I remember the first time I heard about Leelah Alcorn’s death.
I was in my childhood home over my first winter break at college. I was reading articles on Facebook when I came across one about her. It was a day after her death, and within a few hours there were vigils planned and attended, editorials and blog posts shared, petitions created and signed. We learned about the conversion therapy her parents sent her to, the support they took away from her, the misgendering they did after her death. And in that week, I felt helpless.
We know from self-reported surveys that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at least once in their lifetimes. Discrimination in work, family, school, and public arenas are at staggering percentages, and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey shows that 15% of their respondents make less than $10,000 a year. Since the beginning of 2016, 19 trans people have been murdered that we know of, with a vast majority of them being trans women of color. And yet, society has been silent on these topics until very recently. I didn’t even know that I was transgender until I started college in 2014. I had little-to-no frame of reference that my experience as a transman was valid because seemingly nobody talked about transgender people unless they were dead.
So why do I keep talking about it?
When I heard about Leelah’s death, I was a little more than a year out of my own crisis. She was a year younger than me, a year closer to legal adulthood, and so close to freedom. And yet, I knew that desperation. That year between coming out to myself and having a label for myself was pure agony as I watched my body change under the influence of hormones. I had no way to explain what I was feeling, and even if I did I am not sure I would have been able to say anything. Social support is a necessity in coming out and transitioning, and I wasn’t confident I would have had that. Leelah, who was already suffering in conversion therapy, was holding on by threads.
In many ways, reading her blog post was like going back to senior-year me who was also just barely holding on. The worst part of it all was the amount of loneliness present. Every option seemed to involve more pain and confusion than it was worth to reach out and ask for help. My family, my friends, my culture, and my society seemed to have no space to discuss these feelings I had, these words I couldn’t speak.
But I kept living.
I kept living when I read “Fix society. Please.” in Leelah’s last blog post. I kept living when I came out to my family. I kept living when my religious culture started treating LGBTQ people like we were apostates. I kept living and made it into the next year, when I finally had the words to describe myself. I kept living when crisis after crisis knocked on my door and threatened to knock me down.
I know I’m lucky, luckier than many of my trans siblings out there. I’m lucky to have access to a therapist, to medication, and to appointments with people who are able to help me transition. I’m luckiest, however, for having met people who hear me and listen to what I have to say while I’m alive. In my struggle to live as a trans person, the hardest and most necessary thing is finding people who will listen.
I keep living so that other trans people who need to know that yes, they are alive, they are valid, and they are loved for who they are right now can hear it.
I keep living so that they know that they are not alone.
I keep living so that, one day, we’ll live in a society that doesn’t need to be fixed.
I keep living so that we have fewer last blog posts and more Leelahs in the world.
Already, my decision to keep living has brought me closer to better days. I have plans to start hormones in November. I am starting to contact surgeons for top surgery. A majority of my friends at school don’t remember my birthname. And, thankfully, I have found support in my own family, an event I never thought I would live to see.
Society has a long way to go before we can even begin to think of it as fixed. But for now, we continue to live. We celebrate our victories, mourn our losses, and live our lives together. We kept living, keep living, and will continue to do so.
I kept living. And I hope that you will, too.