If I Was Leelah’s Mom

Posted on Jan 2, 2015 | 15 comments

Leelah Alcorn is pretty much all I’ve been able to think about for the last few days. My family is all snug at home, enjoying time together during the holiday break and staying inside playing games to escape the bitter cold. But even surrounded by warmth and happiness, my husband and kids, I think about Leelah.

I’ve wrestled with various emotions when thinking of her parents. Anger, possibly a little hatred, a lot of pity, and a tiny sliver of understanding. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, to think that they loved Leelah deeply but were overwhelmed and confused, trying to understand but finding it to be a struggle. I didn’t want to judge them purely by Leelah’s words, as we all know that a one-sided story often leaves out some important information. But now that Leelah’s mom has spoken to CNN, saying that they loved her as a son but could never accept her as a daughter, I am left with nothing but pity for her. They were emotionally abusive. They didn’t love her conditionally; they had limits. I’m heartbroken because I know that this story could have turned out so differently.

If I was Leelah’s mom…when I saw signs of my child’s distress, I would have sought out answers. I would have asked our family doctor; asked friends if they had similar experiences and advice; read books — dozens and dozens of books, any that I could find; spent hours online pouring over page after page on site after site, arming myself with information. I may not have liked some of the answers, but I would have wanted to learn as much as possible to be sure I was informed and had the answers I needed to eventually help my child. I know I would have done this, because it’s what I did when AJ started showing signs of distress at the age of 4, the age Leelah says she was when she first knew she was different. Maybe Leelah was a great actor and hid these feelings, but eventually she spoke up.

If I was Leelah’s mom…even if I had missed subtle signs of her sadness for a decade, when she was 14 and discovered that her feelings had a name and that she wasn’t alone, when she decided to try to talk to me about it and tell me she was transgender, I would have listened without judgment. I would have hugged her, told her I loved her, and that even if I didn’t understand, I would always love her exactly as she is. I would not have yelled at her, said things to her like “You’ll never be a real girl” or “God going to send you straight to hell.” I know this because when my daughter first said the words “Mom, I’m a girl on the inside,” my reply to her was “Oh? Ok. Thank you for telling me.” My mind was reeling, of course, with a thousand overwhelming thoughts and questions, concerns and fears, but I was determined not to show her those feelings and create any doubt in her mind about my love for her. My job as a mom is to protect and to nurture, not to cause pain or sadness in my child.

If I was Leelah’s mom…when she confided in me that she felt like a girl, I would not have told her she would be condemned by God. I would not have looked for a biased therapist who would tell me what I wanted to hear but rather one who would be open and honest with me about the realities of Gender Dysphoria. I know this because I checked out several psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists in our area to see which ones had both educational credentials and actual experience with patients struggling with gender issues before deciding which one to see with AJ.

If I was Leelah’s mom…I would not have chosen to follow my church’s beliefs about people who are transgender rather than listen to my child’s belief about who she was. I would have recognized that with thousands of denominations within Christianity, all having disagreements on what is right versus what is wrong, what is a choice versus what is in one’s nature, what is a sin and even the seriousness of that sin on a scale of meh-that’s-not-so-bad-but-don’t-do-it-again all the way up to OMG-you-should-be-feeling-the-flames-of-Hell-licking-at-your-backside-already, that some of them have to be wrong. I would have looked deeply into my child’s eyes, and seeing the pain there, I would have gambled on the side of trusting my child to be right and my particular Christian denomination to be wrong. I know this because it’s exactly what I did. I chose to see how real my daughter’s distress was rather than to blindly accept what the Southern Baptist Convention said about the transgender experience. I had no clue if anyone in the SBC leadership had ever met or spoken with a trans man or woman, but I knew my child and I could see that her torment was real.

But sadly, I was not Leelah’s mom…and her mom made very different choices.

People defending Leelah’s mom say “You can’t judge her until you’ve been in her shoes.” Well, I have been, so I guess I should be able to judge her. But I won’t because we aren’t put here to judge each other. That’s a lesson from Christianity that Leelah’s mom failed to grasp. It’s also a lesson that “preachers” peddling hate have failed to grasp. They want their followers to believe that supporting a transgender child and allowing him or her to transition to their affirmed gender is child abuse. They scream it online and from the pulpit. And yet, my child who was affirmed and supported in living as her true gender is alive, happy and laughing down the hall from me, while Leelah who was yelled at, sent to therapy to be fixed, and isolated from friends so that she felt completely alone is now gone. Which life sounds like the one filled with abuse?

If I was Leelah’s mom…and I was sitting alone in my home today thinking about the suicide of my child and all of the choices I had made, I would be on my knees in anguish, praying with such fervor that the sweat on my brow was red with blood, begging God to forgive me for failing my daughter.


Debi Jackson


  1. It was my blood family that disowned me . I was and still am a parent that my children un-loved !

  2. Thank you for this, Debi. One of my closest friends is transgender and hearing her pain and anguish at simply wanting to be on the outside who she’s always been on the inside, breaks my heart.

    Thank you for being a voice of reason, Good and grace.

    With blessings,

  3. Sadly for some of us we get rejected even later in our lives by our parents. My example told my parents at 33 I was born in wrong body, I got kicked out & disowned then subjected to religious diatribes from my mum (who suddenly became super religious but couldn’t see that she was being anything but Christian) as for my dad he bullied me so much emotionally at work that I had to leave my job (his own views are that trans people do not exist & that the Gender Clinics are a waste of time. It’s been nearly 4 years & my parents won’t accept me yet my mum keeps saying she’ll end up being judged when she dies & does nothing about it.

