I’ve been thinking about Leelah Alcorn a lot over the past few days. It saddens me to no end that yet another transgender person has felt so alone that she believed that her only release was death. I hate that it took her death for her to be seen as the woman that she was.
And I’ll be honest, I’ve been thinking about her mom a lot as well. Thinking about what it’s like to lose a child to suicide and to bear the weight of responsibility for that.
Carla Alcorn has been called a bully because she refused to recognize Leelah’s preferred gender. She continued to call her by her given name and in all interviews, continued to use male pronouns rather than female.
Often we have ideas about what bullying looks like. Name-calling, pushing, shoving, belittling. We see parents who kick their kids out of their home for coming out, sometimes under the advisement of church leaders. We see parents who physically abuse children who do not conform to the roles that they expect them to follow. In light of some of the violence that has been perpetrated against LGBTQ children from their parents, it can be harder to see misusing pronouns as bullying. It can be difficult to blame a parent who called their child by the name that they gave them rather than the one that they chose for themselves.
In an interview with CNN Carla stated, “We don’t support that, 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.”
That quote is the issue summed up so neatly.
I believe that Carla did love her child. But her quote shows very clearly that she did not love her unconditionally. She only loved her within the bounds of her religious beliefs. And those beliefs led her to act in ways that did not honor Leelah. Her religion got in the way of her relationship.
In her suicide note, Leelah wrote, “When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.” (bolding mine)
Through all of my life, I’ve heard that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. In 1 John 4:20, John writes, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
If your faith causes harm to relationships here, how can it not be classified as a religion? If your faith causes you to bully others, even if your bullying feels small, like voting against marriage equality or using pronouns contrary to what someone has asked you to use, how are you loving your brother or sister? If someone says to you, “don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid,” and you say it anyway, what kind of relationship are you showing to the world?
I want to have a relationship with God. But I can only develop that more if I’m developing relationships with those around me. And if I’m unable to genuinely love the least of these, especially if they are in my own family, I’m just practicing religion.