I read in some teen zine back in the early 2000s, the early early naughts, maybe even ’99, that one of the Spice Girls almost died as a kid. It was a long time ago, I don’t recall which one. The story goes she had been running around outside and went into her house for a drink. She spotted a container of some clear liquid and downed it, assuming it was water. It was bleach. I learned that a glass of bleach could become a doorway out.
This story became a religious icon to me, a mantra. If things got too bad, I could drink bleach. I’d just drink it calmly right by the washing machine and die there. Back then, casual Google searches weren’t that casual. I didn’t know how a bleach death would feel and I didn’t care.
One day, I was sitting behind the door of my empty bedroom. It was empty because my mother removed all my personal effects. She did this to exert her power over me, to humiliate me. I was already friendless, awkward, brokenhearted, terrified. I was to enjoy the privilege of abject loneliness and fear in an empty room. Life it seemed, was not cut out for me. I figured that moment to be the height of hurt, it could be no worse, this last thing was unbearable. Time to face the bleach.
I meant, sitting there, to gather my courage. Instead it failed. I knew my plan, but I did not follow through with it. Instead I gave into absurdity.
My reasoning was that my life and self had no value, in the sense that other peoples’ lives had value. If I had value I would be loved, and since I was not loved, I was worthless. It seemed clear that my pain would not end because I had waited years for it to end, and it hadn’t. A life in which I was of no use to anyone and also in pain is not worth living. That was my conclusion. I still think it’s a fine conclusion based on the facts available to me.
But I am not a rational person by nature. I am a dreamer, an idealist and a slave to romantic notions. Somehow I convinced myself that despite the evidence, I had some worth (in a social sense). There might be some chance for me to escape alive and make something of myself. To find someone who would love me and make me human.
So I did that.
Like Leelah I had a religious family that prioritized invisible beings over visible ones. Like her too, I struggled with my gender, what my body looked like, what people expected from me as a woman that I couldn’t fulfill. I still struggle with those. When I look at Leelah’s face, I see a baby, a little child whose life had just begun. But when I sat behind my bedroom door, I was even younger in age, and I felt elderly. Ostracization puts the weight of decades on the shoulders of a child. When I read her words I read my own and I wonder how many children there are out there like us, dying, crying, in need of someone to make them human. I wonder how I can find them and help them, because that’s all my life is really worth.