Friday, July 24, 2015

Why I am retiring now

I always have said I would teach until I dropped, that I would probably collapse in the classroom one day when I was in the middle of a discussion on Portrait of the Artist of something. And if I could just teach kids, just focus on them, work with them, help them to love learning and discover that inner spark of creativity, I probably would have. But next month I will be entering my last year of teaching, and it has nothing at all to do with teaching.

It has everything to do with exhaustion. If you teach long enough, you see so many new and "new" theories and concepts that are foisted upon us for a few years each from "on high" and then abandoned--trendy things that may or may not have actually been good ideas, but are never around long enough to find out because something new comes along to replace them. I've been teaching since 1978, so I have seen a lot of these things come and go. Consider that the list on the white board below begins in 2001 and, BTW, is not even close to exhaustive even for this era. Every fall we return to school and hear about "new" concepts that we are supposed to implement in our classrooms based on all kinds of "new" research. Young teachers are often excited by this, but older teachers have seen it all before. We know this is either A) retread material of things that have been around forever or B) some new trendy thing that will be gone within two years, and in either case we also know it's going to be more of a pain in the butt for us than anything else.

And the crazy thing about it is that it is not teachers who come up with this lunacy. It is governors. It is Arne Duncan, Obama's worst appointment ever. (OK, I *might* accept Larry Summers as an argument, but at least he didn't last long.) It is politicians, not educators, who have messed up education and made educators continually jump through hoops instead of, say, teaching kids.

As I say, it's exhausting. If it were still, as it once was, all about the kids, I'd do it forever. But it has not been about that for over a decade now, and I've been fighting it for awhile. And in Illinois, there is the additional worry about our pensions, which are the sole means of support we have in our retirement because by law here we are not allowed to pay into Social Security. (Further, until the late 90's, we were not even allowed to have individual retirement funds.) The government started raiding the pension funds to balance the budget in the 80's, and teachers shouted how dangerous it was, not to mention a violation of the state constitution. The Chicago Tribune just trumpeted praise for the GOP governor who did it, saying how he "finally" had a balanced budget. And then it kept happening over the next several decades, governor after governor, though we kept yelling. And now? The state is insanely in debt and the pensions are one huge reason why and the Tribune, of course, is blaming it all ON THE GREEDY TEACHERS who demand these luxurious pensions. They blame it on the pols too, but we PAY (I think it's up to 9% or something?) for our pensions! And they--and the new governor--want to take them away or diminish them. It's all a nightmare.

So I'm getting out. It's too bad, really. When I'm in the classroom, or when I see former students, as I have done often this summer, I am in heaven. I wanted to be a teacher in sixth grade, when I had an English teacher who instilled in me a passion for what teaching can be. But it takes a younger, more energetic person to maintain that passion these days. My daughter Melanie​ wants to teach English. I hope she does. I hope she and *her* passion find ways to beat back the insanity.

Or, even better, I hope that the insanity, like the candidacy of Donald Trump, finally reveals itself for what it is and we can all get back to just teaching kids. It will be a much better world.
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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Caitlyn and Heroism and Me

It's been almost a week now since The Cover Photo, and for transgender people across the country, the world has changed in both tangible and intangible ways. Many have already elected to come out or become more vocal about who they are because of Caitlyn Jenner, and good for them. All have heard the nearly incessant commentary--both good and bad--about "transgenderism" and whether those who feel this oppressive and overwhelming understanding about themselves are "heroes" for "living our truth" or "sick" people who "need help." I watched a particularly patient transgender advocate sit next to a woman from the American Family Association on a Fox News segment and somehow remain completely calm and on message as this allegedly Christian woman told her she was just a self-deluded and possibly dangerous man in a dress, echoing words that an allegedly Christian minister had just spoken. But I have watched many other videos of families accepting and loving their TG children, siblings, spouses and parents, and read so much support for Caitlyn that it makes me think there is really some hope in all of this.

