Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Don't Tell Trans People To Empathize With Bigoted Parents

Content warning that this essay contains description and discussion about anti-transgender bullying, bigotry, and misgendering as well as child abuse and suicide.  The links in this piece also often have misgendering and triggering elements.

Recently the transgender community lost another member in a high profile suicide.  I specify "high profile" because most of the members we lose in this way are likely not reported, swallowed in a massive coverup.  This time it's Leelah Alcorn, who scheduled a suicide note to be published to Tumblr shortly after she was hit and killed by a semi trailer.  This note (Edit 1/9/15: Leelah's blog was deleted from Tumblr on request of her parents, the link points to the Internet Archive's copy) points the finger at her parents detailing months of abuse, including isolation from friends and being subjected to Christian "therapists" who demeaned her further.

Today I woke from a nap to find a cis person insisting that trans people empathize with Carla and Doug Alcorn, because they are mourning a child.  I found myself fuming about it more than I usually fume about things.  Which is saying something.

Carla Wood Alcorn and Doug Alcorn are not mourning the loss of their child.  They are mourning the loss of who they wish was their child, not their living breathing child who--to be quite blunt and honest--they were directly instrumental in killing.  Parents and guardians who abuse their children to the point of suicide are not people I am willing to try empathizing with.  I will not empathize with these parents any more than I would empathize with Allen Andrade or Tom Nissen any other murderer of a trans person.

I didn't have empathy for George and JoAnn Walton after they cut Jennifer Gable's hair for her funeral and rewrote her life in her obituary after years of being a woman, including bypassing a legal name change to get her deadname on her death certificate.  I didn't have empathy for JoAnne Brandon for her constantly getting pissed when people use correct pronouns and language to refer to Brandon Teena and getting the most explicitly misgendering headstone possible to commemorate him.  I didn't have empathy for Nathan Verhelst's mother, who rejected him at birth and then misgendered him after death when he chose euthanasia.  I don't have empathy for any parent of a transgender child who continues to misgender them, insult them, ignore who they really were, and that's regardless of whether or not they had any direct hand in their childrens' deaths.

Carla and Doug, though, are legitimately directly responsible.  There is no rational way to spin what they did into anything but child abuse, no matter how much they think they're mourning now.  To reiterate, Leelah was isolated from her entire support system for five months and sent to therapists explicitly chosen to demean her. 

Empathy for these parents requires seeing it from their perspective... and seeing it "from their perspective" requires assuming that hatred of trans people is a reasonable or forgivable trait.

While Carla and Doug will not be able to hurt Leelah anymore, their actions and the actions of parents like them directly affect the trans community as a whole.  Seeing that it's totally possible--no matter how much work you've put into transition--for your relatives to entirely re-write your life after death is not a small nuisance, especially for those who know their parents do not fully accept their transitions.  It's behavior like that from parents like this that keeps people in the closet, causes people to run away, and encourages even more suicide.

I haven't read any new commentary from Carla and Doug Alcorn.  For all I know, the backlash is making them see the light as we speak and they could even become trans advocates (as unlikely as that is).

(EDIT 1/9/15: They have made statements since I wrote this, and have predictably continued to misgender their daughter and be overall ignorant transphobes. Surprise surprise.)

But quite frankly, even if the suicide and aftermath changes their minds, it's too late for me to respect it as some eye-opening event for them.  It shouldn't take the death of a person to forge respect for that person.  Trans lives are worth more than cis peoples' transformative experiences.

If forgiveness and understanding are an important part of your personal mental health arsenal, that's fine.  But don't tell trans people we need to empathize with bigots.  Those bigots do more harm to our community than you know.