I know the title of this post is not particularly descriptive. I thought of many different titles, but none seemed quite right for what I wanted to say. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Leelah Alcorn was a transgender teen who committed suicide by stepping in front of a tractor trailer the night of December 28. Her death might have gone largely unremarked outside her local community if she had not left a suicide note scheduled for publication on tumblr. Her tumblr account has since been closed, but of course nothing published on the Internet ever really goes away.
Leelah’s death is a tragedy, even more so because it should have been avoidable. Whatever else can be said, and much has been said since her death, one thing is abundantly clear. Leelah’s parents failed her when she needed them most.
I’m hardly a shining icon of parenthood. I don’t want anyone to mistake my tone for a self-righteous one. My children are all adults now and I’m sure, if pressed, could catalog my faults and failings as a parent. I have tried to learn from my many mistakes along the way and hopefully my children all know that if they really need me, I’m there for them. Unconditionally. Even if the whole world seems to be against them, I’m in their corner. If I have one fervent prayer, it’s that I never fail my children to the extent that Leelah’s parents failed her.
Nor do I say that to demonize Leelah’s parents. By all accounts, they are the family next door. It’s reported they are Church of Christ members, a denomination that’s pretty similar to the SBC church I’ve attended for as long as I’ve called myself a Christian as an adult. (My interaction with Christianity and other religions is a complicated one and beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that I’ve practiced a number of religions and studied even more, but have identified as Christian for the past couple of decades and change.) I could easily see conversion therapy, which is proven to be outright harmful for transgender individuals, being recommended by members of my own church. In fact, it’s not particularly hard to imagine Leelah’s tragedy taking place in one of the families I know. I’m sure her parents were seeking advice from their friends and pastors and I’m sure they were acting on that advice. I’ve received plenty of bad parenting advice myself over the years from pastors and others in my church. Fortunately, outside a few instances I still deeply regret, I was able to recognize it as bad advice and make better choices instead.
While much of the attention has focused on Leelah’s suicide note, she had another note scheduled after it. In it she apologized to her siblings and friends and included the following to her parents.
Mom and Dad: Fuck you. You can’t just control other people like that. That’s messed up.
As a parent, I read those words and weep. Whether or not we condemn her parents, Leelah clearly did. Those were her last words to them. And from all the reports, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment those words express. The way Leelah was treated was messed up. But it was messed up in a way that’s all too common and which is replicated to one degree or another by many parents today with nothing but the best of intentions. The road to hell is, indeed, paved with good intentions.
I do believe that Leelah’s parents loved her, or at least that they loved their son, Josh, even if they could not accept that their son was actually their daughter. I can’t remember where I originally saw it, so I can’t provide an attribution, but the following has haunted my thoughts for days now.
They loved their son so much they killed their daughter.
Even if Leelah had not committed suicide, the Alcorns would have lost their son, Josh. That was inevitable. Leelah was seventeen and approaching her majority. However, instead of merely losing the concept of a son they carried in their head, the Alcorns lost their child entirely.
Long-time readers of my blog (if any such individuals are still around) likely expect a theological reflection from me. I do have one. I hope it doesn’t disappoint. It may not be what you expect.
If God doesn’t love my children more than I do, then to hell with him.
I have no use and less interest in a God who demands that I sacrifice my children on his altar.
I’m familiar with all or most of the “biblical” arguments for and against accepting and loving those in the LGBTQIA community. I suppose there is some value in those discussions, but it really looks like so much intellectual masturbation to me. I’ve studied it all and found that it ultimately means nothing to me. I worship a good God who loves mankind in all our messiness and craziness. I worship a God who seeks communion with me and with all humanity so that we can love as he loves. Most of the time I think it’s a lost cause in my own case, but if I could I would become all fire.
So I place my hope in a God for whom love is never a mistake, the God we see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
And I’m comfortable with that choice. Ultimately, if there is no God, there are worse things I could have done with my life than tried as best I could to love. If the foundation of reality is something else then it either doesn’t matter that much (which would, in a sense, be the case with Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism) or the God that exists is one I’ve chosen, likely deliberately, not to worship. That would be true for most ancient pagan Gods, for the God of Islam, and for the God who demands blood sacrifice, satisfaction, and compliance that many Christians seem to worship.
I do believe you become like that which you worship over time. I’ll take the God who calls me to love over all else. And if, instead, God actually is as many Christians envision him, a God who expects me to sacrifice even my own children if they do not comply with his demands, then I’ll happily borrow Leelah’s last words to her parents as my response to such a God.