It all brings me back seventeen years to my own transition. Back then, transgender was not a word on everyone's tongues as it is today. Few people who were not directly involved, either as transpeople themselves or as people who knew someone who had transitioned, even had heard of it, unless they remembered old news stories of RenĂ©e Richards or Christine Jorgensen. And here I was, in a conservative, upper middle class suburb of Chicago, a 40-year-old school teacher with a family who had been haunted quite literally all of my life by the knowledge that I was truly female, about to make the outside match the inside. When I started telling some colleagues, they each said the same thing: you can't do that here. (Well, a gay colleague said, I guess that takes the pressure off of us, but even he reiterated the other sentiment.)

The thing is: I was pretty certain they were right. I had gone to see someone from Lambda Legal, the only legal service specifically working with the LGBT community, about my upcoming transition, seeking help in case things went south. Their response, once I had explained it all? We can't help you. We are busy trying to get the fight for gay marriage started, and we can't afford to take on cases that are unwinnable. Unwinnable. I had known it anyway, but to hear that from Lambda Legal... The problem was that there had never been a case in the United States of a teacher transitioning successfully on the job. Someone had tried it in the 70's but had been fired and that had been upheld. Someone in Minnesota was currently trying it, but if she managed to come back at all she was going to be moved out of the classroom into the library. Someone in Seattle was going to try it but they were going to make her take a year off and then return as an administrative assistant. What I was trying to do: walk out of my classroom door in June as a male and back through it in August as a female? It had never been done.


Compounding that, my union rep told me I could not let the administration know about it because, if I did, that would make it a personnel matter instead of a personal one, and my only possible hope was to argue that it was a personal matter. I could not be the one to concede that it was a personnel issue. Of course, being a personal issue, they couldn't ask me about it either, so on and on we went all year, rumors beginning to fly as my appearance began to change, until finally the principal was forced to ask me about it, to my intense relief. After some rough first weeks--she was mad (justifiably, I thought) that I had not told her--she and the superintendent told me that they would completely support my transition. I was stunned. Ecstatic, of course, but stunned. (I have always believed that they had lawyers look into it and found that, since I had fifteen years' tenure, they had no legal standing to fire me without a court battle, which no one in this very private community would want. Whatever: they supported me!) In May, at a faculty meeting, we announced my upcoming transition to the staff. I went to graduation in male clothing and never have dressed that way since (except as an emergency fill-in for one of my male students in a play two weeks ago...the show must go on).

There was press galore. Oprah and Jerry Springer and pretty much every talk show under the sun wanted me on. The Chicago Tribune wanted to do a photo spread and cover story for their then-glossy Sunday magazine. Every TV and radio station wanted interviews. Despite a nagging voice within me telling me that it might be a teachable moment for the world about being transgender, I declined them all. I had three young children and, since this was unexplored territory, I had no clue whether there might potentially be reprisals spawned by hate that could be violent. I did not want my face out there, and I somehow succeeded in keeping it from getting out there. The news vans outside the school satisfied themselves with interviews with students and other staff members; they were not getting me. And after a few weeks, it all died down.

I have no clue what, if anything, Fox said about it. They were not yet what they are today. Thank goodness. They don't know my name today. No one does, I guess. It bothers me sometimes, that no one realizes that I am in fact one of the major pioneers in transgender history. In the last decade, I have worked with many, many LGBT kids who have needed someone to talk with and a few transkids who needed help with transitions in various ways. I've given talks at LGBT youth centers and university gender panels. Recently I was invited to Washington to speak at a rally for Leelah Alcorn. All of these were arranged through kids who knew me in school. But I am a cipher in the history books, and it's really my own fault. I prioritized protecting my kids over getting the message out. I'd do it the same way again without hesitation, but I have to admit that I do wish my contribution was acknowledged.


