Stop erasing the humanity of trans people in life and death

Our former names are not relevant to stories about how we live and die.

Women stop to put flowers on a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Women stop to put flowers on a makeshift memorial near the site of a warehouse fire Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Some days there is just so much pain.

After a deadly fire claimed the lives of over 35 people at Oakland’s ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse on December 2, the transgender community is reeling. People are reeling not only from the loss of friends, loved ones, and community members, but also from the indignity of their beloveds being misgendered and referred to by former names in media reports of their deaths.

I did not know Em Bohlka, Feral Pines, or Cash Askew — three beautiful trans people who died in the fire. All I know is that I have heard from people in my community all day who are sick with grief and desperately trying to preserve the humanity and essence of the people they loved and lost. Em, Feral, and Cash all identified as trans, all used the pronouns she/her, and none of them should, under any circumstances, be referred to by any other pronoun or any other name.

Being referred to as one’s proper gender and name is not a preference. It is not a choice that a journalist can make and still accurately report on the subject. When trans people are misgendered, when our old names are used, we disappear. Because at that point, our truth is taken away. A truth that we fought hard to claim.

You may not understand us. You may find us freakish. You may be uncomfortable with our bodies, our communities, our survival.

But whatever you think, know this, we struggle to claim our truths and when we do, it is excruciatingly painful to have that truth rejected.

CREDIT: Micah Bazant
CREDIT: Micah Bazant

When I hear my old name, I am so uncomfortable to the point of being nauseous. It took me so long to proclaim and claim my truth. My name is central to who I am — as it is for most people, trans and not. If I die and I am called that old name, it will be an affront to all that I am, all that I believe in, everything I want to leave behind in the world.

If you are reporting on a story about a trans person and you feel the need to mention a former name, please ask yourself why. There is never a good reason. And if someone has died, know that by reporting their former name you might be disrespecting their memory and every person who loves them.

Similarly, calling someone a man who is plainly not a man or calling someone a woman who is plainly not a woman is just cruel. We are perpetually misgendered in life, told we are inauthentic, that we are fraudulent. We fight to live. We hold each other up. We find beauty in our transness even if the world does not. If you report on our deaths by erasing our truths, you are killing us all over again.

Trans women are not men. Non-binary people are not men. People who don’t live their lives as men are not men. Not in life and not in death.

Three people in my community tragically died. Stop erasing them. Stop hurting the people who loved them. Stop refusing to learn what made them human.

In the meantime, the trans community will keep doing what the community does — love boldly, transform creatively, grieve fiercely, and survive.

Want to cover trans people respectfully and accurately? Read GLAAD’s guidelines.

CREDIT: Micah Bazant
CREDIT: Micah Bazant

Chase Strangio is an attorney living and working in New York City.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on the author’s own Medium page and has been republished on ThinkProgress with his permission.