Suicide Is Not the Answer
Trigger warning: suicide, transgender, putting back in the closet
Leelah Alcorn died December 28, leaving a suicide note on Tumblr. In the note, Leelah says,
“As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. 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.”
Leelah’s parents are going through a rough time right now, having lost the daughter they saw as a son. By quoting this, I mean no disrespect to her family.
The message I want to deliver: suicide is not the answer, kids. No matter what you think will happen when you’re gone, it never goes the way you planned, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what happened to my friend John*.
John turned eighteen in 1998. He came out of the closet to his friends. He was bullied by some classmates. In a fight with his dad about why he was being bullied, he proclaimed a teenage conversation-ender: “Because I’m gay, that’s why!”
John’s dad coaxed him to take it back. John refused. His dad gave him an ultimatum: “Take it back or get out of my house.” John’s parents left for a fundraising event for John’s senior class, and left him at home.
John called his older sister, my former roommate. We’d moved to separate apartments but still lived in the same building, a run-down old teacher’s dormitory. This was back when we still had phone jacks and a phone cord long enough to traverse the apartment from one side to the other. Yes, people had cell phones, but they were clunky and unreliable, so Janet had a land line connected to a rickety old phone jack that didn’t even have a cover. I was visiting that night. We were making Halloween costumes for our second annual Halloween party.
Janet was already on the phone when I arrived, and our other roommate, Serena, was sitting on the floor, pulling on boot-covers she’d sewn. We talked about boots, and costumes, while Janet had a heated conversation with John.
“Why can’t you just take it back? Just for a few months, until you graduate. It’s not like you have a boyfriend or anything.”
“It doesn’t matter what you said to your classmates. Please?”
John had spent quite a bit of time at the apartment the previous summer, and we’d all gotten close. Serena and I glanced at each other and rolled our eyes at Janet’s arguments. We’d heard them all before. John had come out to Janet on one of his summer visits, and she’d been talking him out of coming out to their conservative, religious parents ever since.
“Just focus on school, and graduation,” she said. “Everything will work out.”
Serena stood up to walk back to the sewing machine to finish sewing her boot-covers. She tripped on the phone line, pulling the line from the rickety phone jack.
The line went dead.
“Oh my goddess, I’m so sorry!” Serena** said.
Serena completely broke the cord from the plastic piece that connected to the jack, so I ran back to my apartment to grab a replacement. Once the phone was fixed, Janet tried to call home. No answer.
“Try him again,” I said. “Keep trying until he answers.”
“It’s no big deal,” Janet said. “He’s probably taking a walk to calm down before Dad gets home.”
His parents found him when they got home. His obituary says, “Died at home.” I never knew the possibilities of such a simple statement before. I don’t think I asked how. It didn’t seem appropriate. Janet and I talked about damn near everything, but we never talked about that.
I blamed myself for a long time after he was gone. If I hadn’t come over that night, maybe Serena wouldn’t have tripped over the phone cord, and Janet would have been able to talk John down. The moment that phone disconnected, John thought nobody cared. In that moment of anger and pain, he dashed off a suicide note and took his own life.
The hardest part for me, the part I couldn’t wrap my head around and the part that bothers me to this day: John wrote a suicide note, but his family denied that it existed. His mother found it and hid it from his father, showing it only to his sisters, Janet and Jessica, after his funeral. She carefully put her son back in the closet. They buried John without any repercussion for his school bullies, and without owning the statements, “I’d rather have no son than a gay son,” and, “Not in my house.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love Janet, and her family. I have fond memories of her parents helping us move, joking and laughing as we broke down loft beds, only to put them up two weeks later in the new apartment. All three children were good people. While their parents are far more old-fashioned and conservative than my parents, they would have come around.
If I’m mistaken, and they really would have kicked him out of the house, John could have come to stay with us. I would have enrolled him at NU, the University-staffed high school, and taken him to classes myself. There is always an alternative.
I have fond memories of John. We watched The Wall together. He made it okay to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail again after my ex nearly ruined it for me forever. He was shy, but when I started asking him questions he opened up. He helped me with one of my class projects. I had to interview a high school student on a favorite book. We talked for over an hour about a certain book-turned-blockbuster that led the author on a mission to save a species he’d nearly driven to extinction.***
He deserves to be remembered for all that he was. He was my first openly gay friend, and he deserves that title, even though his family would withhold it from him.
Once you’re dead, that’s it. Letters get buried. Dresses get burned. Daughters are buried in suits parents wanted their sons to wear. It’s a mad world.
If you want your voice to be heard and you want to make a difference, ANY difference, be it for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans people, straight allies, beautiful people, ugly people, black/yellow/green/red/blue/purple people, glitter, unicorns, or tiamat(s?), you need to be here.
Shit gets fucked up posthumously. Hey, shit could get fucked up while you’re here, too, but at least you’d know. You’d have a say. “Bitch, put that suit back in that closet right now. You KNOW I won’t wear that.”
Reap the chaos you sow. It’s worth it. It gets better, I promise you.
There are people out there like me, who love your inner strength and perseverance. People you don’t know that well, hanging on the fringes of your reality. We know you through your confidants, your sisters and brothers. We want to help but don’t know how to tell you.
Talk to a friend. Accidents happen, so if someone tripped over the phone cord, or if your friend’s phone died, call a hotline. Just talk. Please? Give the people like me a chance to help.
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger), Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-488-7386 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255 In closing, what kind of Queen fan would I be if I talked about suicide without including this video?!
___FOOTNOTES___ *I’m changing his name because a living friend shares the same first name and I don’t want anyone to accidentally think I’m talking about my very alive friend. Also, to protect John’s family, who will not want to be associated with me when they learn I write gay romance.
** As you can tell by the name I’ve chosen for her, my dear friend Serena was the first to introduce me to all things anime.
*** If you can’t figure out the book, it’s not important. Just one more way I’m trying to protect my friend’s identity.
Edited 1/2/15 to add the archived Tumblr page.