People are calling Caitlyn Jenner a hero. Others take umbrage, saying that word should be used for true heroics, as on a battlefield. Someone suggested we coin the term "civil hero" for such inspirational forces. I don't know what I think. All I know is this:

When I transitioned, people kept saying that about me. They kept calling be heroic, calling me brave. Over and over again, people had that same reaction to what I had done. And my reply was invariably the same: I did the only thing I could do. If I could have done anything else, believe me, I would. No one in her right mind would choose to do this if there were any other options. I don't know if it is really "brave" to do the only thing a person can possibly do.

Some argued with that, saying that risking all of the social backlash was still brave, no matter what. Some thought about it and told me they had never looked at it that way before. Many times over the years I have been called a "hero" just for being who I am: an openly transgender woman teaching in a public high school in a conservative community. I don't think that is "heroic"; I think that is "honest." And if I had a student in my class, I'd like to think that is the central ideal that his or her teacher was modeling every day: honesty. Integrity. Self-worth. Being able to say to the world: no one can tell me I have less value because I am who I am.

Being honest with and about yourself is a hard thing to do. It took me forty years to learn that it is the only way to live your life. Trying to keep essential parts of Self held inside just makes life difficult, incomplete, painful, and dishonest. Yes it can be very hard to acknowledge our truths. But it is the most valuable thing we can do for ourselves and for those around us, and the only thing we can do to allow ourselves to be full and true citizens of our world. Maybe in the end that isn't really worthy of being in history books unless we all are worthy. To paraphrase David Bowie: we can all be heroes.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Power of a Pronoun

You know, it may have seemed strange that Bruce Jenner is still calling himself by male pronouns and using the name "Bruce," but it really isn't: he announced his gender identity, not his transition. When that time comes, there will be a new name and a new set of pronouns as well, most likely.
I had my own pronoun issue yesterday. It came at the very end of what had been a very successful Art Fair weekend at my church. I'm in charge of the raffle and we took in more money than we had last year--a super effort by all concerned in an exhausting 48 hours. As it drew to a close, I was celebrating by thanking one of the artists for a painting I had won. A little girl, who had helped pull names and had also won a print, said something to a woman who was with her family about the joyful reception the woman was giving to my painting.
"No, Honey," the woman said, "I wasn't talking about your picture. I was talking about his."
I admit to having been tired and worn-out, but I was wearing feminine attire, painted nails, and earrings, and I have not been misgendered in years even on the phone, let alone IRL. I probably stutter-stepped a fraction of a second, but I continued on my way to the artist's booth, and then I went back to the raffle area, spent an hour or so cleaning up, and went home, where the pent-up frustration and exhaustion burst forth into tears I could not hold back and, at only 5:00, I went to sleep for the night.
It's stupid, I know. I mean I'm seventeen years after transition. I have had a very successful post-transition life. Just a few weeks ago, I needed to tell someone I was trans for an official document and he was floored; he said he had no clue. But a random thing like this happens and it knocks me over so easily and causes me to obsess about it all the next day. The thing is that cisgender people laugh that kind of thing off. For me, it crawls under my skin and nests. 
I have a theory: many/most/(all? probably not, but at least a whole bunch of) late transitioners, even those of us who have known since birth that we are female, even those of us who have no trouble navigating in a female world, no matter what we know to be true, no matter what we tell ourselves or the world--unless we've had facial surgery--can't help seeing the shape of the former person we lived as for all of those years when we look in a mirror. Not every time, mind you, but enough times that it is disheartening and, well, bloody annoying. It has nothing to do with who we are. It has only to do with what we look like. But our society intertwines identity and self-worth and appearance, and there isn't much we can do about that. And especially for late transitioners who have spent our entire lives wishing we could be the girls around us, who now see trans youth able to do just that in a modern world full of hormone blockers and more accepting parents (at least for the lucky ones) and no reason anymore to wait until forty or later, no reason to go the Bruce Jenner route of becoming the ultimate man to fight the female demon within, it is easy to feel a kind of jealousy.
Or maybe it is only me. I have, after all, done myself no easy service by spending my entire life in the company of high school girls. When I transitioned, I was not comparing myself to other forty year old women; I was comparing myself to the females with whom I surrounded myself: 17-year-olds. It was hardly a reasonable comparison. Sadly, as I have grown older, flabbier, grayer, and closer to retirement, it has not gotten any easier. I still see high school girls more often than any other females in my universe. The only one who comes close is my daughter, who is 20, and therefore not much help in this particular regard. (Sorry, Melanie.)
Maybe this is all just a silly exercise. I mean it was one person, one time, right? And, hell, maybe I totally misheard the context of the line anyway and she was talking about someone entirely different. Or perhaps it was as a friend has suggested: one of those random moments in our lives (that happen more and more often the older we get) when we simply say the wrong name or pronoun without meaning to. I mean, hey, I've done that myself. Just an hour earlier, in my sheer exhaustion, I had called a raffle winner on the phone to let her know she had won and asked her deep-voiced husband if he was Gretchen. I didn't even notice I had done it until he said, "No." So heck: I'll go with it. I'll keep telling myself that and eventually perhaps I will come to believe it is possible. The human mind is a powerful thing.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Beginning of the End of the American Empire

