In light of the suicide death of the 17 year-old teen known as Leelah, I felt it was time to speak up for both the parents and for the teen. Josh, who called himself Leelah, was angry and distraught, because he wasn’t accepted as a girl by his parents.
This will not be a one-sided view or opinion. It will not be about religious beliefs. This is solely about how this situation became what it was and the impact it could have on other teens.
You have a set of parents who obviously were hurt and devastated over the changes of their child. You have a child who struggled with who he was inside his body and his mind. I don’t think anyone can argue with what I just said.
Too many have already given an opinion on a family without really knowing the whole story. They are going by one penned letter that was filled with strong emotions and hurt by a teen. We can all sympathize with any teen who is hurting and filled with pain. There is no denying this.
Many who have given their views are also not parents. They have however, stated their feelings based on their own heightened opinions and not on facts.
In either case, no one, not even myself, knows the TRUE story from beginning to end within this family. And yet, so many think they do to point fingers, tell their side of what they think happened, or base their thoughts on one letter.
But what IF that letter was written out of anger in the heat of the moment but not truly how Josh felt towards his parents? What IF the parents were very compassionate and loving? What if that love was without conditions but because they didn’t see eye to eye, that made this teen feel hated by them? What IF he wanted to do some things that were physically dangerous? Could there have been a possibility of putting himself in harm’s way by the influence of someone else and his parents were trying to stop that? Do you see where I am going with this?
Another big factor that many adults seem to dismiss is that this young man was not physically or mentally mature enough to fully comprehend many of the issues he was facing. Yes, he may have had feelings since the young age of 4 but so do other kids. Some children recall a passion of theirs that started that age or even younger. There is nothing wrong with having feelings.
I will give you several examples based on true stories.
A young girl under the age of 10 decides she wants to be a boy. She wants to dress like a boy, change her name like a boy, do boy things, and have body parts like a boy. At 12, she desperately wants this and all she talks about when she is older is to have a sex change to complete how she feels since she doesn’t fit in with society the way she is now. In her words, “I was made a girl by mistake. How could God curse me like this?”
Her feelings continue as she meets more and more girls and then starts to believe that her feelings are getting more validated as time goes on. You see, she has a true hatred towards girls now and hates her body even more as she reaches menstruation and other physical changes. She refuses to wear dresses or participates with other girls in activities and will threaten a boy with a fist if needed to show her toughness.
She feels so much better being around the guys. They accept her for not being girly but acting like them. They don’t know how she really feels but their responses to her only make her feel manlier among the guys. This continues into the age of 14 and more changes start to happen but maybe not in the way you think. In the meantime, the parents allowed the behavior of this young girl to a degree and let her know that they still loved her.
Then there is the little boy who loved playing with frilly dresses that his sister had. So much so, he would put them on and dance around them and refuse to take them off at bed time. In fact, he loved dresses so much that he would try to wear them to school. Of course, it was shocking to see a young boy to be wearing dresses to school and of course, he would have to be sent home to change since those were the school rules.
Every once in a while he would wear make-up and pretend to be a girl wherever he went. There were lots of ruffles among the family, but not the parents. You see, they wanted a girl. So much so, they were willing to dress him up and act the part all the way. And of course, this young boy was loving it.
So you are probably wondering, well, what happened when they got older? The young girl realized that the guys she saw as big brothers and hang-out friends started to take a more interested view of her as their future girlfriend. She was told many nice things about her looks and then it happened. She fell in love with a boy. That changed the rest of her history.
As to the young boy, his life went downhill because he was never truly happy. Even with all the changes he made, the people he socialized with, believing the same way as him, they eventually went their own way and he was all alone. Even with the changes he thought were the better, he found himself lonelier than ever, never satisfied in how he looked or felt. So many years of believing something that started at such a young age only to be disappointed in its outcome.
These two stories have something in common at a young age. Each of them did not reach the completion of their full growth because their brain was not fully developed in those areas. Although their hormones were constantly fluctuating, their brain remained unmoved.
Dr. Yurgelan-Todd, a neuropsychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, performed a study among teens. The study was to show pictures to a group of teens (the same to adults in another study) and found that although the teens were moved by the pictures, they were unable to figure out what they meant compared to the adults who completely understood the meaning. Why? Because in the adult the pre-frontal cortex was completely formed while the teen’s pre-frontal cortex was not.
Researchers have come across some surprising answers to studies regarding this new information. What they have learned is that although this is the final part of the brain that is maturing, it is also the most intricate, as it inhabits our abilities in the area of emotional control, impulse restraint, rational decision-making as well as comprehending or processing what every person feels and thinks. This part of the brain does not fully mature until the person is closer to the age of 20-25.
How then can we expect a 17-year-old who still struggled with trying to figure out who he was also to make very adult decisions whether good or bad?
The other issue here is that many who have become transgender admitted that before making the change to the opposite sex, they were very depressed and unhappy. And even more interesting is the fact that many of those same people were still depressed and unhappy after that change.
