Trigger Warning: Suicide
“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.”
The final words of a young 17-year-old girl named Leelah Alcorn made waves across the Internet, days after she took her own life. As I read her suicide note on Tumblr, I could not help but feel not only saddened by the reasoning she gave for taking her own life, but angry as well. Sad, because yet another trans* woman had been lost to suicide – a step that is all too common for trans* women with a statistic of over 40% of trans* women attempting suicide due to lack of acceptance, poverty, and depression. Sad, because trans* people also face the fact that they are 50% more likely to be murdered than other individuals of the LGBT* community.
Angry, because her death was most likely preventable if she had been supported by her own parents, who instead rejected her identity and put her into religious conversion therapy. Angry, because her parents continued to disrespect her even after she had died by misgendering her. Angry, because they wanted to “cure” their child with torturous “religious” therapy because “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Angry, because even in death they couldn’t accept that their child committed suicide, but rather called it an “accident”, not being able to accept their own complacency in their daughter’s death.
As a queer Muslim, I can understand the struggle when my queerness intersects with religion. I can understand the feeling of rejection from your community, but as a cis-gendered person, I will never understand the struggle it is to be trans* in today’s society. Even in the United States, which brands itself with freedoms and justice, there are trans* people – especially trans* women and even further, trans* women of color – whose lives are taken and no justice is served, who face merciless harassment for who they are. It is even harder, then, to imagine trans*people within our own community – a Muslim community – that face the issues of constantly being forced into spaces where gender is binary and even where you pray is determined by your gender.
Like Leelah, I have found support through my “tumblr family” – through people who do accept me for who I am and for who I strive to be. However, I have also been extremely lucky to find support outside of cyber space amongst my friends in a group called Queer Muslims of Boston, who have finally made me feel like I can be whole and accept all of my identities. While I have not officially come out as queer to most of my family, my mother knows and is tolerant, and that is a gift from God, as I’ve seen so many other queer and trans* people who have not had that luxury.
I write this because we do need to fix society, and that doesn’t just mean radical queer people – it means Muslims as well. As a community that often faces harassment and criticism, I find horrid that there are Muslims who stoop to the levels of harassment and degradation of queer and trans* people, whether they are Muslim or not. While I hope to one day see a Muslim Ummah that is inclusive of queer and trans*people, I know it is a long road ahead before that comes, and I see the first step as toleration and respect for those who are different from you, who may face similar marginalization or aspects of it in daily life.
I ask Muslims to support queer and trans* people on a human basis – to call out harassment of a trans* person on the street rather than to be the harassing party. I hope that Muslims who have children that have the strength to come out to them, accept their child and put their child’s mental health and wants and needs before their own wants for their child. It is hard enough to come out to a community that isn’t related to you, let alone worry about rejection from your own blood.
I do not want Leelah’s death to be in vain. I want her to live on through teaching my own community acceptance of trans* people and queer people, and to learn how to be decent human beings, putting religion aside to just support another human’s suffering in a society that doesn’t accept them. Leelah could be your child one day – will you support your child’s dreams and aspirations and identities?