Loving The Boy in Their Head: Leelah Alcorn and Parents’ Claims of Love

Content note: This post discusses a trans woman’s suicide and the abuse and misgendering she experienced.

In the wake of Leelah Alcorn’s death, her mother Carla Alcorn spoke to CNN about her feelings:

We don’t support [her being transgender], religiously. But we told him that we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.

Note how misgendering her daughter wasn’t enough. It was not enough to say “we loved him”. She had to add “my son”. It was not enough to say “he was a good kid”. She had to add “a good boy”. Even after her death, Leelah’s mother had to assert control over who, in her mind, her daughter was: A boy.

No, Carla. You didn’t love your child. You loved the fictional character in your head; the person you thought your child should be. You were only willing to love that character, and through conversion therapy you tried to force your child to play that role. You failed, and she took her life rather than be someone she wasn’t. Even in death, despite your claim of unconditional love, your love was reserved for that fictional boy.

Like so much of Leelah’s story, this is not exceptional or unusual. So many parents make these kinds of claims of love while continuing not to respect their trans children. It’s as authentic as the supposed love you experience as a teenager for that person on the other side of the classroom that you’ve never spoken to but is probably really awesome.

At worst, it’s a form of manipulation. It implies that they are giving something, hence they ought to receive something in return – for their child to change, or at least to quieten their demands for respect; to silently bear the pain over the years that parents claim to need before they can bring themselves to show respect.

Being trans is not something you accept. You accept flaws, faults, poor life choices – bad things. Nor do you make a choice about whether you respect that someone is trans. Being trans is a fixed reality of who they are, so the choice is really whether to respect them at all.

This makes for a depressing conclusion; that a whole lot of trans people are not loved or respected for who they are. But if trans people’s parents love someone else, not them, then that love does not bind them to any reciprocal duty; beyond putting on enough of a front to survive until the point at which they can become independent.

The biological family is not the only family and not the only source of love. Leelah’s death should be a call for us all to reach out to trans youth, show them love and provide the practical support necessary for going through with transition, finding loving friends and getting through their day to day life. For as long as there are shitty families there must be ways of helping young trans people to liberate themselves from the script that their families have written for them.

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