Thursday, 29 January 2015

Leelah Alcorn and transgender teens

 This post is long over-due and I really should have sat down and written this ages ago when I first heard about this story but unfortunately I'm just getting round to it now. So, shame on me. 

In December 2014, a 17 year old Ohio transgender teen, Leelah Alcorn, committed suicide after years of abuse and rejection from her strict Christian parents. For anyone who is unaware, transgender is the state of one's gender identity or gender expression not matching one's assigned sex. Leelah posted a suicide note online on Tumblr stating the reasons why she felt she had no other option than to take her own life, which you can read below:

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 “f*** 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 s**t 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 s**t 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 s**t 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 f***ed up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

The emotional strain on dealing with stigma and experiencing transphobia pushes many transgender people to commit suicide. According to The Trevor Project, nearly half of young trans people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. This is an incredibly high percentage and it is so sad to know that so many young people feel so trapped in their own bodies and with no escape or support that they feel they have no other option than to commit suicide because of the guilt and shame that they feel. Imagine feeling that stigma and transphobia from your own parents?

Many people criticised Leelah's parents for not supporting their daughter, which resulted in her committing suicide, and for misgendering her even after her death. I'm sure that they did love their daughter and must be heartbroken by her death, but they never supported her and made her feel isolated and that is tragic. I think a big part of loving your children, or anyone for that matter, is supporting them with decision's they make, even if you do not agree with the decisions they are making.
At the Transgender Day of Rememberance conference, a transgender speaker, Channyn Lynn Parker, said that her mother said this in response to her transition: "I named you because you hadn't the voice to name yourself. Now that you have found your voice it's for you to tell the world what your name is." I think that is a great parental reaction to something like transition, and is the reaction that all parents should aspire to if your child ever confides in you about something as personal as being transgender. I mean, what's worse? Accepting you child's gender identity or burying them because you couldn't?

I've heard the phrases 'its just a phase' or, 'they're confused', a lot when people are talking about gay people and those same people (like Leelah's parents) would probably apply these same phrases to transgender people as well. However I completely disagree. I don't think its just a phase people go through because that insinuates that it isn't real and its just a pretence and I for one, don't think people 'pretend' to be something just to try and get attention or to try and be different, which is what a lot of people believe. I think that gives young people a really negative image and makes it seem like we're all attention seekers, just trying to rebel against our parents etc. I think in most cases, people are born transgender, meaning that they don't suddenly just decide one day that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth, but that they've always felt that way. This has always been a widely debated topic; whether someone is born a certain way or whether they were 'made' that way later on. I believe that in the majority of cases, people are born the way they are, which includes with which gender they identify. For example, Debi Jackson gave a speech in 2014 at the Unity Temple in Kansas City with regards to her transgender daughter. She said: 
"My daughter is 6 years old. She transitioned, which means she changed her outward appearance from male to female and started living full time as her true gender, when she was 4. Until that point she was quite a rough and tumble little boy with a buzz cut and a shark tooth necklace. But then I noticed her pushing down on her genitals a lot and I asked her what was wrong. But her answer shocked me. She said that they bothered her and were in the way. She wanted them gone. Thank God for Google because I immediately jumped on the computer and typed in a search. What came back was a very short list of results, but they all pointed to one thing: my child might be transgender. I had never even heard the word transgender before and I really didn't know what to think. We made an appointment with a pediatrician. She recommended a child psychologist, but before we could even get an appointment my daughter, then my 4 yeard old son, said these words to me: 'Mom, you know I'm really a girl, right? I'm a girl on the inside.' That moment changed my life."

The main purpose of this post was to pay tribute to Leelah Alcorn, a girl that was so sad, lonely and isolated that she took her own life, and that the people that should have been behind her, supporting her, were the ones making her feel that way. R.I.P to Leelah Alcorn and to all transgender people who have felt the need to take their own lives.

"Women are women, regardless of sex. And men are men, in the same respects. You can be both, or a mix of the two. Or you can be neither, if that's what suits you. But people are people, whatever their parts. Because what really matters is inside of our hearts."

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Baking! Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies, Steamed Lemon Pudding and New York Cheesecake

Over the Christmas period there was sooo much food which of course included loads of desserts. Before I got into cooking I was really into baking and there are a few recipes that have become my principle desserts that I make for big events like New Years Day. I thought I would share some of these recipes with you.

