Of course, we’re all talking about Leelah Alcorn. Or at least we should be. And if we’re not, then we’re not grasping the meaning of her last letter to the world. It’s much easier to go through life unaware of actual abuse transgender minors are put through by their own unaccepting parents. Sometimes we just don’t listen, and it isn’t until these struggles are written out in a novel, or a television script, or even a suicide note, and handed to us that we truly listen.
But sometimes scripts and even novels dance around certain things, or they lighten them up with humor and heart. Suicide notes have a habit of being a bit more truthful, and a lot more abrupt.
Leelah’s suicide note was harsh, to the point, and full of anger. It definitely made me rethink a lot of things, including circumstances which I’m guilty of not thinking of enough, such as actual abuse towards transgender children by overly religious parents rather than just unacceptance, not to mention paid professionals who still practice conversion therapy and aid in promoting dysmorphia and shame in their young patients. Is that because I don’t live in this same situation? Or is it because that type of situation isn’t always looked into too deeply, even in the still rare times that transgender issues are talked about? Or is it because these triggering circumstances are often dressed up with flawless supporting characters and a wise beyond their years protagonist who always manages to pick themselves back up, so we don’t have to worry? I think it’s a combination of those three, that keep us away from the whole truth.
If you knew what happened to Leelah and didn’t read the suicide note you would think Leelah was a tortured soul who acted irrationally and should have held on. But I don’t think that’s really true. Leelah, though she was angry and afraid, seemed to me to be present and thoughtful, not irrational. Often, we look for a beautiful tragedy and a heartstrong hero who is somehow both amid yet above all their pain. But that belittles the victim, and romanticizes the entire situation. And when so many others are living it, that’s a huge problem plaguing a situation that does not need anymore negativity surrounding it. Romanticization doesn’t lead to actually changing things and it dehumanizes a situation, leaving it untouched and overlooked. Leelah didn’t find getting above her present pain to be of much worth, because our present society has yet to adjust itself to rightfully accommodate trans people living today.
I’m not going to make any generalizations about her final letter, I don’t believe in glorifying this serious issue by trying to find something beautiful and uplifting in her tragedy. This is a sad and for many people, myself included, highly sensitive issue. What gets to me the most is that she explicitly says anyone who wishes they could have helped her or gotten to know her better is full of shit, so I’m not even going to attempt to try to give any hindsight advice to this gone girl. Instead, I’m going to talk about books, particularly a book that packs the hard truth in the same way a suicide note does and happens to be my Number One All Time Most Favorite Book In The Whole Damn World.
The title of this book is perfect. “Invisible Monsters”. Written by the author who made me realize that writing weird books actually can become an important career rather than just a pipe dream, Chuck Palahniuk. Chuck Palahniuk is a hero and a voice to anyone who has ever lived in complete chaos. “Invisible Monsters” is perhaps the most realistic, chaotic, and tortured novel of his and it is, in my opinion, his greatest. It is also his first novel he ever wrote (yes, even before Fight Club). “Invisible Monsters” tells the absolute truth about being transgender: it can really suck.
I know this book exists far outside the realms of typical Young Adult fiction, but I do think that it is an important read for young
adults transgender or not. There is not a large selection of books with transgender protagonists to begin with anyhow (*cough, cough* this is why we need more diverse books). I love YA, but it has a habit of always catching us when we fall because young adults are fragile things after all. Most YA novels that do deal with trans issues, deal with teenagers and their issues being trans. They don’t go deeply into those dirty details that arise when you are someone like Leelah, who may face rejection and isolation in their adult years. This is why I suggest other transgender teenagers read this, not to scare them or depress them, but to open their eyes.
I’m so proud to live in a world where there are books like Gracefully Grayson and shows like Transparent (Which won TWO GOLDEN
GLOBES). But none of neither of those comes close to the realities that young people like Leelah actually live through. Sure they make you want to cheer on the main characters, and they make you feel proud and give you hope. But what if you’re like Leelah and the hundreds of thousands like her, who are living in a hopeless world? It feels like mockery, it feels like fairy tale, it’s not true to many and it can often make matters worse. I know that has been the case for myself and others I know. When people see these tragically uplifting stories it makes it seem like trans issues are heartwarming and that transphobia is dead, and we’ve achieved equality—hurray! But that’s not entirely true and it aids in real trans issues continuing to be ignored. Our society often searches for romanticism in these tragic and dramatic situations to sugarcoat the harsh realities, but Palahniuk never takes this route. He doesn’t sugarcoat, he rubs salt in the wound. Leelah had a similar approach in her suicide note. Leelah acted on her own accord to free herself, but tried to pave way for others through her pain. Similarly Palahniuk and “Invisible Monsters” gives you hope in the form of a shotgun to the chest.
