warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Reaction Time: (Un?) Conditional Love

Ariana Aboulafia |
January 20, 2015 | 11:10 a.m. PST



Scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, I came across a high school acquaintance’s status which read as follows: 

“Unless you are willing and ready to have and love a gay child, a transgender child, or a disabled child, then please don’t have a child at all.”

Although I was never particularly close to the person who posted this, his words echoed in my head for weeks after I saw it. The words seemed particularly salient when, within the next few days, I read about the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl whose parents refused to allow her to transition. She posted a note on Tumblr (which has since been deleted) before throwing herself in front of the oncoming tractor-trailer that killed her. 

The note, in part, stated that Leelah “felt like a girl in a boy’s body” and that, when she had confronted her mother three years earlier about being transgender, her mother had “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.” Leelah implored readers not to make this same mistake, writing that her parents’ lack of acceptance paired with an insistence that she see only Christian therapists to “treat” her subsequent depression brought on by her “gender identity disorder” only made her “hate herself.”  

In an interview with CNN, Leelah’s mother Carla Alcorn consistently referred to her child by her birth name, Josh, and insisted on using male pronouns when talking about her. Carla apparently insisted that she loved her child repeatedly, stating that although she could not support Leelah coming out as transgender due to religious convictions, she “told him that we loved him unconditionally.”

“We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

The irony is truly inescapable. 

How is it possible for Leelah’s mother to at once insist that she loved her child “unconditionally,” yet refer to Leelah only as a “son,” a “good boy”? Perhaps the confusion here lies in the definition of unconditional – meaning no matter what, without condition, regardless of gender, sexuality, weight or ability. Unconditional does not mean that you love someone as long as they act, live, love or identify the way that you want them to. Even more so, unconditional does not mean loving someone if and only if they agree to live their lives based on your religious convictions. 

Now, let’s talk about religion for a second. I, personally, am not an extremely “religious” person, preferring to follow general spirituality and faith over the rigid rules found in a book in the bottom drawer of every hotel room’s bedside table. I was raised Jewish, I’m in love with a Catholic, and although I will admit that throughout my life religion has brought me more confusion than clarity, there is one thing that I know I believe. There is one thing that Carla Alcorn and I can agree on. And, that is that God does not make mistakes. 

When Carla Alcorn told her daughter – not her son – that God did not make mistakes, did she believe it? Because surely if God does not make mistakes, Leelah was not mistakenly made. God did not accidentally place a woman inside of a man’s body, as Carla may have chosen to see her daughter’s situation, but rather created Leelah as she was, beautiful in her struggle and pain and eventual triumph. Leelah cheated herself out of that triumph because her parents – and you and I, and society as a whole – made her think that she was made a mistake, rather than just admitting that perhaps we are the ones that are making mistakes each and every day.  

We mistakenly believe that we can love the sinner and hate the sin without making those “sinners” hate themselves. We mistakenly believe that we can send minors into conversion therapy – which, by the way, was recently called into question by the United Nations Committee Against Torture and is illegal in California, New Jersey and Washington DC – as a transphobic substitute for educating ourselves on how to truly support someone coming out as transgender. And, perhaps worst of all, we mistakenly believe that our religious beliefs are a good enough excuse not to love our children unconditionally. 

Maybe it is time for mothers and fathers to-be to consider if they are truly willing and able to have and love children that are gay, transgender, or disabled – or children that like to dye their hair strange colors, or children that want to be atheists, or any kind of child. And, if they realize that they cannot, perhaps it is time to reconsider having children to begin with.


Get more "Reaction Time": common sense reactions to every-day craziness.

Reach Columnist Ariana Aboulafia here; follow her here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.