Could it be that this 17-year-old’s parents understood the fact that he still had quite a bit of growing and were trying to protect him? Could he have also been going through emotional and mental changes thinking all along that what was happening to him was permanent or his true self?
Sadly, those who are pro-gender change are too quick to make opinions without really taking into account that young people and children cannot make wise and mature decisions at this age. And often, parents for selfish reasons, are also doing the same damage to their children and teens – not allowing them to wait until complete maturity to understand themselves. Instead, they are making their children or someone else’s child a model for transgender change. Is that really fair to that child or teen?
What is more concerning is the fact that those who are depressed and making those changes could be causing more depression and even suicidal tendencies to themselves?
In the Daily Mail, in Belgium, it was noted that suicide rates among transsexuals and those who have undergone gender reassignment surgery are high, with some suggesting the rate may be as high as 31 per cent. This is a country that allows assisted suicide.
Chris Hyde, professor at the University of Exeter, who has studied the issues surrounding sex change operations, told MailOnline: ‘Research we conducted a decade ago found there is huge uncertainty over whether changing someone’s sex is a good or a bad thing. ‘While no doubt great care is taken to ensure that appropriate patients undergo gender reassignment, there’s still a large number of people who have the surgery but remain traumatized – often to the point of committing suicide ‘While we haven’t looked at the situation since then, given the difficulties in researching this area, it is likely that the same issues remain today.’
At the Williams Institute (see link below)
there was a study done on gender-related suicides and they found that those prior to coming out about their gender issue were suicidal and even more suicidal after disclosure to friends, family, co-workers, etc… These suicidal attempts were not just a one-time event. This report focuses on “lifetime” attempted suicide events. These suicides ranged from eighteen years and up.
The gender focus on children and teens has only begun in the last few years. Should we expect more suicides but at a different age group? If adults could not even handle gender change, how on earth would a child/teen handle it?
Those who died were adults, not children or teens and yet, we expect parents to be supportive of their child/teen to make decisions early on when they haven’t completely reached their full potential in physical growth. That is pre-mature on everyone’s part.
When a teen is hurting, depressed and desperate, they will rebel, be angry and make very impulsive decisions (including attempted suicide) based on that emotional hurt and anger. It doesn’t matter how great the parents are. Unfortunately, too many opinions were given to suggest that it was the fault of Josh’s parents for his behavior and reaction.
So let’s take a look at those parents for just a minute. There is no guidebook when it comes to raising teens, especially those who are struggling and in crisis. They also went to professionals who were doing their best to help these parents. You have to ask this question – were there other factors going on within this family regarding this son that had nothing to do with the gender issue?
As someone who understands many of the dynamics of families in crisis, there is ALWAYS two sides to a story and more than one issue going on. When parents go to professionals of any kind, they are weary, hurting and desperately wanting to help their child. They will follow whatever is necessary to help that child/teen.
As to the letter, teens are known as well as parents to misinterpret words when communicating. I could say to my daughter, “You need to finish your school work right now.” And my teen’s response would be, “I’ll do it. I’m not dumb. I know how to do it. Geesh, you make me feel like I can’t do anything.”
Now where in the world did she get all of that out of one sentence of asking her to finish her school work? This is what I am talking about. Yes, I am saying that this 17-year-old teen was hurt. BUT, I am also saying that what he heard from his parents could also have been very wrong. The words his parents said and what he wrote in his letter might very well not have been communicated to him in that way.
Should a parent love their child/teen no matter the crisis? Absolutely! Should that parent reach out for counseling support? Of course! Because this wasn’t just an issue of gender change. There was something way deeper going on here that was not mentioned in that letter. None of us will truly know the truth. But we must be careful in pointing fingers or judging anyone in this family crisis.
In the end, this whole family has been torn apart. The son’s life was taken too soon and these parent’s lives will never be the same. Personally my heart breaks for this family.
Our children will make decisions based on what they are feeling and not even consider the cost. I’m not talking just about suicide. I’m talking about every event in their life. The issues that children and teens are facing today are way more than what they can handle. Pushing the rights of gender change on children and teens will not heal them. It will only cause more tragedy.
In closing, I will say something regarding the issue of Christian parenting. We are to lovingly help our child and not condemn them for the feelings they are having. We must remember that they are struggling with something they do not fully understand. We must bathe them in prayer, let them know that we love them and that God loves them too, no matter how they are feeling.
Encourage them to focus on positive things in their life and leave the more difficult things with time. Keep the doors of communication always open. Be honest but loving. No matter how painful this trial is, your child/teen needs you. They need to know that you haven’t stopped loving them because of what they are going through.
Find a counselor that will also support ALL of you. I have met quite a few that truly do care and do not try to put their own agenda in front of those who need help. God will show you the way as parents and give you the wisdom you need to be there for your child/teen.