This post of FDR's "Economic Bill Of Rights has been making its way around the internet. I came across it on Facebook. To me, it just makes sense: if we are a great nation--hell, if we care at all for our people--we should see to it that they have this much at least. But I have friends--conservative friends--who disagree.

The argument seems to be that, while these are certainly excellent ideals, worthy things to strive for, it goes beyond the power of any nation to call them "rights."

Excuse me?

Whatever happened to "American Exceptionalism"? Isn't that the theme that is supposed to be part of the conservative model of this country? Now I am not saying that I *agree* with it--we are what we are, flaws and all--but I hardly see how one can argue that we ought to be called "exceptional" if we allow millions of our own people to live lives lacking these fundamentals of decent humanity that so many other nations supply every one of their people. Instead, we allow our richest people to hoard our wealth and our government to spend our collective wealth on an ever-growing military that is the envy of the world but is also absurd in its incongruity.

We could supply *all* of these basic needs for a tiny fraction of the military budget. Instead we continue to fund 500-billion dollar boondoggles like the F-35 because it suits political whims and spend *trillions* of dollars fighting unnecessary wars because---because---well, no one can really say WHY. It sure as heck wasn't WMDs. It sure as heck wasn't 9-11. It sure as heck wasn't Al Qaeda. (Could it have been Bush's Daddy issues? Cheney's interests in oil companies? Rumsfeld's outsized ego?)

Bottom line: we live in a country that seems to value the daily lives of individual people less and less each day, which makes sense because, each day, it becomes closer and closer to the oligarchical society our Founding Fathers sought to escape from. The only difference between the Koch Brothers and King George is that King George wore a crown and everyone recognized him as the one in charge.

All empires fall, and ours is falling right now. It will not last the century in its current form, even if by some miracle the earth as we know it does. In retrospect, the great democratic experiment that was the USA began to fail with the fall of the Soviet Union. Once we no longer had a common great enemy, the right wing of this country--with no unifying principle--was in disarray. It needed a new focus, and it found one: the country itself. Its previously precarious unholy alliance with the religious right was solidified and codified, and--beginning with local elections for town councils and school boards--obscenely right wing, fundamentalist, narrow-minded people began infiltrating our political scene at all levels. It led eventually to what we have now: a nation divided into people who understand the world as it is and was and tens of millions who, due to thirty years of having the same lunatic ideas beaten into them, many from birth, now believe things that the rest of the world absolutely scoffs at...for good reason.

How can so many Americans doubt evolution? How can so many Americans, enjoying our ultra-sexy movies and TV shows, be such prudes about sexual conduct? How can so many Americans have forgotten the Melting Pot? How can so many Americans actually believe that our Founding Fathers wanted a Christian country? How can so many Americans actually believe that the Second Amendment had *anything* to do with *anything* other than the need for militias in an era before the country had its own mind-boggling standing army? How can so many Americans believe in the absurd notion--proffered only in recent decades by the way--of "American Exceptionalism" in the first place?