 Ina Garten Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies:

These brownies are, I think, the best brownies ever made. They're also probably the most unhealthy things ever... but they are totally worth it! The recipe sounds ridiculous because of the amount of butter, chocolate and sugar that it calls for, and I actually cut all the ingredients in half because the batch would be massive otherwise and its already big enough with half the amount of ingredients.
These brownies are just so delicious and chocolatey and addictive and everyone should try them!

New York Cheesecake! I think cheesecake is perhaps my favourite desserts and its my dads favourite as well so this definitely had to be made over the Christmas period.
This cake is so rich and creamy and delicious and everyone loves it. I didn't put enough butter into the base mixture so the base didn't quite hold together like I wanted it to, but otherwise this was a great success! There is the recipe if anyone wants to try making it!

My other favourite dessert is this steamed lemon pudding by Gary Rhodes. I always make it for dessert on New Years Day when we have our big family dinner [which happened to be on the 4th this year]. Its really moist and lemony and even though it looks really heavy I find it surprisingly light. 

So these are my 3 favourite desserts and I highly recommend all of them! They're really not that hard to make and they are so delicious, even if they are not the healthiest things you'll ever eat... Let me know how you get on and if you enjoyed them!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Year, New Music - Part 2: Vance Joy

I'm back in Glasgow and back at uni! Seeing as I was in a completely different country when I last wrote in my blog, I think its about time that I wrote part 2 to my New Year, New Music post.

My second artist for you to listen to, if you haven't already, is Vance Joy [James Keogh]. He's an Australian singer-songwriter and his debut album Dream Your Life Away was released in 2014. 

 He's probably most well known for his song Riptide, which was featured in a GoPro tv advertising campaign. It was also in the Inbetweeners 2 movies. Its actually one of my favourite songs of his. Its a really upbeat indie folk song and I love the lyrics. It was first released as a track on his debut EP, God Loves You When You're Dancing, which contain most of my favourite songs of his:

Snaggletooth and Emmylou have some of his best lyrics in them, I think. Snaggletooth appeals to the insecure side of everyone who's worried that someone won't love them cause of their imperfections. He sings: "I love your snaggletooth, I see it poking when you laugh. And baby don't you know that I love those pigeon toes", showing you that someone can love you and your imperfections. Emmylou is about him comforting a girl and telling her not to be scared and that she's loved - "Oh if you're losing sleep, scared of shadows. See its just a chair, see the clothes hang there. Oh don't go losing sleep, scared of shadows. Oh don't feel bad. Well I never have, since I got you, my Emmylou." 

His album, Dream Your Life Away, has Riptide and From Afar on it, but none of the others from his EP. Mess Is Mine [], Georgia [], and First Time [] are my personal favourites from the album.

Anyone who is a fan of Hozier, George Ezra, Ben Howard, You + Me, and James Vincent McMorrow will definitely love Vance Joy. He has a pop/folk kind of sound and his songs are all predominently about love so anyone who is into that sort of music should take a listen!

Let me know if you like his songs and if you have any recommendations for me!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

New Year, New Music - Part 1: Hozier

Its a new year, which means I have to add some new music to my iTunes collection. I hit lulls in my music sometimes where I just find all the songs that I have really boring because I've heard them so many times before and it ends up with me just hitting 'next' on my iPod or my iTunes for ages because I just can't be bothered to listen to any of them. I've had that feeling recently and so I decided to go on a quest to find some new music. I didn't have to look very far. 

I've had the song Take Me To Church by Hozier on my iTunes for a while and I love it. My fondness for the song was probably fueled by the fact that Ed Sheeran did a cover of it on Radio Live Lounge recently and I just adore him. [There's the link to his cover if anyone wants to listen to it]. 
Anyway, because I love the song so much and I love Hozier's style of singing, I thought I would look up his album and download it. That was a great decision on my part. 


'Hozier' was released on 19th September 2014 and is the first album released by the Irish singer-songwriter.  The genre of music he releases is described as 'indie-rock; soul; and blues'. Anyone who likes George Ezra, Vance Joy (I'll be writing about him soon), Matt Corby, or X Ambassadors [listen to Unsteady by them by the way,, its amazing], you're definitely going to like Hozier. 

