Who do you blame for Leelah Alcorn's death?

leelahalcorn

I've been thinking a lot about the death of Leelah Alcorn. Before we go on, I will refer to the subject here as Leelah and use the feminine pronouns because that is how this person identified. Whatever your views may be on the authenticity of transgender people, or their beliefs about themselves, what is clear from Leelah's final writings and signature is that she identified very strongly as female. Does that make her female? I can't say, but if honouring people's deepest held convictions about themselves means using one word instead of another, then that's not a big request.

But it's apparently the be-all and end-all for some people. Protesters have taken to social media to claim Leelah's suicide and her suicide note as this week's martyrdom; that her mother's initial response to news of her child's death using the masculine pronoun 'he' was akin to murder.

What has struck me again in this case is the screeching. When a tragedy occurs, and all teen suicide is horrific tragedy, complete unknowns appear to dictate to the situation, to judge, to scream and worse, to threaten.

I can't imagine the devastation of finding out your child has been hit by a truck accidentally or by choice. . Leelah's mother, Carol, posted on facebook that her child was dead. She referred to Leelah as Josh, and said that he had had an accident.

Perhaps soon after you get the news, you post something on facebook as a formality to explain to people what has happened. Perhaps you don't see yourself as the representative of all the people in the world affected by gender issues. Perhaps it's not a straightforward time.

So when people made the decision to dox her parents, to reveal their contact details, home address, places of work in order to intimidate them and to incite people to harrass them in whatever form might follow, it was a brutal response for the overwhelming majority who had never heard the name Leelah Alcorn. And it demonstrated the very intolerance and lack of communication and understanding that the screamers so loudly demand.

Because what else can that sort of intimidation hope to achieve? It won't bring Leelah back and it won't help any one else going through such a raw and sensitive time. It won't contribute to Leelah's siblings' trauma. It can only turn a nightmare into trauma that may punish, but won't resolve anything.  Surely the family should be allowed to bury their child without more threats and fear from complete strangers.

                                                                          ********************

There is no doubt that Leelah was going through hell. But by her own explanation there were a chain of events that led to her despair. And her parents were only one step. 

She went to her mother to ask to transition from male to female and her mother said no. Her mother said God doesn't make mistakes and took her to a Christian counsellor. Now, it's incredibly vital that people understand how terrifying it is for Christian parents to confront the idea that their child is going to hell for being a sexual deviant. For such devout parents, they would have not been able to compute the concept of their son wanting to change sex. It is forbidden in the Old Testament,  and considered punishable by hell in the New Testament.

It is Christianity that has so much to answer for. Guns may not kill, it may be the humans that pull the trigger, but if guns and Christianity weren't ever-present, the death rate would be way lower. In the wrong hands, Christianity can be lethal, even with the best of intentions. John Weaver's recent work on the harms that evangelical approaches to mental health cause is an excellent resource on this.

I have seen Christians posting that there were clearly demons bothering her, that it was just a teenage phase, and most outrageous, the old claim that God will use this devastation to bring something good out. Like how God sends ambulances to crash sites. Maybe he could have prevented the devastation in the first place. Christianity is so mentally abusive intrinisically.

Leelah's mother took her to a Christian counsellor where Leelah says she knew she did not get the help she needed. Christianity and counselling cannot co exist for anyone except the Christian who wishes to pursue that world view. For any one else it's laughable, it's dangerous, it's abusive, and it can be fatal. Things got way worse for Leelah after that counselling and it's the report that is consistently returned by mental health consumers who feel patronised, judged, and dismissed: the precise opposite of what seeking help is meant to achieve.

Sure, her parents are judgemental and probably bigoted. Did they contribute to her isolation and despair? I'm sure they did. But I'm also sure they're not lying when they say that they loved her. Few parents manage the announcement of an alternative gender or sexuality with their kids brilliantly first go, but those in the grip of fundamentalism are not equipped to do anything but react badly.

But when that family went for help, they went to those who are supposed to, above all provide professional responses to a young person with severely distressing mental health problems. They did not, and as so many people who come across bad psychological services will tell you, you don't reach out for help too often when it's failed miserably during the hardest times of your life.

Leelah's withdrawal was not surprising given her contact with Christian counsellors who were not willing or able to assist and her Christian parents' collusion with these 'experts'. These are the people staffing the counselling positions in Australian schools and they have to get out. Or the impact on kids like Leelah, or even kids with much less complex and rare circumstances, will be severe and potentially fatal. It is not a case of gentle pastoring. Christian counselling can be incredibly dangerous, alienating and intimidating to an outsider, especially a young person who is vulnerable and in need.

There are calls for the traumatised driver of the truck that Leelah threw herself in front of to be punished. He is being accused of being transphobic and conspiring in the suicide of a transgendered person. The world really is a stupid place. The Screamers really are making life difficult for those of us who want to see understanding, learning, growth, and support.

And those are the things that the Screamers claim to want. But with the explicit backdrop of violence and intimidation, we lose sight of who the real culprits are: those who knew Leelah's deepest fears the best, and chose to pray about it instead.