And how can this even remotely be possible?

For the answers to these and other questions, see above: the decades-long control of school boards by the right wing and the religious right have succeeded in the "dumbing down" of the American people. We now have tens of millions who believe what they have always been told and do not know enough to question it, people who are now revved up by Fox News on a daily basis to keep that party line intact. And when you add those numbers to the *economic conservatives"--people who fool themselves into believing the principles of trickle down economics despite the last three decades of evidence that it SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK, telling themselves that it is a more "grown-up" and "realistic" form of economics while the richest get richer whenever Democratic Presidents manage to get their way and impose its opposite on Wall Street, lifting it to ever-higher record-breaking daily finishes--there are enough sheep to combine with those who swallow the other lie fostered by the right wing that there is "no difference" between the parties to keep the right in the political pictures when it should have died a natural death decades ago.

Because it did not, I fear, America will. Not a huge revolutionary death, I expect. More like death by a thousand splinters. Unless something radical reverses this process, the stagnation of America will become gangrenous. I think it may already have begun to do so. This is not at all the country I grew up in, in which the word "secession" would never have been bandied about like a political baton, nor would the President of the United States--who was then Richard Nixon, for crying out loud!--have been submitted to the kind of unabated hate speech that Obama has been hearing since he began his initial campaign. This is a country in which we are all armed to the teeth against a fear we do not even understand, and someday, probably not all that long from now, we are all going to get caught in the crossfire.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Justice For Leelah

Today in Washington, DC, there was a rally and march in the memory of Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old transgender girl who, a few weeks ago, killed herself because she could see no hope. Her parents' staunchly religious-based response to her coming out to them was to get her "conversion" therapy--which never works and does serious harm. Leelah went online, wrote a suicide note, and threw herself in front of a truck.

She is one of thousands of TGs--young and older--who have had similar responses to the absurdity of society's reactions to the simple fact of our existence. But for some reason, Leelah's specific circumstances and her voice have risen above the clutter, have become a clarion call for change. So across the country there have been vigils, marches, rallies in her name, and each of them wanted what was wanted in Washington: desperately needed reform. Make conversion therapy illegal, just for starters. Treat transpeople like human beings.

I live and work in the Chicago suburbs, but because I happen to know one of the rally's organizers I was asked if I would like to speak. I'm a good choice, as the first transgender teacher in the nation, a transgender parent, and the parent of a transgender child. Not a bad trifecta when it comes down to it, and it was on these subjects that I was asked to expound. Of course I agreed, so on a very cold day in DC--maybe not as cold as Chicago, but then I am not foolish enough to stand around outside making speeches in Chicago--I found myself today in Mt. Vernon Square speaking into a portable microphone to a few hundred people who had gathered in front of a library.

What follows is the speech I gave.


Our final speaker is a teacher, a writer, and a parent, who also happens to be transgender. In 1998, she was the first teacher in America to transition on the job, in a conservative suburb of Chicago. All these years later, she still teaches at the same school. Please welcome Karen Topham.


Thank you.

I was surprised to be able to do what I did seventeen years ago. People told me it couldn’t be done, and anyway that Lake Forest, Illinois, was certainly not the place to try it. Lambda Legal even refused to represent me—they said they needed to take on cases they could win. But I figured, hey, why not? People can surprise you. And they did.

1998 was a time when LGB had hardly entered the nation’s lexicon and T was something you drank with honey when your aunt was visiting. No one understood transsexuals, as we were all called then. I was about to become a member of some exotic and rare species. A curiosity. Maybe something you saw in a zoo. I told people—and there was so much truth in this—that I existed to make everyone’s life more interesting.

My greatest concern when I transitioned was not my job, though it was a concern. It was the impact that it would have on my three children. They were young at the time—13, 5, and 3—and I worried that I could be exposing them to potential violence and to things they could not understand. My father, whose politics stand somewhere to the right of Rush Limbaugh, and who did NOT accept me, demanded in fact that I wait until they were out of high school at least; he never could comprehend that my transition was the only way I could preserve myself so that I would still be there to see them all get out of high school.

