Funerals and Feminism

This is a short, personal article which poses a question: Are there important areas which cannot be touched by directly touched by feminism? It also tries to briefly discuss issues raised by a recent article in the Washington Blade relating to transgender issues.

Be informed of a discussion-of-suicide trigger warning for the rest of this article. After you’ve skimmed the article, come back and let me tell you about my dead friend Ashley (all names have been changed).

A long time ago, now, my friend Ashley killed eirself.  I have to say ‘eirself’, using Spivak pronouns – clumsy neologisms to refer to gender-neutral third-persons in English – because I didn’t know Ashley’s gender.  I wish I could use “he” or “she” – or at least say “ey” with confidence, but I was never truly friends with Ashley; I was actually friends with eir cousin Jenni.  Ashley lived with Jenni’s family, and I saw em relatively often.

Ashley was born a boy but was transgendered, and was out to eir and Jenni’s family as such.  Eir family was a serious family – trustworthy, capable of looking you in the eye and shaking you by the hand no matter what the situation.  I don’t know what Ashley’s situation was – we had drifted apart, into different counties and different countries.

Ashley was found dead – hanged – and we were duly invited to the funeral.  I rember Jenni shaking me by the hand and looking me straight in the eye, thanking me for attending, her mother crying nearby and her cousin – as a sibling to her – newly cremated.  This post isn’t about their tragedy, although it could be.

This post is about the fact that, through Ashley’s funeral, no mention was made of em being trans.  No mention was made of why ey chose to die; what about life was too painful to continue.

I, personally, cannot fathom lying about someone at their funeral.  Like those people who walked out from Lashai Mclean’s funeral, Ashley’s funeral gave me no way to grieve for em.  So, I wrote my own tribute to Ashley – a kind and gentle soul, impossible to dislike and with a soft, ironic wit.  Don’t look for it – it’s gone.  The sensitive nature of the topic upset my family so much I had to take it down or risk a serious rift with them.

I needed to speak.  I’m transgendered too – I was born with a male body which I later corrected to female.  I wanted to explain, not to anyone in particular, how sitting there in a funeral that didn’t describe my friend felt – how disrespectful it seemed, to conceal a large part of someone’s life, even in death, and how dirty it made me feel – like I was the kind of person that ought be hidden, ret-conned out of existence.  Writing it was healthy; it helped me cry out some feelings that had lodged there a while.  But commenting on a family’s way of grieving – even when written as a personal eulogy – was manifestly destructive.

(Neither Jenni nor any other member of her family saw this eulogy.  Any upset it caused my family has been repaired, thankfully.)

When faced with unpleasant prejudice in the context of a funeral, what does one do?  Do you simply have to suck it up each time?  To me, it feels that giving someone an untruthful funeral is just one final act of violence towards their person, one I cannot support.

One constructive thing it occured to do was to write this article.  See, it’s painful to be deliberately misgendered, and dismaying to see the dead be misgendered and important parts, good or bad, be erased from their lives for whatever reason; I’ve a duty to people like Ashley who are still living to try to explain things like this, if I can, so that their friends can steer them away from making that wrong choice, and live as best they can.  Comments very welcome.

4 replies on “Funerals and Feminism”

This is a really interesting perspective and brings up some issues that those of us with cisprivilege never probably think about. Like Ruby, it makes me aware that if I am ever in the position of planning a funeral or a eulogy for a trans friend or relative that I will make sure that their gender is being addressed, or not, in the way that they would want. And that everyone is using the person’s preferred pronouns.

There’s a lot of context missing here. You say you didn’t know Ashley’s gender. Why not? Why did you attend Ashley’s funeral and expect to have your own political and personal causes addressed? Maybe the family opted not to comment on Ashley’s internal struggles because they were unaware of them. Maybe they’d already dealt with it privately and also didn’t think that Ashley’s funeral was the appropriate time to tell you which pronouns to use. Maybe they didn’t know Ashley’s gender either.

I’m sorry – for your loss, for your erasure, your pain. I cant imagine what that is like and can only extend my support, however I can in a comment. The wiping away of who your friend was because it was perceived as shameful is violence.

I don’t know what to do. There is no excuse for what they did, but there is also the concern for your own safety – mental, emotional and physical.

Thank you for sharing. I hope to see more of your writing here.

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