By Any Other Name

Joshua Alcorn was born a boy but reportedly felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since he was 4 years old.

Jan 7, 2015 at 10:45 am

Joshua Alcorn was born a boy but reportedly felt “like a girl trapped in a boy’s body” since he was 4 years old. And so far, there’s been little besides judgment and speculation about this teenager who stepped in front of a semi-tractor trailer on I-71 in the early morning of Dec. 28 to end a short life of depression, repression and unspeakable suffering.

But Joshua Alcorn is doing a lot of speaking from the grave, and whatever we choose to hear and to take away from his emotionally manipulative posts will be based on our own experiences wading through sexual identities.

Hopefully, we can embrace the notions of cognitive dissonance, of holding within us two emotionally yet diametrically opposed viewpoints but with each being right and true.

Joshua, who wanted to be called Leelah, wanted to live fully as a transgender person; his parents — devout Christians — hadn’t given their consent for their son to have any gender reassignment surgeries, and the teen was, therefore, relegated to dressing as the girl he imagined he’d be once he was transformed.

Joshua’s internal gender identity was female.

But he never lived through to be fully one way or the other. He killed himself lingering somewhere in the hyphen between male-to-female transwoman. To be clear, the unspoken rule of engagement with this delicate subject matter is to assign pronouns to people according to whom they identified themselves as — to call them what they call themselves. However, I am calling Joshua by his birth name with masculine pronouns out of respect for his parents who knew him better than any onlookers but who couldn’t reconcile their son’s shifting sexual identity, perhaps out of fear, ignorance, religious zeal or because of the cloistered judgments leveled by residents in a small northern Cincinnati burb.

Whatever their reasons for rejecting their son’s desires to be female and despite that Joshua posted they’d sent him to exclusively Christian counselors whom he felt judged him harshly without helping him toward self-acceptance, we bystanders cannot and should not forget that parents of children who grow up to be transgender people are figuring out this morass of sexuality just like their children.

They should be allowed some room to be as shocked, frightened, horrified, confused and ultimately as liberated as their children. Further, unless these parents are spawns of Satan, they’re not wishing suicide as a solution on their children.

In my sanctified imagination, no parent left to plan their child’s funeral has ever invested time, love, attention, doctors’ visits, music lessons, rain-drenched soccer games and the anxiety of first-time driving lessons into a child they assume will kill themselves before they’re old enough to legally drink.

Healthy parents don’t bring their newborn home with that violent, tragic end in mind.

Still, the blaming and co-opting has begun.

It’s never widely or publicly spoken, but queer activists can be some of the most intolerant, vitriolic and judgmental people around. If the rest of us aren’t politicizing our identities boldly or vehemently enough, then the Queer Mafia will find us, shame us and brow beat us or, in this case, our bereaved loved ones all in the name of “shedding light” on a dark cause or to “bring light” to heretofore sexually squeamish subject matter.

So to all the Queer soldiers who are bullying the Alcorns online and telling them in this time of public speculation and all-out banner waving how they should have loved their son unconditionally, to you I say pipe down so this family can hear themselves grieve.

I will add this: Practice some of this live-and-let-live sensitivity you talk so much about in all your public rallies. How can we expect confused and frightened people to ever relax their religion, their outward acceptance, if we do not practice the same in return?

Belief systems are in play not to oppress and judge but to be challenged and reshaped.

I believe Carla Alcorn when she says her family loved Joshua. Maybe they didn’t love him in ways that expressed to him he could be free to choose and construct his own identity, but I believe they loved him the best they knew how at the time.

Here’s what’s hardest to say and think about all of this: If Joshua had the will, the solace, the refuge, the strength to just live another day, he would have been one day closer to being legally free to leave his parents’ home and to journey out into the world and find a community that would have accepted him as Leelah and one that could also have helped him toward all the emotional, psychological and medical procedures necessary to transform himself fully into the woman he wanted to be so desperately.

But suicide is a narcissistic, string-pulling bitch of a mistress and Joshua is getting all the attention, all the martyrdom in death he couldn’t get in life. And in doing so, he’s cast his family as a tribe of unforgiving and close-minded Jesus freaks.

Meanwhile, the true message of a young and potentially beautiful life cut short is a mere side note to what’s becoming a sexual identity sideshow.

Will tolerance of disparate sexual identities be taught now in Joshua’s high school? Will other parents of questioning and transgender children come together in support of the Alcorns? Will the Alcorns’ church pastor deliver the loving and tactful message of acceptance this community needs to hear at this moment or will it be one rife with the confusing passages of Leviticus? Will Joshua’s siblings get all their questions answered or will their brother’s name be a shameful whisper?

This endless list of questions is one hell of a way to begin a new year for this family, but maybe they can find solace in the unwavering truth that Joshua’s road to his true self wasn’t paved with nearly enough time.

And that time was the gift only Joshua could’ve given to Leelah.


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