding my decision to identify as gay. Even though I had grown up in a mainline-leaning background, my parents church turned in a more evangelical direction in the 1990s (probably more in reaction to the Clintons than anything particularly theological). Despite the fact that I’m not in a same-sex relationship, several of their “friends” broke off relations with thin because they did not disown me. They’re fearful that they will lose additional friends as the news spreads further. My younger brother walked away from the church years ago, and has lived with various girlfriends out of wedlock. That was never an issue for folks at my parents’ evangelical church. But having a gay celibate Christian son is apparently too much!

    I’ll have to be honest in saying that this causes me to question the viability of the “gay celibate Christian” narrative in an evangelical context. It’s fairly clear to me that evangelicals have little interest in wrestling with the theological implications of I Corinthians 7:1, not to mention the fact that Jesus and Paul were both single and presumably celibate. In fact, it makes me wonder whether it’s even worth thinking of evangelicalism as a form of Christian orthodoxy, or whether it might not be better to think of it as a romantic, nostalgic, sentimental reimagining of Americana under a thin veneer of Christian symbolism. It makes me wonder whether neo-evangelicalism is actually capable of gospel-shaped reform, or whether it wouldn’t be better to put a pillow over the face of the movement and put it (and the rest of us) out of the misery caused by its continued existence. When I look at the way that the Alcorn family “loved” this child and how their evangelical faith conspired in the victimization, it makes me realize how long I’ve stuck it out waiting for the clowns to leave the stage and for the real Christians to take over. I’m slowly coming to the realization that that can’t happen in evangelicalism: The clown show may be all there is. By the time the clowns wrap things up, all of the real Christians will have left the house.

    It’s odd to think that it may well be easier to get along as a gay Christian–even a celibate gay Christian–in an affirming mainline church than in an evangelical church. Odd, but probably true. So long, Carl Henry; hello, Nadia Bolz-Weber.

    I’m not suggesting that transitioning was necessarily the right course of action at this time for Leelah. But the refusal of her family and church to walk beside her in her struggles is a powerful testament of the fact that something’s deeply wrong.

    • Bobby, I agree that there are many areas in which we need to mature and many things of which we need to repent; our sexual ethics and treatment of people who struggle with them are two of those. But if it’s any consolation, evangelicalism is so much bigger than American evangelicalism that it can’t just be “a romantic, nostalgic, sentimental reimagining of Americana under a thin veneer of Christian symbolism” — or of Britannia, Europa, Africana etc.

      How do you know that Leelah’s/Joshua’s family and church refused to walk beside her in her struggles? We’ve heard part of one side of the story. What of what you heard leads you to put scare-quotes around their love and makes you think that they didn’t try to walk with her?

      • I think, for the sake of Christian responsibility, we have to distinguish between walking alongside someone and dragging them along behind us whether they are willing to walk in the same direction or not.

  6. What saddens me the most about this issue is that while theologians drag their feet, real people are suffering and dying. Christians are finally realizing, “Hey we need to explore this issue further. Let’s give it more thought.” But nothing really happens. There’s a sort of stagnation.

    Meanwhile, there are trans Christians that need to make a decision TODAY whether to attempt to live a full-embodied life or accept a lifetime of suffering for the sake of God.

    • This is exactly my thoughts while reading through the preceding comments.

      I am a trans woman, post-transition, and I can tell you firsthand that the ‘we need to have this conversation, sometime’ line means nothing to someone living with dysphoria.

      It is a life-threatening issue. Someone is hurting and likely to die or commit suicide from an ailment, and the healthy Sunday wide-eyed church attenders and just sitting around waiting for someone to tell them how to think, how to act towards their trans friends and family. If your brand of Christianity requires theological ‘experts’ to deliberate and issue epithets how the congregation should behave, then you my friend are part of the problem.

      ‘Act with compassion’ is not good enough. ‘Tolerance’ isn’t good enough. This results in a ‘love the sinner, not the sin’ hazing that only alienates us from listening to you. This particular treatment is NOT WORKING, as the suicide count and personal accounts have shown. That is what Leelah’s death should open your eyes to.

      My parents are evangelic Pentecostals and the words I’ve heard from them are: “We will always love you as our child, but we will never accept you as our daughter”. The reason trans individuals find it so hard to reach out to our cis-blind religious parents is because they don’t accept us. They invalidate us, and who we are at our very core. They try to force their frame of reality on us, while we understand ourselves better than they can ever hope to. The trans community has a word for this: cis-blindness. You will never truly understand what it is like to be trans, unless you are trans.

