So, if you’ve been keeping up at all with the news about Leelah Alcorn then you probably know that she was a transgender teenager who recently committed suicide. You also probably know that she posted a suicide note on Tumblr that blamed her Christian parents and the conversion therapy they tried to put her through as the reason that she decided to take her life. If you had the chance to read her blog post prior to it being taken down at the request of her parents (who are still referring to her as their son, Jacob) then you probably also know that Leelah’s dying wish was that her suicide would ultimately lead to fixing the transphobic world we live in. If you are tumblr savvy then you’ve probably also learned that tomorrow, January 6, 2015, people who want to show their respect and remembrance for this young girl will be painting their ring-finger nail(s) pink (see #pinkforleelah).
What you may not really know, however, is that this act of remembrance is causing a bit of an uproar among the trans community. Trans bloggers left and right have dashed to their keyboards to give their two cents on the situation and what they’ve been writing may actually be rather surprising to some. It was certainly surprising to me, but I’ll let you be the judge of your own reaction.
The gist of several blogs I’ve read is that while they are mildly supporting this paint your ring fingernail pink effort as an okay thing, they are also taking considerable offense to the idea that this simple act will actually do anything. In response to this #pinkforleelah I have read tumblr responses such as this one from starlighsongs:
“#pinkforleelah does nothing for abused ostracized closeted trans girls.
#pinkforleelah exists to make cis people and afab queers feel good while doing nothing.
#pinkforleelah is bullshit.
teach one another about what the fuck is happening. ask your local queer org what they’re doing for trans women in the community. when your friends say gross shit about trans women call them the fuck out. talk to trans women. listen to trans women. support trans womens voices. we don’t give a FUCK about your pink nail polish feelgood horseshit.”
Forgive the language, but I wanted to preserve the original wording so the emotions could be felt. My wife also shared a Shakesville article with me that expressed a similar, yet more docilely worded, outrage over this pinkforleelah movement. It can be read here http://www.shakesville.com/2015/01/cis-allies-and-trans-suicide.html . You’ll notice that the author seems to be harboring a certain degree of resentment about this Leelah situation. What that resentment is or where it comes from can only be guessed at but, like starlightsongs, the emotion of anger or frustration is the predominate emotion being expressed through their words, but why?
As a transwoman I am no stranger to the oppressive gender policing that goes on in our society. I am no stranger to the fear, depression, and rage that can fester in a person’s heart when they are forced to live a life that doesn’t suit them. I am completely familiar with the struggle of countless people around the world who are trying to not only understand who they are and what their gender is, but are also desperately trying to find a place in the society/culture. I have corresponded with many of these people myself, listening to their stories, their fears and doubts, their struggles and sufferings. I have walked with them, even if only briefly, as they tried to navigate the dark and sometimes dangerous waters of gender identity. I, myself, have had to struggle with the lack of acceptance from ones who are closest to me, and have struggled to find reasons to keep living another day even when my broken heart believed there was no such reason. I have looked the social darkness of a non-binary gender right in the face and have lived to tell the tale about it, much to the inspiration and encouragement of others fighting the same fight as me, yet I cannot for the life of me understand the reactions I’ve shared above about #pinkforleelah.
When are we as humans going to realize that we cannot fight our way to empathy? We cannot battle our way to compassion. We cannot say things like “#pinkforleelah is bullshit” or “we don’t give a FUCK about your pink nail polish feelgood horseshit” and expect that our words of anger, resentment, and violence will ever foster an environment peaceful enough to bring about the compassion, understanding, and change we are seeking. We cannot treat our cisgender allies and advocates with disrespect and contempt if we expect them to return to us with loving understanding.
Yes, there is much work to be done for transgender rights, but why on the face of this green earth would we look upon a social movement in remembrance of a victim of conversion therapy, unacceptance, and fear from her parents as a hollow gesture? Have we forgotten that not 10 years ago being transgender meant that you were almost 100% invisible or marginalized? Have we forgotten that it has only been the last few years that the high rate of transgender suicide has even become an international concern? Have we forgotten that in the last year more has been done to further the transgender equality movement than in any year previous?
Why now, of all times, would we think it is okay to take a critical and cynical stance on something that is bringing about awareness, however minute it might be, to millions of people about the dangers and pressures faced by transgender people? Maybe painting my fingernail will not enact laws that need to be enacted. Maybe painting my fingernail might not bring back the countless people who’ve killed themselves because they were transgender. Maybe painting my fingernail might not stop conversion therapy from being legal, but you know what it does do? It makes people ask questions, and seeking understanding is the very first step in the process of compassion.
