Friends and What Happens After

| Jul 5, 2021
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A dear friend and mentor of mine died last week. I thought about writing a sweeping, grandiloquent elegy about who she was and all she meant to the transgender community, not just in Pennsylvania, but everywhere, but Jen Lehman wrote an amazing piece on Facialbook, which she granted the kind permission to re-post here in TGForum. Jen and Katie were besties, so her words carry more weight and emotion.

So I’ll pivot on the same topic. If you, dear reader, follow the news (not the right-wing propaganda networks), you already know that transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are being massacred out on the streets. It’s gotten to the point where there’s even a scholarly term for the phenomenon: Trans Necropolitics. Trans Necropolitics is defined by Riley & Haritaworn (2013) as “the lives of trans people of color in the global North and West are celebrated, and their death memorialized, in ways that serve the white citizenry and mask necropolitical violence waged against gender variant people from the global South and East” (p. 66). Translated back into non-scholarly smaller words, that means that the Powers the Be profit off of the deaths of transgender people–we only have value as statistics. 

Yeah, I get to read stuff like that every day. Lucky me. Well, I asked for it.

Katie pic

Katie Ward

Everyone encounters death sometime early-ish in their life. For most, that’s grandparents. My paternal grandmother died in 1976 at the age of 57, when I was 10. (She looked so much older!) Two years later, fire killed a friend of mine who lived across the street along with most of his family. Then, of course, I volunteered an Emergency medical Technician at 17, where I encountered a LOT of death.

Still, I never get used to it. (I can’t imagine how a combat veteran feels on this topic. I’m not comparing myself to one of those heroes–my experience is a tiny fraction of theirs and does not compare.) In any case, I’m now 54. During this decade, I’ve buried seven dear friends, and several acquaintances. Then there’s the endless notices on social media about transgender women being murdered or killing themselves. There’s just so many. As a person gets older, they lose people along the way. People die: that’s one of the two inescapable facts of life. (The other being that the GOP lies.) I recently looked at my high school yearbook for a blog entry, and I began to wonder how many of the 275 people in my class are still alive. My eyes fell across the youthful faces as I thought “dead… alive… dead…”. In one of my elementary school class pictures, seven of the children captured in time looking at the camera are now gone. 

Sometimes I hear about someone’s death long after the fact, like a former coworker’s death by heroin overdose. Or the death notice with no obituary or no cause listed, which usually means suicide. Would they still be alive if we’d kept in touch? There’s no way of knowing.

Survivor’s guilt is feeling bad about living through a trauma while others didn’t. Many combat veterans have it, as do emergency health care workers. I’m learning that many transgender people also suffer from this, as their friends die while they somehow keep going. In a way, I feel a bit of this with Katie. She wasn’t out to her family–so she hid her Truth. A friend had to go clean out all her feminine things before the family arrived at her house. Her name died with her, and HIS name will grace the stone in the military cemetery where she was laid to rest. I don’t have this issue: I’m out to absolutely everyone. I no longer need to hide. Katie’s name will live only in the memories of those who knew her or knew of her: a Sasha. In so many ways, that’s an injustice, she deserves to be remembered as the woman she was. 

Admiral Kirk said “How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life” in Star Trek 2. He’s not wrong. Each person either will or will not make their peace with death. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas wrote. So many of us transgender women die before we can make a difference, or flower into our Truths, and our femme names are unknown or forgotten. Who are those women smiling back at us from the photographs of crossdressing events in the ’50s? Does anyone remember? Or even the ’70s? ’90s?

We are alive (I’m assuming that you are, dear reader, unless I have undead readers.) Most of you reading this, if not all, are transgender in some way or form. That makes us different- special. Most of us, for whatever reason, will never be “out” and living our Truths. In most cases, that means their Truth dies with them. Yet, being transgender is an integral part of who we are. How does one commemorate something so hidden?

I know (as a Vanity Club sister) that Vanity Club honors their late sisters whenever they get together at an official gathering, like a dinner. I love that this happens, as, for many of these women, it’s the only acknowledgement left of their Truth, aside from the memories of those who knew them. 

Another factor I think about is that when I’m gone, I have zero control over what happens next. I’ve made my wishes known in a legal document, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. My wife could put my dead name on my urn and there’s nothing I can do about it from beyond the grave, despite Sophie being my legal name. 

I guess my point is this–we’ve all experienced the loss of people important in our lives. Their voices, their mannerisms, their quirks live on in our memories. Eventually (I read somewhere in an average of 70 years) there will be no living memory of a person who’s died–Zamani. I think it’s important that we let the memory of their Truths live in us. 

Fair winds and following seas, Katie. May the four winds blow you safely home.  I’ll miss you.

Sourcce cited: Riley, S. C., Jin, H., & Aren, A. (2013). Trans Necropolitics. Transgender Studies Reader, 2, 66-76.

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Category: All TGForum Posts, Transgender Body & Soul

Sophie Lynne

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