I love the album so much and have been playing it on repeat ever since I downloaded it. Every song is really good but my favourites have to be:
Take Me To Church (obviously):

Some of the lyrics in his music shows that he's got a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Catholic Church... E.g. in Take Me To Church, he sings "I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies... I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife." So obviously there's a deeper, thought provoking message behind his songs compared to a lot of songs that are released nowadays. 
His music is the kind of music that you can either chill out to and have on in the background, or sing along with it when you're getting ready, or get really angry about things happening in the world when you really listen to the lyrics. For example, the video to go along with Take Me To Church condemnes the Russian Government's brutal criminalisation of homosexuality.

I can't get enough of this album or Hozier's soulful voice so I'm highly recommending it to anyone reading this. I would love to hear your feedback about the album if you listen to it/have already listened to it. Did you like it? What are your favourite songs from it?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy (belated) New Year!

What did everyone do to celebrate the start of 2015? 
Mine started off pretty well and then went progressively downhill from 11pm onwards... We had family friends over for dinner and then my friend Jess came over and we joined in with the parents playing Taboo, which is really fun! You have to get your partner to guess the word on your card without saying the word itself or the 5 other words that are listed on the card, which is actually pretty hard! Anyway, Jess and I had bought tickets online for this 'party' in the Marina Bay Sands area to watch the fireworks so we set off at about 11 to get to this place in time for the countdown. 45 minutes later and we were sitting in a traffic jam, still not at our destination, and realising that we were probably going to spend the countdown, and indeed the start of 2015, sitting in the back of this taxi. So we jumped out and quickly walked to the area, got through the entry point and pushed our way through the crowd with seconds to spare before the countdown and the fireworks began. And they were rubbish. No joke. They sucked. For a country like Singapore which is pretty rich and impressive looking and everyone is really into New Years Eve, you'd think they'd go all out with their fireworks display but apparently not! They only lasted for what seemed like a minute and they weren't impressive in the slightest.  
After the disappointing countdown we then spent 2 hours walking around Singapore trying to get through the masses of people and to an area were we'd be able to flag down a taxi. We might as well have walked all the way home by the time we managed to get one! The police had closed off all the roads surrounding the area where everyone was gathering to see the fireworks so cars couldn't drive down them, but for some reason they weren't letting people walk on the roads either so I don't really see what the point of that was. It meant that thousands of people were all walking, squashed onto a sidewalk between massive barriers, in the same direction for ages, trying to get away from the crowds. We actually had plans to meet up with some other friends but after about an hour of walking we were so tired, we decide that we'd just go home as soon as we managed to get a taxi. 

So that was my great end to 2014/start of 2015! How was everyone else's? Did anyone make any new year resolutions? If you did, what were they?

Did you know that the top 10 new years resolutions of 2014 were: 
1) Lose weight
2) Getting organised
3) Spend less, save more
4) Enjoy life to the fullest
5) Staying fit and healthy
6) Learn something exciting
7) Quit smoking
8) Help others in their dreams
9) Fall in love
10) Spend more time with the family 
I never make new years resolutions cause I know that I'll never stick to them. I don't have enough will power. Did you know that only 8% of people are actually successful in achieving their resolutions? However, this year I am going to try and stay fit and healthy. I'm not making it my new years resolution but really just a lifestyle choice. I've been so bad at going to the gym and doing yoga this past term at uni so I really want to get back into doing that and hopefully lose some of this Christmas weight I've put on!

In order to help me with my new lifestyle choice, the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene, which I use to practice yoga, has started a '30 days of Yoga' video set. 
This is definitely going to help me keep on top of my yoga, knowing that I have a specific video to do every day. It's probably going to be hard to make time every day to actually do some yoga but I'm challenging myself!
The first video was an 'ease into it' yoga video, and I did my second video today which was a 'stretch and soothe' video. As you've probably noticed, I didn't start on the first of January which I was probably supposed to do but oh well! 
Staying with my theme of not doing things on the right day, we had our family New Years day dinner on the 4th January. We were invited to someone else's house for dinner on the 1st and then other things got in the way so that was the first opportunity we had to do it, although it was definitely worth the wait!
It's a family tradition now that we have my mum's beef wellington for our New Years day dinner. It is actually one of the best things I've ever eaten. For anyone who doesn't know, beef wellington is a filet steak coated with pate (my mums makes a mixture of finely chopped mushrooms), which is then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. It is amazing. The beef cuts like butter and it tastes so good with the mushroom mixture (and I'm not even a fan of mushrooms!) and the flaky, buttery pastry... it is just so good! We have leftovers so I think we're having that tonight for dinner - I can't wait! 

What did everyone else have for their New Years day dinners, if you had one? Would love to hear from you guys!