My children, as it turned out, were fine. When I told my five year old, she replied, “Oh! You have a girl brain? Then you’re a girl!” I knew right then I would always have the most important relationships in my world. And throughout their growing up, I could not imagine what life would have been like without them. They told the world they had “two moms” and explained that when they felt like it, and even though their parents were divorced, my world was whole and complete.

In this way, and in this way only, I feel real sympathy for the parents of Leelah Alcorn. The worst nightmare I can possibly imagine for any parent is to bury a child, and that is what they have had to do. And the saddest part is that, in this case, it was so absurdly unnecessary. It did not need to happen. They turned their backs on their daughter’s needs because of their strict adherence to outmoded and artificial religious beliefs.

Let me say that again: They turned their backs on their child’s needs because of religious beliefs.

Not that it doesn’t happen again and again in this world, but really: Does that make any sense at all?

In the name of Jesus, who asked that we love even the least among us, they caused their own child unconscionable pain. They made her hate them so much that her dying words to them were an obscenity splattered across the internet. And now they have an empty bedroom where a child once slept. And no matter how much they deny it, no matter how much they tell themselves it is not so, you know that as they try to slip into sleep each night they are thinking that this was their fault. They would be doing so even if it were not their fault. It’s what parents do. And in this awful, powerful, sad case, the terrifying truth is that it was at least to some degree their fault.

I say “to some degree.”

Leelah might not agree with me, might want me to pin all the blame on her parents. But I can’t. I can’t because I know first hand how hard it is when a child tells you this news. You see I am not only a transgender woman, but I am also the parent of a transgender son. And when my 17-year-old, who had been very troubled for a lifetime, came to me one evening and told me that, no, “lesbian” was wrong, and so was “bisexual,” and a recent heterosexual fling was just wrong—that in truth he was actually a boy… well it’s hard to admit this but my first reaction was anger.

Yes, I was angry.

This child had been reinventing personas for at least a decade, had gone through about five names, characters and sexualities by then, had been very difficult to understand a lot of the time, and yet I had always accepted and offered love and support. But this time… this time seemed a blatant copycatting of me and it was crazy… and I knew from my own experience how awful and traumatic a transition can be if it is not fully accepted, and that it would not be fully accepted, and how much pain there would be. I did not want that for my child.

Transition was hard for my son. He was the first transgender student in his school, and his school did everything wrong. He was made to use the girls’ bathrooms. Only a couple of teachers ever used his chosen name. No one but a few friends used the right gender when referring to him. He had to fight for every bit of acceptance he got. It took him a year and a half—until the last choral concert of his career—before he finally received permission to perform in a tux rather than a dress. But oh he beamed that night. I had not seen him so happy in years.

So it took a while for me to come around. Not as long as my father, who seventeen years later has still not really come around and mostly just pretends I am no different whenever fate thrusts us together. But when I knew my son was serious, when I knew it was real, of course I accepted it: I love my son; that’s what you do. And now, all these years later, he has fully transitioned and is on hormones and, though he is still troubled by issues having nothing to do with gender, he is healthier and more focused than he has been in years.

As a teacher, I think I’d give myself a C- for that one.

I mean I let my own emotions get in the way of my child’s needs, and I did not recognize that he was finally at the one epiphany in his life that was real and true. But I think my son is a different case than most. As I said, his problems were more complicated than gender issues. In most cases, though, what parents are faced with is more straightforward: a child who tells them that he or she is not the gender they thought they had. And I understand that this might come as quite a surprise, especially if, like me, the child was hiding it out of fear. And then, suddenly, your seemingly normal boy tells you, “Hey, Mom, I’m a girl”? You might be excused a momentary bit of shock.