      Granted young trans kids should be cautioned for making such a crucial choice so young in adolescence, what gender they will spend the rest of their lives living as. Such hasty decisions can produce regrets – but personally the trans kids I’ve met are a lot more aware of who they are than most parents would assume.

      I just want the church to hear the trans community. Hear our voices. Understand that whatever you decide is right and wrong means nothing to us, because it doesn’t change the reality of our lives.

  7. It’s all very sad, but images are very powerful. A 150 years ago, I’m not sure the language for even being able to express a “desire to transition” existed.

    So I don’t think it is as easy as “give them what they want”…because while there are “left wing” suicides that come from the “oppression” or “rigidity” of traditional scripts…there also does seem to be a equivalent “right wing” dynamic of people feeling disenfranchised and confused by the growing flexibility and LACK of clear-cut strict scripts…and this often seems to lead to violent rampages.

    It seems someone is always going to slip through the cracks. Unless society can recover an understanding of grace in which strict norms are not incompatible with even extreme “exceptions that prove the rule.” But then, when has The World ever understood that?

    As a practical matter, it’s probably always going to be a question of lesser of two evils, of finding the minima, the balance point that minimizes total suffering and death.

    I wouldn’t automatically be more sympathetic with the “left wing” suicides over the “right wing” rampages just because the former is “sad” but the latter is “angry.” Those are just the natural results of feeling oppressed by scripts and images on the one hand, and feeling lost and threatened by a lack of thick well-defined boundaries.

    I suppose this is somewhat the lesson of the workers in the vineyard. “Normal” people work hard their whole lives to conform because it’s portrayed to be super important…but then, contradictorily, modern progressive trends wind up telling them “Hey, guess what, after all the psychological effort you invested in conforming to normalcy…the weirdos, the losers, the failed subjects…all wind up getting the same reward or even being extra coddled.”

    For people whose self-esteem is based on social scripts (and we need scripts, and they always promise such esteem for confirming)…seeing them deconstructed can be very threatening and feel like a social betrayal.

  8. Pingback: Resolve to Create a Trans* Epiphany in 2015 | Bondings 2.0

  9. I read this story when it first came out, because my teenager linked to Leelah’s suicide note on her Facebook page — along with some hateful words (from my teenager) for the unspeakable monsters (i.e., Leelah’s parents) who were responsible for her death. And while the story was undeniably very sad — it’s always sad when a person’s despair becomes so overwhelming that he or she is driven to self-destruct — I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t getting the whole story. Nearly all the people commenting on the story seemed to take the girl’s words at face value, despite the notorious unreliability of teenagers and people suffering from severe depression, to say nothing of a severely depressed teenager. I wanted to hear the parents’ side of the story, but my search turned up very little information — just quotes from the mother to the effect that she really did love her child (which didn’t surprise me; most mothers do). One thing is certain: the girl obviously hated her parents, and hated them so much that when she made the decision to kill herself, she made sure to do it in a way that would cause maximum pain and suffering and humiliation to her parents. She didn’t need to make her suicide note a public document; she did it to twist the knife in the wound she was inflicting on her parents. Now just about everyone everywhere seems to share the girl’s belief that her parents are monsters and criminals, so she appears to have achieved her goal. Also, look at the method she chose to kill herself: walking out onto a highway into the path of a moving truck. The truck driver must live the rest of his life with the knowledge and memory of that, but his suffering was no concern of Leelah’s. And if the truck driver had seen her and swerved to avoid hitting her, he could have caused an even worse accident where other people could have been maimed or killed — people who, unlike Leelah, didn’t want to die — but that was no concern of hers either, as long as she was able to accomplish her goals. This was a seriously disturbed teenager, and a selfish one, too — in fact she displays some of the signs of a psychopath.

    It’s also disturbing that almost everyone seems to be operating under the assumption that if only her parents had let her have her way — consenting to and paying for the hormone treatments and the very risky, very expensive surgery she demanded — then everything would have been rainbows and unicorns and everyone would have lived happily ever after. There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that that would have happened; there’s also a good chance that it would not have solved the girl’s problems, and may have made them worse. People who are severely depressed often misdiagnose the cause of their depression, and think that if only they could have [fill in the blank with whatever it is they want but lack], that would solve everything and life would be perfect. Then when they get what they wanted, and find that they’re still depressed, it pushes them over the brink. Does anyone really believe that this seriously confused, obviously angry, profoundly troubled teenager would magically have become a happy, healthy, functional human being if only her parents had just given her what she wanted?

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