Her Name Was Katherine
As I write this it’s been over 36 hours since I learned of these events and I’m still incensed. All the more angry at being so powerless to affect the thing that has enraged me.This is something that happens with maddening frequency and seemingly has no end in sight. But let me rewind a bit.
On Tuesday, January 5, Kathrine Johnson of Little Rock Arkansas died by her own hand. She was but 25 and had already faced more than her share of the internal anguished and external oppression that most of us deal with in some measure. A Navy veteran, while she had emerged into her true self, could not find the support she needed from those who should have been closest to her. How do I know this? Why, I need only consult her obituary. (be warned, it’s maddening)
Millions of words, I suppose, have been written about the problem of suicide in the trans population. The oft quoted 41% figure only tells part of the story, because it is only the story of those who survived to report the event. To say nothing of taking into no account those who essentially ended their lives by the less blatant method of living a death-inviting life (say drug abuse, for example). Even that figure is misused by our oppressors as a reason to condemn us as mentally ill. Yet they persist in being obtuse to the fact that it is the very culture of oppression they defend which helps create that outcome.
Research demonstrates the single most significant factor in a successful life outcome for trans youth is affirmation and support from their loved ones. Paralleling the experience of Leelah Alcorn little more than a year earlier, that simple blessing was the one thing Katherine’s family saw fit to withhold from her. So sever was their rejection that even after they pushed her into the grave, they could not even bring themselves to acknowledge her existence in their postmortem rituals. This was an adult woman, one who’d made the effort to go out and face the world living her truth at the risk of the condemnation of a heartless world (as a fellow resident of the deep south, I can relate) and rather than this earning her the admiration and respect of those who ought to have shown love unconditional, they buried her under a name she could not bear, and withheld from her even a few simple pronouns. Over and over this happens. Committed by people all too willing to shame their “precious” child in death, but to be too ashamed of them to defend them and protect them in life.
The monstrousness of such behavior is beyond my capacity for words to describe it, yet they are no doubt confident they did the right thing and have nothing of which to be ashamed – except their child.
I responded to the obituary with a comment that I knew would be censored (and it was) but short of driving to Dumas Arkansas and confronting Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, I am out of options to say to them “Are you so blind that you do not see what you have done? How can you lie to yourself that your daughter’s blood is on your hands? What more evidence do you need?” So my attention turns to the next time – for their WILL be a next time.
This is a long term, slow and tedious project to convince an entire culture (particularly in the falsely so-called “Bible Belt”) that they have not only been wrong, but in a fatal fashion. I don’t see any short cuts. In the mean time their are small measures we can take. I can suggest at least three.
First, if you have any money to give In Memorial, let us given them in her name to TransLifeline.org in the hopes that someone will not repeat her choice because of those gifts. It would be so much the better if it was enough to warrant a news story in the Little Rock Newspaper making note of how much money had been given to save trans lives because of this life that was taken.
Second, takes whatever steps you can to document your wishes on paper and electronically and place a copy with all local funeral providers. Place a copy with someone you trust and empower them to carry out your wishes if possible. Be creative and think of ways to circumvent the process of disrespecting your memory.
Third, most importantly of all, outlive the hateful bastards who would spit on your grave. If I ran out of all other motivation for living, I would hold on just to deny those in my family who would deadname me the satisfaction of doing to me what was done to Katherine.
Let us remember her name, and keep working to create a world where such an act is never thought necessary.
Photo by: Damian Gadal