When I wear pink fingernails tomorrow someone will ask me why I’ve chosen to do it, and when they ask that question an opportunity that might never have existed will present itself. I will be afforded the rare opportunity to bring the trials of transgenderism to the forefront of their experience. I will be able to open their eyes and hopefully hearts to the sad reality that people like me face every single day. I will have the opportunity to foster the idea that non-binary genders are not to be feared or corrected, but are to be embraced and loved.
I consider myself an advocate and an ally to the transgender cause not simply because I, myself, am transgender, but because I choose to wear my support proudly. I choose to actively engage with anyone willing to listen in order to foster understanding, love, and compassion for my fellow trans* people. I choose to live a life of dangerous visibility because I know that the only way we can succeed in making the world a more kind and compassionate place is by fostering understanding and empathy through example. When people read my sometimes raw and powerful emotions or words about my experience as a transwoman they get to vicariously experience what it is like to be transgender, and anyone who has shared the experience of another has the capacity to empathize with it.
Painting your fingernail pink might seem trivial or small to the unenlightened or the cynical, but the affect it will have on the transgender movement cannot be discounted, even by the most begrudged of the trans* population. The mere fact that millions of cisgender people will be openly acknowledging and empathizing with one of the hardest aspects to being transgender is a victory in itself, because it says that the world is changing (for the better IMHO). Every victory, however small or trivial it might seem, must be appreciated with love and pride. Stop complaining about how it isn’t good enough or doesn’t go far enough when only 10 years ago this kind of victory was unheard of. When humans reached space for the first time we didn’t get pissed off that we hadn’t made it to the moon right away, we reveled in our success. We cheered and felt proud of the accomplishments of our species. True, we vowed to take it further and to push the boundaries again and again, but our achievement was celebrated with joy, not cynicism. We took that success as a strong foundation for our further goals and used it to build great and amazing accomplishments. We landed on the moon, we built a space station, we built satellites and space probes, we’ve explored more of space than ever before, we even landed a probe on a comet!! We are now preparing to land on the next planet in our solar system, something unheard of and you know why that is possible? It’s possible because someone out there didn’t fall prey to cynicism, even when the space programs were mocked and ridiculed for their “failures” or for not “doing enough” to justify their existence. It is because of this reason that I choose to not fall prey to the cynicism of the starlighsongs or the resentments of eastsidekate. I choose to look upon this success as exactly what it is, a momentous occasion of unheard of acceptance and empathy.
Leelah Alcorn wished for her death to mean something, for it to bring about understand and equality for transgender people, and now she is getting that wish. So many more people are aware of transgender issues now than at any other point in history and her death may very well lead to the legal barring of conversion therapy in the U.S. (you can sign the white house petition here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/enact-leelahs-law-ban-all-lgbtq-conversion-therapy/QPbYj38G ). #pinkforleelah is a victory of untold proportions for people like me because it’s opening the door for understanding and empathy from cisgender people who may have never gotten on board with the transgender movement otherwise. The potential of their current support, however minimal it currently is, may have a powerful affect in the years to come as more and more transgender equality laws filter through the democratic systems around the world. These people may very well be the difference between these initiatives passing or failing. These people may very well be the driving power behind so many of the changes we’ve all been looking for.
We must remember that while cisgender people may be the cause of much of our suffering, they are also the key to our salvation. They outnumber us upwards of 97 to 3, so the more of them we have on our side, however minimal that support is, the better off we are going to be. The more people who wear pink nail polish tomorrow, the larger our community grows. The larger our community grows the more likely transgender teenagers like Leelah Alcorn will have friends and teachers who support and protect them from ridicule instead of standing idly by as they are bullied and persecuted into taking their own lives. The more pink fingernails we have tomorrow, the more we are going to have honest conversations about gender identity instead of allowing it to be a silent issue. The more conversations we have about gender identity, the more curiosity or understanding will be fostered. The more curiosity or understanding that is fostered, the more empathy and compassion we will have room for. The more empathy and compassion we make room for, the more peace we will find as a society.
The only way to embrace a brighter future is to release our resentful hold on the darker past. We must forgive one another for the failures and shortcomings of yesterday if we hope to build something beautiful today and tomorrow. We must not treat our cisgender allies with ridicule and cynicism because of the way they have acted in the past if we wish to count on them to make things better in the future. Some of them are taking their very first baby steps towards rejecting the gender binary by painting their fingernails pink, and so much of their confidence in those baby steps depends on our loving attention and assistance to them. We must hold their hands and guide them. We must encourage and appreciate their efforts. If we praise them for what they are doing, they will do more of it. If we reprove them for not doing well enough when they’ve only just begun then they will give up before any lasting impact is made. We must become the very love and compassion we are seeking if we ever hope to receive it back.
It is for this reason that I say let’s bring love back to the conversation and wear some fabulous pink nail polish!! I will be wearing it tomorrow, will you join me?