Not an Isolated Incident

This was originally inspired by the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, and was originally posted to Tumblr. Sadly, this is a continuing issue in the trans community: that of parents abusing their trans children, psychologically and otherwise. Leelah, and others, are not isolated incidents. If they were, it would be as easy as saying these parents were simply bad parents — abusive and active inflicting harm on their children — and that it’s only a matter of bad parenting, or “bad families”, or individual situations and choices.

But it’s not.

It is not an isolated incident.

It is not just one set of parents, and it is not even just one family.

It is a society which is invested in transphobia and transphobic abuse, and actively continues to encourage transphobic violence and abuse. It is a society so invested in that abuse and violence and degradation that it generally turns a blind eye to the plight of countless trans youth who have endured similar abuse and violence, to trans youth who have found themselves homeless because their birth families were more invested in transphobia than in being a family.

I have not met a single trans person who has not had difficulty with family members. Not a one. And most of those difficulties are not simple misunderstandings, but more or less endemic of a transphobic culture: deliberately misgendering, excluding trans family members, manipulation and abuse, denying trans family members proper medical care, denying trans family member’s existence, not standing up or intervening when a trans family member was being abused . . . the list goes on and on. Each of these actions communicates the fact that the trans person is not really a person, and therefore, the malicious and transphobic treatment of said person is not only justified, but encouraged.

And the family and social structure in this transphobic culture protects that. It protects and sustains transphobia and transphobic violence against trans people. How? Because we sit around and we pretend it is the fault of only “some bad parents” and “some bad families” that abuse their children and family members. We sit around and we pretend that this is not linked to a larger, social and political structure in which trans people are not people, and our lives are therefore expendable. We sit around and pretend that the transphobic violence and abuse families heap upon trans family members is “not our business” and is a “personal and private matter” and we should not intervene.

We sit and pretend and pretend and pretend. We ignore how we are complicit in the way transphobic violence and abuse is enacted over and over again. We pretend that the joke about a man in a dress was not harmful (“it’s just a joke”) and we pretend that the way we almost militantly gender our children from before they are born is somehow not going to do some kind of damage. We pretend the damage is not there. We pretend it is the problem of a few families, a few individuals, and once we “fix” the laws, then this whole nasty business will be behind us.

But Leelah, she saw the truth of it, even though she had had her agency and identity stripped from her throughout her life by the abusive, transphobic actions of her parents. In her own suicide note, she said:

The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

She saw that it was a social problem, that transphobia was a deep moral, ethical, and spiritual sickness in our culture, and that needed to be addressed. Though her parents were and are responsible in that they choose to enact the transphobic abuse and violence which lead to Leelah’s death, she was canny enough to know that behind that, behind her parents, was a whole culture which supported and endorsed the abuse they inflicted on her.

And that is the problem.

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