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Here is my requiem for Leelah:
To the lovely Leelah, and all the Leelahs in the shadows,
You feared that you could never be loved, and yet here we are. Your absence has broken our hearts. The love for you was in the world all along. It sat quiet, waiting.
In that regard, it failed you. You needed to know it was there, that it was possible. You needed to know that it was your legacy, and it was possible for it to come not from a million strangers mourning your loss, but right back in the gaze of a man, and loving friends who saw you as you were, and met the vision of you with adoration.
I know that was there for you. But you didn’t know it.
It was a love that said, Leelah, we are waiting for you to be you, your authentic self. Whether that self “passed” as a person who was born resembling a woman to your family, or as one who transitioned physically into one— it makes no difference. Beauty is not about cis-gendering, it is not about passing as someone else, it is about being the real person. You were that real person.
I have two 12 year old sons. I thrill as each becomes more and more who he is, every day. Should I falter in being there for them, if I screwed up my parenting and tried to shove them in some role or characterization, I would want the world to step in and correct me and make me allow them to be themselves. I wish someone had done so for your parents.
I am sad that we did not make you feel welcome. I am sad that we did not give you the hope to know your life could be wonderful. I am angry that we allowed the trepidation over infringing on someone’s dogmatic belief system kept us from reaching you and protecting the very basic human rights you demanded and deserved.
As you said goodbye to us, you let us know you had a voice. It was an important voice, and still is. It may have been the most important voice some of us had ever heard, and now, it is silenced.
You are right. Saying “it gets better” is not enough. We all need to be dedicated to making it better — now, and to cry that out. It will be better because we are insisting that changes be made. We cannot thrust our precious transgender brothers and sisters into the mercy of fate and a growing understanding. We need to bring that understanding to fruition as immediately as possible. We lost you while we warmed with the idea that equality was dawning, seemingly ignorant to the fact that pockets of hell still flourished in our patience.
You wanted your death to mean something. You wanted your death to be counted among the numbers of transgender casualties that are all too common.
I would deny you nothing, beautiful Leelah, except for these two requests. I cannot honor your death. It is an event that I wish with all my soul had not happened. I will not fold you into a horrific number that I want to see reduced, not increased.
It is your life that I will honor. It is your uniqueness and the uniqueness of all the others who today suffer as you did. I will fight that all those lives come out of the shadows and live and become powerful. You were not a number. They are not a number. You, they, are incredible and important human lives and I want to feel and experience your impact.
If another Leelah is reading these words, please know that I already respect you as one of the bravest on earth. I am in awe of the discovery you have made about yourself and offer my commitment to hold your hand as people understand who you are.
I am here to fight the hard fight—to make this world safe for you, worthwhile for you, available to you. I will not relinquish.
I will fight like hell. I need you, all the hidden Leelah’s to fight like hell too. We must end the option of transgender suicide. Get mad. Get vocal. Even get militant.
Don’t leave us. Your death stunned us.
I can only imagine what your life would have done.
Editor’s Note: If you or a young person you know is LGBT and thinking about suicide, please call The Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. For adults over 24, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.