I consider myself pretty vocal about my thoughts and feelings when it comes to my social media presence, but lately I’ve been hesitant to post on my Facebook about certain things that have been going in on the news. Part of this came about due to general frustration with the state of the world (I’m holding onto as much teen angst as possible before I turn 20 in April), but a big portion of it was a sudden awareness of the dreaded “SJW” (Social Justice Warrior) label that gets ascribed to folks who consistently write impassioned posts about social justice news and issues on their online accounts. Self-identification is always cool, but I get iffy once you start identifying other people with labels that they may or may not be comfortable with.
SJWs are frequent targets of criticism for folks too cool to express their views and feelings publicly, viewing them as “keyboard warriors” who spend more time typing away about injustice instead of actually trying to enact change of any kind. The term SJW itself indexes the Tumblr activist type; the pop culture nerd with a radical haircut who writes long entries lambasting white heteropatriarchy as the root of society’s evils, while occasionally reblogging cat GIFs. I’m friends with plenty of those people (and am like that to a certain extent), but I’m not necessarily cool with having that label attached to me because I don’t like when other people put me into boxes. If I want to put myself into a box, that’s my prerogative. The gay box, for example. That’s all me. Feminist box? Hell yeah. SJW has negative connotations that I don’t care to identify myself with, so if keeping my thoughts on political issues contained in my own blog space is a way of avoiding that label, so be it. I’ve totally always wanted a blog, anyway.
To be clear, there’s really nothing wrong with being a Social Justice Warrior in my book. Fight the good fight! All of the people I know who that label might apply to are super engaged in activism outside of social media, and they certainly don’t call it a day once they’ve finished writing that 50+ likes status about the latest atrocity in the news. I hate that that’s what people think of SJW types because it’s just not true. Words are important and have weight, and if utilizing social media is the best way to have your voice heard, why not do it? I don’t feel like using my Facebook in that way anymore, so I’ll save it for this blog and for my Twitter. So, let’s talk a little about Leelah Alcorn.
When I first read the news, I was absolutely devastated. It’s taken me a while to process my thoughts on the whole story, but here they are. People commented things like, “Leelah was so beautiful” and “she was so pretty, what a tragedy.” Would it have any been less tragic if Leelah weren’t beautiful? Why is that the takeaway from reading her story and her suicide letter? What about the fact that Leelah was extremely talented as a writer? At 16 years old, Leelah’s writing was at a much higher caliber than a lot of what I’ve seen from students several years older than her at my ‘prestigious’ university. I found Leelah’s voice as I read her letter, and although there’s no way I could ever fully understand her pain, she wrote in a way that powerfully conveyed both her despair for her situation and her passion for the transgender movement. That’s something that some people take their whole lives to learn how to do. She wrote, “My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.” Expressing that becoming a statistic would be a more desirable option than continuing to live is astoundingly tragic coming from anyone, but especially someone so young. Focus not on how “beautiful” she was, but on the fact that we lost a brilliant young person when Leelah Alcorn committed suicide. Media narratives tend to emphasize looks as a factor in what makes a death tragic, which I think is stupid and detracts from what actually matters.
As for Leelah’s parents, I don’t have anything kind to say. I could spew vitriol about how they’re horrible people who have continued to dishonor their daughter even after she committed suicide entirely because of them, or why I think they should be charged with criminal neglect and murder. While I do believe all of that, all I really want to say is that it’s clear that people like them are not equipped to have children. How could you not be aware of the damaging effects that trying to force your beliefs on your child could have on them? We talk so much about how it’s 2015 and how much progress has been made for the LGBTQ community, but transgender issues continue to lag behind the movement in terms of acceptance and understanding. How many trans people need to be driven to suicide or murdered by others before we embrace the ideas of gender and sexual diversity? My heart breaks when I think of the lack of interest there seems to be in truly understanding those who were born different than ourselves among the bulk of mainstream society. Is the idea of gender being more complicated than just “male at birth equals boy and female at birth equals girl” really that difficult to grasp? If you can’t love your child unconditionally, then you don’t deserve to have children. Leelah deserved better than her parents. She deserved better than her murderers.
Not all of my posts will be quite so heavy—the next one will actually be about my fashion influences from television, a comparatively more lighthearted topic. Thanks for the read, and feel free to let me know your thoughts on anything I’ve written. On a happier note, a transgender woman from the lowest caste in India, the Dalit, was recently elected mayor in the state of Chhatisgarh. Isn’t that wild? Here’s the link to that article: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/05/transgender-woman-elected-mayor-india-chhattisgarh