Dealing With Death
The intersection between being out as trans, and the reality of death is obviously a difficult one to navigate. The list of ways in which this interaction is problematic could probably run to 500 words or more just to note without comment. In broad categories alone there are several, each of which easily worthy of their own commentary. There’s the obvious correlation between deadly violence and existing as trans, particularly for TWOC. There’s the shocking relationship between suicidal ideation and gender dysphoria. There’s also the much less often remarked upon, but possibly even more deadly, pattern of self-destructive behavior that often leads to fatality among people who’s trans status, either open or closeted, leaves them feeling alienated from the society around them.
But even if we lay all those aside for future in-depth consideration, there remains the simple conflict between being trans in an unwelcoming society and the various rituals and customs which surround our cultural reaction to a death. Consider, for example, the persistent problem of surviving “loved ones” dead-naming (including the use of pronouns) and even de-transitioning their deceased trans relative or friend. I remember one case starkly where it was reported a teen trans-girl committed suicide and when you visited the obituary page on the funeral home site, there was her birth name and references to a “son” and how “he was survived by..” and so forth. A child literally surrendered her life rather than be thought a boy, and her survivors spit on her grave by insisting she was just that. it’s a VERY common phenomena.
Or think of the trans woman who gets murdered, as happens far too often, and the police reports to the newspaper that they have a male victim identified as (dead name) and the reporter goes out to speak with those who knew her, family and “friends” and inevitably the majority offer quotes like “He was always so kind” and “I don’t know why anyone would do this to him” and so forth. Even those who claim to be supportive contend that it’s just so HARD to speak of this person they “loved” in a way which respected that person’s identity and personhood.
Likewise, the living trans people who face hostility and stigma among family upon any occasion of gathering find it doubly hard when the occasion is a death in the family. Odds are, each of you reading this are aware of one among our number who wasn’t even notified of the death of a close loved one because they had been “disowned”. Or similarly, specifically disinvited from a funeral or wake because they would “make people uncomfortable, or unwelcome in the last days of a terminal illness affecting a parent, grandparent, sibling etc for the same reason. People who find trans people objectionable often do not suspend their prejudices for the sake of these niceties. I know that I’ve shown up at a funeral home before when I was aware that some part of the crowd objected, the day is surely coming when those who object have the authority to demand that I leave.
I’m well into middle-age now, almost every day I become aware of someone younger than me suddenly dying. While my family is typically long-lived (all four of my grandparents lived into their 90’s, both my divorced parents are in their 70’s now) I’m aware that things will be very difficult when my father dies. Everyone else on that side of the family rejects me. Were I to ask for so simple a consideration as my chosen name in the obituary, and the word “daughter” I would get nowhere. My only option would be to insist that I not be mentioned at all. Odds are that should he fall ill and die, I won’t even be informed until everything has been set – possibly not even then. My mother, wisely, has chosen a “non-ceremonial” deposition of her remains when she passes and this will not be an issue, but if her wishes are hijacked for a more formal setting, even though she has accepted me I have no doubt that I would have to fight for what I’m entitled to in that situation as well.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of my own potential death. I almost feel obliged to outlive everyone but my kids just to be safe. Those closest to me (kids notwithstanding) are the same ones most resolutely resolved not to allow their words to acknowledge the legitimacy of my female identity. Dead name? Always. He, him, his? EVERY time. What then can I expect to happen when I draw my last breath? Virtually no one willing to say “she” will be missed, potentially something as offensive as a suit and tie and a nice manly haircut to wear while I rot. I mean, yes, I’m not going to be there – whatever belief system you hold, what those folks gather around will be but an empty vessel. But what does it say about how you REALLY feel about someone that even as they die you cannot affirm them, elevate them, lift them up, and honor their will? I’d rather be cremated and my ashes spread at the city dump than be buried as and remembered as “him.” But what I want quite possibly will carry no weight at all.
We say, particularly in southern culture but I think almost universally, “family above all” or some similar mess. But we don’t live it, we don’t practice it. No, we pick and choose. And sometimes that’s just – if your cousin murders a child for sport, no one could blame you for saying “he’s no kin to us!” But by comparison that father of mine who disowned me as a shameful sinner is a twice-divorced adulterer and nevertheless the whole family loves him dearly. They certainly don’t feel that way about me. “Family first”? My ass. Not if you “make people uncomfortable.”
This is the world we must live in. All too often, no respect in life, no respect in death.
Photo by: tinanwang