I Could Have Been You: An Open Letter to Leelah Alcorn

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

[The image features the name “LEELAH ALCORN” in uppercase letters on a ribbon banner. Above the banner is a young girl from the shoulders up. The girl is trans teen Leelah Alcorn. She has side-swept hair framing her face, a loose t-shirt, and deep, thoughtful eyes staring straight ahead.]

Leelah,

When I was a teenager, I was convinced that I would not live to be eighteen years old. I couldn’t imagine a future that didn’t involve the depression, anger, and agony that had come to define my teenage years.

As a transgender teen with bipolar disorder, I was convinced that I did not belong in this world. And like 41% of transgender people in America, I tried to take matters into my own hands.

Miraculously, I survived.

And as it turns out, I was wrong about my future. I became the adult I never imagined I could be – happy, fulfilled, and ambitious.

Leelah, I wish your story had ended like mine.
On December 28th, 2014, you said your goodbyes and ended your life, a suicide spurred on by callous abuse at the hands of parents and so-called therapists.

The letter you left behind – your words raw, the pain seething from every syllable – has been seen around the world, an undeniable rallying cry that echoes from every corner of the globe. 

That pitch is trapped inside my eardrums, a piercing sound that hasn’t gone away since I first heard about your death.

Your story is a reminder that we need to do better. And your story is a reminder of all the ways we continue, in 2014, to fail transgender people and especially trans youth.

When I read your letter, it hurt my heart to know that you will never be able to manifest all the beauty, passion, wit, and endless gifts that you had. You will never know what kind of adult you would have been, what kind of life you could have lead, what kind of woman you were meant to become.

You will never know what it’s like to be on your own, to be a #RealLiveTransAdult, and write the triumphant end to your story that you should have written.

Instead, you died before you could know what it truly felt like to live.

You said in your letter that your death needed to count for something. And yes, so long as I’m still here, I will do everything I can to honor you.

But I’m angry that we live in a world where suicide was the only choice you had left. I’m angry that only in death did you feel like you could “count” for something. I’m angry that death was the only way to shine a light on the abuse, suffering, and agony that you felt.

I’m angry that, to this day, LGBTQIA youth need to die before they can truly be heard or seen.

I’m not angry at you, but at a society that has created a world that makes us feel like we don’t belong, that we can’t be happy, that there is no future worth holding onto.

We still live in a society that would rather extinguish the beautiful light inside of us than let us be who we are meant to be. We live in a society that cannot see the courage it takes to be unapologetically ourselves. We live in a society that cannot see the ways in which a world where transgender people are free is a better world for us all.

Leelah, even in death I still see your light. Leelah, even in death I still see your courage. And Leelah, though your life was cut short, I still believe that you have made this world a better place.

I will not stop fighting for you and for all of my transgender siblings, who deserve to live happy, healthy, and meaningful lives – lives in which they are seen, heard, respected, validated, and safe.

I only wish you could still be here to see it.

Take Action:

Sign the Petition to enact “Leelah’s Law,” and end conversion therapy for transgender people.

Sign the Petition to ensure that Leelah’s headstone will have her actual name, rather than her birth name.

Need Help?

Call the Trans Lifeline:

US: (877) 565-8860

Canada: (877) 330-6366

Learn more about (or donate to!) them here.

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7 thoughts on “I Could Have Been You: An Open Letter to Leelah Alcorn

  1. chellem90 says:

    Beautiful post, it is so sad that we still have to be fighting for equality weather that be for disabled, transgender, mental health or whatever it is everybody has the right to a happy life! R.I.P Leelah!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DeeScribes says:

    I cried when I heard the news the other day. I was hoping you would write something, and had faith you would be more eloquent than I would be. And you have. Thank you for continuing to inspire others.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. dansbooks123 says:

    There’s a very small, very highly regarded college in Illinois (Shimer College) that welcomes trans people (and anyone LGBT–or straight). They accept students who have not yet completed high school–my queer daughter started when she was 16–and ALL students are treated with total respect. The president of the college is an out lesbian. If high school or parents or life is too painful, go where you are accepted for who you are. Oh, and about 22% of Shimer College graduates go on to receive doctoral degrees–about double the rate of Harvard, Stanford, Yale, or Princeton graduates. A year ago, one or their trans graduates received a full scholarship to a doctoral program at Harvard.

    Liked by 1 person

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