I have gotten a number of emails, phone calls, tweets and general comments over the past couple of days about the tragic suicide of a transgendered young woman, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn). Much of the focus of discussion has been on this young woman’s suicide note (you can link to it here if you haven’t read it or want a refresher http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note), her transgender status and/or her Christian parents’ refusal to accept/acknowledge that transgender status. I’ve been listening to criticism of her parents and debates over whether or not transgender is real. I don’t really care if you think transgender is legitimate or not (though I can tell you as a mental health professional it is), but what I can tell you is this young woman was in immense pain.
We need to do a better job of taking care of each other – especially our children who may not have adequate coping skills to manage life’s challenges. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and rip her parents apart. If what has been has said about them is true, I do not agree with their parenting choices and wish things had been managed differently, but that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the need to keep an eye on one another.
What can you do if someone in your life is dealing with transgender identity (even if the person isn’t talking about suicide)?
- Talk to someone. I am not saying “out” them, but if you need to process through your own thoughts and feelings – talk it out. You can maintain their confidentiality while working things through. You may not know what to do to help. Ask for help! Talk to a teacher, a parent, a school counselor, a priest, I don’t really care who, but talk to someone until you get guidance. All too often, we avoid things that make us uncomfortable – you can’t do that here. This is too important.
- Be there. Talk with your friend or family member about what all of this means for them. Even, as in Leelah Alcorn’s situation, you are not “supportive” of transgendered identity, there are still “safe” topics of feeling lonely, sad, and isolated. This is still the same person they were before you learned they are transgendered. If he is a good friend, she will be, too.
- Refer to support groups (not just for your loved one, but for you, too). Knowledge is power!
These are but a few of the online, national organizations available to provide information and support, both to the individual and to their loved ones. There are also countless programs available within your own community. When I worked at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), I became acquainted with their amazing program (http://www.chla.org/site/c.ipINKTOAJsG/b.7501767/k.5FBA/Transgender_Services__Adolescent_Medicine__Case_Management__Health_Education.htm#.VKSWvCvF_EY). Check out what might be available in your town.
- No matter what you might think or feel about transgendered individuals, do not make fun of, attack verbally or physically, or shame them. Doing any of these behind their backs still sucks – it’s just more cowardly. Remember life is hard enough for each of us without some jerk making worse. Don’t be that jerk.
Did I miss something important? What else might you recommend? As always, I am open to suggestions.