Hi, Meghan; I’m Parker.
Earlier today, I had an opportunity to read your L.A. Times op-ed, “Why blaming Leelah Alcorn’s parents only compounds the bigotry,” and I can’t help but feel as though you’ve misconstrued a number of factors in the path to forming your opinion.
Now, I noticed that though you had a chance to chat with Andrew Soloman about the concepts of “vertical” and “horizontal” identities, and you write, “a lack of total acceptance doesn’t erase unconditional love,” before diving into a rhetorical discussion about the meaning of “unconditional love.” That’s all well and good, but the point needs to be made: a girl died. To say one’s love should be unconditional enough to at least ensure that your child remains alive is setting a low bar, but you’ve managed to set it even lower with the suggestion that it’s possible to love someone, but not love them enough to keep them alive.
Leelah’s parents may have loved their 17-year-old (it should be noted that Mrs. Alcorn appeared to forget Leelah’s age, writing that she was 16), but that person wasn’t Leelah; it was Joshua, who isn’t actually a person at all, but a concept and an aspiration that Leelah’s parents refused to let go of in order to make room for her. That’s who had their unconditional love.
Secondly, you seem to dismiss criticizing the parents’ actions, as that only “compounds the bigotry.” I don’t understand how you’ve come to this conclusion. At all. How is suggesting that maybe parents shouldn’t pull their child from school, cut off all contact to the outside world for months at a time “piling on?” How is highlighting the often dangerous results of the medically-bankrupt practice of “conversion therapy” “piling on?”
According to the Alcorns Leelah’s funeral was moved because of threats they received? In reality, it’s more likely that the funeral was moved as a way to prevent Leelah’s actual friends from being able to pay their final respects. That’s certainly the impression her best friend seems to have. But you’ve printed this assertion that people were threatening them as though this was proven fact. I’m not sure why you’ve afforded the Alcorns — who, again, continue to deny that Leelah even existed — so much trust, taking them at their words.
“[It’s] just as accurate to say that shaming the parents is rooted in the same kind of bigotry, and discomfort around difference that drove their lethal mistakes,” you write. No. It’s not the same. At all. No one is telling the Alcorns that they don’t exist, or putting them in the equivalent of solitary confinement for five months (like they did to their daughter), etc. This is one of the most blatant, dangerous false equivalencies I’ve ever read.
Every year, more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made. Have you penned any op-eds telling people to just lay off, and to stop “shaming” the parents accused of child abuse? No. I’d venture to guess that you haven’t. What makes Leelah’s case any different? Is it that it’s moderately high-profile? Maybe, but then again, there have been many extremely high-profile child abuse/child neglect cases, so it can’t be that. Was it that the parents wrongs were rooted in religious beliefs? No. Again, there have been a number of high-profile instances where a parent has denied their child necessary medical care, the child died, and the parents were taken to task.
Is it that she’s transgender? You’re the one who made this point, and I’m asking you to defend it. If this isn’t about the fact that Leelah was transgender, then what is it about? Why are you picking this case, out of all the child abuse/neglect cases in the world?
What good does discussing the Alcorns’ faults do? For one, it helps people understand just how severe gender dysphoria can be. Secondly, it’s another case-study in the inefficacy of “conversion therapy,” and maybe bringing this point to light will inspire more states to instill bans (just as California, where your article was published, and New Jersey have done) on this dangerous form of treatment?
Now, at no point have you identified any sort of credentials explaining what makes you qualified to speak on either transgender issues or parenting. For all I know, you’re extremely qualified (or, on the other hand, you might be clueless. Again, I don’t know). I’ve written more than 300 articles on transgender issues and transgender people. I’ve covered the topic of caring for trans children at Slate. I’ve written about Leelah for The Daily Beast. I’ve touched on healthcare for the New York Times. I’ve discussed the tragic state of society (the one Leelah has asked that we fix) for Rolling Stone.
But maybe you’re more knowledgeable on the topic. I don’t know.
I hope you can consider for a minute, your definition of acceptance. You say that unconditional love and total acceptance aren’t one in the same, but unconditional love means at least moving towards total acceptance. Three years had passed since Leelah came out as trans to her mother, and from what we know, things got worse for her at home, not better. Like Leelah, I’m transgender. When I first came out to my parents, the affirmed that they still loved me. It wasn’t for some time that I felt as though they felt comfortable around me/completely accepted me. They tried. They worked at it. Unlike the Alcorns, they decided that they’d rather have a living daughter than a dead son.
What I do know is that the world in which Transparent wins and Golden Globe and the one in which people like Leelah are driven to suicide and trans women of color are gunned down at a disproportionately high rate, are sadly, one in the same. These aren’t different worlds. This is one, horrifically uninformed world on this topic, and the very things you dismiss — like hashtags, tweets, and Hollywood speeches — are some of the only tools available in the quest to create a more sympathetic, better informed public. Who are you to take those away?