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A final act of respect: Please bury trans teen Leelah as herself

A final act of respect: Please bury trans teen Leelah as herself

It is heartbreaking enough that Leelah Alcorn appears to have taken her life on Sunday (28 December) because she felt rejected by the family and community in which she grew up.

And it is sad, yet not entirely surprising, that in announcing her death, her family compounded that rejection. They identified her by a name and a gender that she clearly discarded.

But it would be an outrage if those who over-rode her wishes in life now did so in death, insisting on burying her not as she identified – as Leelah – but as a boy named Joshua.

Unfortunately, we have been here before. Jennifer Gable, a 32-year-old trans woman from Idaho, US died suddenly in October 2014.

Despite being fully transitioned for several years, and being known to all her friends as Jennifer, her father took a different view of matters. He instructed the funeral parlor cut Jennifer’s hair short, dress her up in a suit – and in all accompanying notices referred to Jennifer by her dead name and as ‘he’.

This truly was cold, calculated abuse. For unlike the instant Facebook posting by Leelah’s mother, it took time to plan and time to put into action. This was a father laying claim to his daughter’s memory and in place of her very clear wishes, substituting his own view of who she was.

Though of course it was anything but a first. It is not just trans funerals that have been taken over and subverted by those who consider that blood or marriage give them superior rights to dictate how the dead should have lived. Sadly, there are any number of stories of LGBTI folk being frozen out from the last rites of their life love.

Two years ago, a close friend lost a partner suddenly, unexpectedly to cancer. Their attempt to grieve was blown to pieces by the sudden re-emergence of a wife who had not been in contact with this man in a decade. There was no emotional connection. No love. No liking. Much suspicion that the main interest was in the deceased’s estate.

Yet one awful omission – the failure to finalize a divorce – meant my friend was not merely excluded from the funeral: but actively prevented from finding out where he was buried.

That was grotesque.

Surely, though, we should respect the wishes of the ‘nearest and dearest’? A funeral, after all, is a time when friends and family get a chance to let out just a little of the grief they are feeling. For that view, I have some sympathy – but only some.

A funeral is not just about coming to terms with death. It is, too, about coming to terms with a life that has passed. It is one last final party, celebrating a person who is no more. The ultimate irony: it should be the best party the deceased has ever had, if only they were around to turn up for it.

I’ve not – yet – got around to thinking morbid things about my own end. I’ve not updated my will: nor even begun to think about the music I’d like played or where I want donations to be sent. But I know this: if anyone tries to bury me as who I was, to employ a name I no longer own or even, in passing, to reference a gender I am not, I would be angry, upset beyond words.

Because while it may be their grief, it’s MY funeral. Not theirs.

I hope and pray that Leelah’s parents will find some way to allow this last gesture of respect to their daughter. I don’t subscribe to the poisonous brew of vitriol that has been poured on to them over the last 24 hours or so. There is absolutely no excuse for publishing their address or phone number and encouraging others to contact them, as some have done.

Clearly there are issues over what happened. In the fullness of time these will be explored and lessons learned: perhaps change that Leelah would have appreciated will follow.

But please, let us not continue to dissect words spoken in the 24 hours after. If you have ever experienced the death of a child or a sibling you will know, as many seem not to, that there is no reason in the immediate aftermath. Just shock, and shock and more shock. And let us not, please, turn our grief into viciousness towards a family who, whatever mistakes they have made, are themselves also grieving.

Let us, instead, look forward and if we can, give Leelah a send-off and a legacy of which she herself would be utterly proud.