I love the title “Invisible Monsters” because what other way can you truly describe the transgender community? It’s a community far too often overlooked, and when it does get a glance they are not treated as human. It has been deemed legal to kill a transgender person using the “trans panic” defense. You hear of “honor slaying” (legally killing a homosexual in fear of sexual assault however only standing if the accused is heterosexual) and you think of how barbaric and archaic that is, but in many countries and some states in the U.S., the trans panic defense is still valid and has taken countless lives. Although this defense hasn’t been used within the last few years, the state of California has only just recently become the first and only state to eradicate this. Which doesn’t sound like progress or like the transgender community is getting the rights, recognition, and protection they deserve.
If I could somehow have known Leelah and understood the inner workings of her mind when she was alive and suffering, I would have given her both of my copies of “Invisible Monsters” and “Invisible Monsters: Remixed” that I have read and re-read countless times in my life. But unfortunately I did not know her, and if I did, how could I have known to help? Made to feel shame by her family and paid professionals, forced into isolation, Leelah unfortunately was left with no choice but to feel like an Invisible Monster herself. Even worse, she was made to feel this way by the people she needed most in the world.
This is the same story of Brandy Alexander, born Shane McFarland, the Queen Supreme of “Invisible Monsters”. The story is told from the perspective of Brandy’s closest companion (Who in vain of most of Palahniuk’s work, remains for the most part a nameless narrator) who Brandy often refers to as Daisy. Daisy is disfigured and also an “Invisible Monster” in her own way, forced to hide her disfigurement beneath veils and scarves and due to her disfigurement is left no little to no capabilities of speech. The two meet in a hospital after their reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries and instantly bond. The story then takes off as Brandy employes Daisy to aid her on a journey that Leelah Alcorn was very much afraid of herself, making money to support her full transition.
After being completely ostracized and abused by her family for being gay, “Shane” ran off to become Brandy Alexander. With no support of family, no where to live, no one to take care of her when the side effects of the hormones and surgeries took a toll on her new body, Brandy was almost entirely helpless, depressed, dysmorphic, and worried about this horrific mistake she thought she made. She felt completely alone until fate brought her and Daisy together. And it is a shame that the only person Brandy feels any connection to or camaraderie with is a woman who cannot speak and is often called “a monster”. The only person Brandy can relate to is a faceless, voiceless, non human entity. This disconnection Brandy feels to herself and her place in the world, sadly, is literally embodied by Daisy in a way that many transgender people are made to feel their whole lives.
The story of Brandy’s transition and acceptance of her new life is more than rocky. If you know anything about Palahniuk you know his stories are never ones that leave you feeling completely inspired or entirely glowing. They leave you feeling beat down and spit shined at best. But there’s a unique beauty in this style that only he can achieve. Through the harsh truths, the destruction, the sheer mayhem, and wild twists his stories take, you as a reader close the book feeling like you’ve just gotten the most satisfying punch in the gut that you’ve ever received.
For me, personally, Leelah’s suicide letter left me with almost the exact same feeling.
If Leelah could have known The Queen Supreme Miss Brandy Alexander, I’m sure the two would have been great friends.
They knew what people really thought of them. They knew who they truly were and how disastrous the consequences of being that person would actually be. Leelah’s main concerns were not with the tragedy of her own horrible past, or the pain of her own confusion. She couldn’t handle the reality of finally being free, but then only becoming a prisoner to herself. A slave to her own body that to maintain as what she wanted, would take time, effort, money, family, acceptance, love, and support that she wouldn’t be able to find.
This too was the struggle of Brandy Alexander. Unfortunately for Leelah, she wasn’t allowed to find her own Daisy.
I’m re reading “Invisible Monsters” for a what might be my fifth time, but could likely be more. I need it bad right now, because like many people in this world I know what it’s like hearing that “God doesn’t make mistakes” and then wondering then what the hell you even are. Am I going to have to fear for my life in public, risk being abused or tortured or killed for acting on my own concept of my gender? Or worse, will I be made to feel like I need to torture, abuse, or kill myself like Brandy and Leelah?
I’m left feeling so guilty because I know there have been people like Leelah before who didn’t have the aid of the internet to have
their voices finally be heard—even if it was too late. But I’m glad that voices can be heard now. So I don’t want to waste mine.
YA writers: We need more books like “Invisible Monsters” in the YA community to have an accurate portrayal of real and honest fears that trans teenagers have. I can’t emphasise this enough. It is not hard to find a conflict that they will deal with, or think about, even when they are teenagers, because unfortunately there are plenty. We need to talk about the truth. It can be sometimes hard to hear, but there is always an audience waiting to listen in the YA reader community.
And YA readers: I suggest in the meantime, if you ever feel like you need a really good punch in the face, read “Invisible Monsters”. In all honesty, it is one of those books that will either help you or hurt you—And coming from someone who has read it at many different times in my life, for me it has done both. It will depend on who you are when you read it, and who you decide you want to be after.
Because trust me, it won’t be the same, and it will not be what you were expecting.
Karina Rose and her ya/gay/nerdpunk novels are currently trying their luck in the publishing world. In the meantime, she hopes she is funny on twitter as @karinarosewhite, creepy on Tumblr as TheNightValePost, and as cool as she thinks in real life (Where, let’s be honest, she’s really not and probably just writing some more). She’s from a small beach town in Orange County, California which is why she’s so liberal and so broke.