See here is the thing: that announcement was the single most important thing that child has ever said. She has been building toward that moment for a long time, and in this next few minutes lies the entire future. I know. I tried to tell my mom when I was twelve and she shut me down. The next time I tried to tell anyone was when my universe was imploding because of my gender dysphoria, when I was forty. So when your child starts this conversation, listen. And do more than that. Hear. Hear the desperation in the voice of a young person who can no longer live a life he or she does not understand and does not feel is right. Hear the plea when your child asks you to help make right what nature had not. Listen to the words, but hear the pain that underscores them.

And if your child is talking to you at a point in life where pain is still far away because he or she is too young to understand society’s nonsense, then count your blessings, but hear the echo of the pain that will be there if you don’t help. Because none of this is ever going to go away.

It won’t be easy. Transgender children tend to be even more self-centered than cis-children. And we all know how self-centered children can be. They have finally succeeded in being themselves, and that is everything! And while you may be struggling with the changes, trying to keep up with everything, your child is reveling in them and wondering why you are not just excited for him or her at every second. And when you screw up—because you will—it can send your child into a funk. Even as tiny a matter as a pronoun—you may think it went unnoticed, but it didn’t--when you screw up, just apologize and move on. As long as you are trying, that will register. So try. It’s just a word. You’ll get it. Tell you what: you have my permission to have a little extra trouble if your child wants to be called “they,” because as an English teacher I concur that “they” is just weird, but even they is ultimately a legitimate choice, and it is a thing you can get used to. There are far deeper issues.

With my son, along the way were a hundred dark depressions. Along the way were deep and suicidal moments. I understood them. I have had them myself.

You all know the statistics: 41% of TG people try to commit suicide. Too many, like Leelah, succeed. I am part of those statistics; so is my son. We are still here because we happen to have a loving support system, something that Leelah did not have. But it is not really all her parents’ fault that she did what she did any more than it is my father’s fault that I tried to kill myself or my fault that my son wanted to. The fault lies in the hopelessness that is engendered when we see where all of this leads in the society we are going to end up living in. The fault lies in bigotry and prejudice and fear that cause people to reject that which they do not understand. The fault lies not in God and religion itself but in the ways people twist them to justify their own hatred and stubborn rejection. The fault lies in antiquated laws that need to be updated NOW to protect all of us in the workplace, in schools, in shopping malls, and (yes) even in our own homes. The fault lies in a society that not only tolerates but collaborates in the fears and prejudice of the least informed of its people, providing even a police force that far too often tends to laugh at and fail to respond properly to the needs of transgender victims of crime.

Of course, we are that society. So in a very real way, the fault lies in us.

Leelah Alcorn and so many others took their own lives because they could see no other way out. They saw no possible way of becoming who they knew they needed to be, and they were not strong enough to live as anyone else. When I sat in a garage with a car running I felt the same way. I was saved by the fortunate interference of a phone call from a friend from church who had missed me at a meeting. I have never known why I answered that phone, but I’ve always been glad I did. If I had not been there, I honestly do not think my son would have made it through his transition. And that particular domino effect is not one I care to contemplate.

If you ask me, though, I’ll tell you this:

Being the parent of a TG child is the most natural thing in the universe. You take a child you love. Add even more love to help him through difficult moments. Change a pronoun and a name. You know what you have?

Your child.


Sadly, horrendously, this is a thing that Leelah Alcorn’s parents did not figure out. And because of that, they will suffer for the rest of their lives. And because Leelah’s final messages happened to capture the attention and the imagination of social media in a way that none before her had, we are gathering here like others elsewhere to remember her and to demand justice and changing laws. And maybe, just maybe, this is the tipping point. Maybe this is the one case that will be able to put a face on this nightmare that the non-LGBT world can see, that our cis-brothers and sisters can point to when they think about the thing they would rather not be thinking about.

Maybe Leelah Alcorn will finally be the one to help bring about the change she wanted to see in the world. We can only hope. Because out there are a thousand other Leelahs, scared and thinking that they are alone, watching what happens here. And God help us all if we don’t do something that stops more parents from learning what it feels like to know that empty room.
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it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

xkcd - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and