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The familiar and the other

This is not a post about suicide alone, and will be of no assistance to anyone contemplating the choices involved. If you are contemplating suicide, or fear you might, you need to speak to  professionals with experience of talking to people like you; in the UK, the Samaritans have trained volunteers and professionals who can talk to you, and who are not to blame for the criticisms of Samaritans as an organization, which appear here and elsewhere.

The New Year has started with an unwelcome Twitter spat about Sarah Ditum’s assertions, via the New Statesman, that the trans community should not republish Leelah Alcorn‘s suicide note. She has also attacked all and sundry for not following the Samaritan’s guidelines in their reporting of the matter.

Now here’s the odd thing. Sarah Ditum starts her article with a reference to the hashtag #TransLivesMatter. It’s an odd hook to use, when, as she points out in the body of her piece, the worst offenders are the mainstream media outlets who have turned Leelah’s death into soap opera. In the trans community, that use of the hashtag #TransLivesMatter, and the silence about which media outlets are the worst offenders, must look exactly like another example of Ditum’s transphobic behaviour. I know Sarah Ditum would argue that she is not transphobic, but sometimes, if the cap fits…

By coincidence, at the same time as Sarah Ditum was hectoring the world about the risks involved in the reporting of Leelah Alcorn’s death, which was a tragedy, the newspapers were also reporting the death of Debbie Purdy. The responses could not be more different. I have a personal interest in all this. One of the people closest to me took the decision, this time last year, to cease medical treatment that would have prolonged their life, and to choose instead the manner, and, within a fairly narrow timeframe, the timing of their death.

No-one mentioned suicide. No-one demanded the Samaritans be called. You’ll search in vain in the article about Debbie Purdy for any mention of the Samaritans guidelines on reporting or a helpline number. The sense that somehow, Debbie Purdy’s choice was different to Leelah Alcorn’s is palpable, and the judgement that somehow, Debbie Purdy was rational, but Leelah Alcorn irrational, is never far from the surface even though it is utterly unfair.

Two points need to be made. Debbie Purdy, and the person I loved, made their choices surrounded by people who loved them, in familiar surroundings, with constant praise for their wisdom, their fortitude, and their knowledge of the pain they could endure and the pain they could not endure. The choice to go gently into that dark night was one made in an atmosphere of respect, love and kindness.

Contrast that with how Leelah Alcorn lived, and made her choices. Alone. Stigmatized. Disrespected. Othered. Sarah Ditum would have us disregard Leelah Alcorn’s note on Tumblr as if it is an unreliable source, when, of course, it’s utterly reliable (once it’s proven to be genuine) as an account of how Leelah Alcorn felt. Lurking behind that disparagement of Leelah’snote as ‘only a single source’ is the sense, once again, that Leelah’s feelings and emotions were of a different quality to those of Debbie Purdy, even though they led to the same end.

Trans lives matter. Young trans people deserve to be allowed to make all their life choices, all their life decisions, in an atmosphere of love, respect and familiarity. The grief that I’ve been reading about from trans people on social media is the grief of ‘there but for…’ – the knowledge that they too could have made those same choices if they had been in the same intolerable situation as Leelah Alcorn.

Many of us will, at some stage or other, have had the conversation about whether we would choose to rage or gently into the dark night of terminal illness. It is familiar to us – we write living wills, and make our wishes clear to those who might be around us at that time. Within the trans community, many, many people have faced the same choices, the same experiences as Leelah Alcorn, choices and experiences those of us who are not trans will never make. If they think the right response is to talk about Leelah, her life and her experiences, to try and make those things familiar, not other, we should respect that position, and agree with them that Trans Lives Matter.



2 comments on “The familiar and the other

  1. georgefinnegan
    January 2, 2015

    As your cohort said a day or two ago, we have to be allowed to be with our suffering – the person has to “respect[s] your humanity enough to allow you to feel the pain”. If we don’t feel the pain, we don’t find inspiration to improve things. It’s unfortunate that Leelah didn’t have a chance to become an adult. I hope her parents and those who knew her realized her pain, learned something from it and will carry on to see that it isn’t perpetuated through others.


    • jemima2013
      January 9, 2015

      I think that you are right about the pain being the motivation to change, its why avoiding it through work, drink, drugs ect never helps


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This entry was posted on January 2, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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