    Why is it that time & time again we hear of stories like Leelah’s that involved so called Christians being anything but Christian. I have zero sympathy for her parents (not that they deserved to be called that). They gave up the right to be called parents & decent human beings when they turned their backs on their own daughter & began a sickening pattern of emotional abuse (if there is a god I hope one day he judges them…)

    • Aleutia, I hear similar stories from friends all the time. I know a handful of people who have had a reconciliation with their family years later…sometimes decades. Sadly, most families don’t realize that the rejection can cause so much pain that a future reconciliation won’t have a chance to take place. When a person is driven to suicide from the pain and sadness, there won’t be a chance to reach out. I hope that people hear Leelah’s story, recognize themselves in it, and decide that their child, their sibling, their friend is more valuable alive and will try to make amends.

  4. Thanks, Debi.
    Reading your blog was like reading all the same thoughts I had and still have about Leelah’s parents. I am a very proud and supportive mum who has and will do anything to make sure my mtf child is happy, fulfilled and healthy. I struggle to comprehend how a mother could treat her child this way. I am so angry and have a million questions for Leelah’s mother but I don’t even think she’d acknowledge she’s done anything wrong. To get on TV and talk about her ‘son’! And when I read Leelah’s suicide note and saw what she had said to her parents, my heart ripped into a million pieces because I’d die if my children ever thought of me in this way. What they subjected her to (and at first I approached it all with an open mind) was an outright disgrace! What loving parent does that to their child? If she is a good Christian (where Christianity preaches love), then why and how did this happen? It goes to show you that ones interpretation of religion can be so very wrong.
    I haven’t stopped thinking of Leelah and the pain she endured. I pray that this is a lesson to others and that we must protect and embrace all! I am scared beyond belief about the future for my daughter, but I am praying that our love, security, protection and proactive approach in educating others in understanding and acceptance, helps pave the way for my child, and children for that matter, to enjoy a life free of violence and the prejudice of others.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Debi. Because as a mum, I am feeling exactly the way you are.
    Bless you for being a wonderful mum!

  5. Morning. I’d love to reblog this on my own: do check it out.

    Two questions: may i? And is there a feature here to allow me to do that without cut and paste faff?

    • Hi, and thank you for the question. I don’t think I set it up for that, but maybe you could quote a few parts and then link to it for the entire post. It’s 3am here, so I can try to look into it better in a few hours after some sleep and coffee. 🙂

  6. I too know what it is to lose the ‘son’ that you loved. I have mourned the loss of the child I thought I had brought up, I cried lots and I didn’t understand what was happening. I knew my child was suffering & suicidal, however, and as I am not religious I knew I had no answers myself, so resolved to learn. I read everything I could get my hands on, even ordered books from USA which weren’t available in UK. Had no computer/internet in those days, this was done through the local bookshop. Within a few months I had become knowledgeable enough to not only cope with my loss and accept my daughter, but to positively welcome her & help her though transition.
    She is now a mature woman with a good career, a loving partner, a nice home, a good life. Poor Leelah, that she had parents with closed minds and cut her life short. Who know what she might have been in 20 years time. I do know that if things had been different I might have not just spent a lovely xmas in my daughter’s home. I might have been putting flowers on my child’s grave. The Alcorn’s have lost more than they can ever know.

  7. I’ve tried but can’t work up any sympathy for Leelah’s parents. They ignored their daughter all through life and are continuing to ignore her after death. My opinion will change if they ever accept responsibility for their actions and try, in some way, to make amends. As for now, I keep thinking of Leelah too and wishing she had supportive parents who would have embraced their daughter and shown real unconditional love (the kind that doesn’t string a “but” along behind).

  8. I am not religious,I was raised in a family that studied an was open to religion but for me it didn’t stick,so unlike Leelah’s mum I didn’t have to deal with the thoughts of my child being a sin,it was not in my teaching.I have had to deal with society’s opinion on this matter, but that has not stuck either. I love my children like I have never loved another ,I would die for my children. I wish so much that I was Leelah’s mother because maybe she would still be here,in my arms,with my love and support.The world is a much sadder place without her.

  9. Debi, thank you for saying what the rest of us aren’t in the shoes to say. You said it all.

  10. I read about Leelah and I want to put a neon sign on my house saying “no perfect parents here, lots of chores to do, but I promise never to say anything mean. You are welcome. Whoever you are!” I’m not a perfect parent. My kids live with my ex most of the time because of a combination of factors including less chores at his place and my husband being hard to get along with, but unconditional love only for a boy or a girl or a heterosexual or a left-hander or someone without ear piercings or…. is NOT unconditional love. Kids deserve and they need unconditional love – it’s part of what gets them through how awful the teenage years are.

    I am going to do everything I can to fix the system for Leelah. And for my kids – and maybe for my grandkids, should there eventually be any.

    Let’s not pick on Leelah’s parents – that won’t solve anything. Let’s open our arms and our hearts to the kids who need foster care, support groups like the National Center for Trans Equality, Trevor Project, etc.

  11. OMG…you are awesome 🙂

  12. Great response, Debi! May your words bring wisdom to families dealing with this issue and abundant life and love to their children.

  13. Your approach gets my vote Debi Jackson. I can’t imagine what’s going on in that family right now, it’s just so heartbreaking. Let me affirm what you already know – not accepting your child’s true nature is abusive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *