03 March 2015

Ash Haffner: Transgender Teen Commits Suicide

As if it wasn't bad enough that transgender women are being murdered simply for being who they are, transgender teenagers are taking their own lives for the same reason.

More precisely, they are killing themselves because of the bullying, harassment and other mistreatment they incur because others don't accept them.  And trans women are being murdered by people who hate them.  It's almost as if their killers are those schoolyard bullies, a bit older and with more brute strength and lethal weapons.

The difference is, of course, that the trans women I mentioned were killed by someone else, while the trans teens--including the one I'm going to tell you about--killed themselves.

Ash Haffner stepped into oncoming traffic near his North Carolina home this past Friday. That, of course, is the way Leelah Alcorn killed herself in Ohio.  Like her, 16-year-old Ash left a suicide note.

However, their messages were very different.  This is what Ash left on his iPad:

'Please be WHO YOU ARE... Do it for yourself. Do it for your happiness. That's what matters in YOUR life. You don't need approval on who you are. Don't let people or society change who you are just because they're not satisfied with your image.' 

I wish he could have continued to live by his own advice.  But, I have long reckoned that any human being can only take so much.  And, as we know, it's harder for a 16-year-old to believe "It Gets Better" --which, of course, is the reason why Dan Savage does everything he can to bring that message to young people.  The bullying, intense as it was, got worse after he cut his hair and asked to be referred to as "he".

According to the report I read, his mother supported his transition but continued to use the pronoun "she".  Some may say she didn't help his self-esteem.  But I know, from experience, that when someone has known you all of your life in the gender and by the names you were given at birth, it's difficult for that person to switch names and pronouns. Sometimes that person will "slip up" even long after the rest of the world sees you as being of the gender in which you're living.  Somehow I think Ash understood this and had no intention of implicating his mother or family.

But at least Ash's message is some attempt to give others the hope he lost.  That is in marked contrast to what Leelah, a year older, wrote in the last post of her blog, which her family deleted:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. 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.

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

More than anything, her message reflects the lack of whatever support Ash had.  Leelah ends her message about what needs to be done in society, but has resigned herself to not seeing it. Still, her blog post, like Ash's note, is an example of what Miguel de Unamuno meant by "Hombre muere de frio, no de oscuridad" (Man dies of cold, not of darkness.)  Both teens killed themselves because they were left out in the cold.  All we can do is take them in, take in their spirits and take in those who are left.


Anonymous said...

As a member of Ash's High School community, I thank you for your post.

But regarding pronouns, please read the following statement from her mother:

PLEASE SHARE: A STATEMENT FROM ASH HAFFNER'S MOTHER: If you take the time to read Ash's letter to society, which stated "I had a loving mother who FULLY accepted me for who I was and NEVER stopped trying", and gather your facts, you will see that Ash had the FULL support of her family. Additional recent statements posted by Ash stated that she was "having a rough time trying to figure out who she was". That she says "I don't know what I am", I'm confused". That "she's trying to figure it out & just wanted people to BE THERE FOR HER". These statements were addressed to those who made fun of her and did not support her during her time of self discovery. Had Ash decided that the male pronoun "HE" was the preferred pronoun, I as her mother would have been her FIRST and BIGGEST supporter and would have continued to love her unconditionally and honor her choice. At the time of Ash's passing, she did not have a definitive pronoun preference. Therefore, you are not incorrect in whichever pronoun choice you choose to use in however YOU knew Ash. But you ARE INCORRECT in thinking or stating that I am disrespecting my child by not using the specific pronoun "HE" exclusively. I ask that you please have respect for Ash and our family and not continue to pass judgment on her/his identity as society constantly did before her tragic death. I also ask that you refrain from negative posts regarding Ash or her family who FULLY supported her. I also ask that you familiarize yourself with the term "TRANSGENDER" : of or relating to people who have a sexual identity that is not clearly male or clearly female. Those of you who are posting negativity are showing the prime example of what is wrong in our society. You are passing judgment and making statements without even knowing the true circumstances or facts. I "WILL NOT" tolerate any negative slander or false statements by ANY individual, news outlet, media source, etc., printed or spoken and I will deal with any of those issues accordingly. ASH WAS MY WORLD!! Sincerely, April Quick (Ash's mother)

Justine Valinotti said...

Dear April Quick--I simply cannot imagine the loss you have suffered. I am sorry if my post seems disrespectful to you. I don't think I implied that you were a less-than-supportive parent. I merely pointed out that it is difficult to switch pronouns or names when you've known someone in one gender and by a particular name all of his or her life.

Anonymous said...

Justine, you were rather fair and respectful with your post. But folks on some other Trans sites have been rather abusive towards April, thus the defensive nature of her words.

We only ask that everyone remembers that words count, whether directed at a struggling child or a grieving mom.

Anonymous said...

Justine, you were respectful in your post. April's comments were directed toward hate-filled messages on other sites. I just wanted you to be aware.

If anyone can or wants to help out:

Support the "Time Out Youth" program in Charlotte NC, as requested in obit:

Donate to help Ash's family with funeral expanses: