Whenever a teen dies, it's a tragedy; when a teenager commits suicide, it's heartbreaking. This is why I am sad to report that transgender teen Zander Nicholas Mahaffey took his own life after posting a suicide note on Tumblr on Sunday, February 15th. And to add on to the sense that something must be wrong with the world, Zander's family — and thus his obituaries — have insisted on using his the name he was given at birth, Sandra Nicole, to the outrage of his friends.
In many ways, this case is painfully similar to the January suicide of trans teen Leelah Alcorn, who also left a suicide note via Tumblr. However, Mahaffey's note does not specifically cite his family's rejection of his trans identity as an impetus for his decision to take his own life. He does note that, although "I know in my heart I am a boy," still "the [world] doesn’t see me as one"; he mainly discusses his mother's emotional abuse, as well as an emotionally difficult living situation, lack of contact with more supportive relatives, and a past rape.
Most of Mahaffey's apologies and kind words are directed towards his friends, both from real life and online. He tries to assure them that his decision is not their fault and that there is nothing they could have done. He also writes, "I’m not noble, I’m not really trying to make this mean something huge."
Throughout the lengthy note, Mahaffey makes very few specific requests; he does, however, ask his friends that "if there are any memorials for me I want you both to make sure my right name and pronouns are used." Unfortunately, this last wish seems to have been disregarded by his family, who reportedly used his birth name and female pronouns at his funeral on Wednesday, and put the name "Sandra Nicole" on his tombstone. Obituaries for Zander also list him as "Sandra" and use female pronouns.
In the wake of this erasure of his gender identity, Zander's friends created a memorial Tumblr blog RIP Zander to mourn him using his chosen name and identity. The hashtag #HisNameWasZander has also been used over 8,000 times on Twitter.
On Tumblr, many have also been expanding the slogan to "His name was Zander. Her name was Leelah."
If it is a tragedy whenever a young person dies, it is doubly so when that young person's identity is further erased after their death. So since Zander still hasn't had a non-social media obituary that uses his true name and acknowledges his real gender identity, here goes:
Zander Nicholas Mahaffey, age 15, passed away on Sunday, February 15th, 2015 in his home town of Austell, GA. He was a freshman at South Cobb High School, and enjoyed anime, video games, art, and music. Assigned female at birth and previously known by the name Sandra Nicole, he identified as transgender and chose the name Zander Nicholas. He was loved, and he will be missed.