There are few truths that hold universal: death, taxes, and cisgender people asking me, “is that your real name?” As transgender people, we learn to live with these experiences as we traverse life on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes death weighs heavy on the mind. Death comes for us all, cis and trans, and we don’t get a say on when the reaper takes us. As a habitual planner, I’m terrified I’ll die before roller derby starts again. I lay awake at night, tossing and turning until I inevitably reach for my phone.
I make the common mistake of logging on to Twitter and reading the replies. Trans people are acutely aware of the dog whistles about trans death, we hear them all the time. It gets to the point where seeing “41%” and it causes you to flinch. This number is a reference to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showing that out of 6,450 respondents, 41% had attempted suicide. What happens when trans people openly talk about death and their plans around their death?
I decided to answer this question by interviewing my transgender peers about how they envisioned their death plans. As a casual opener, I asked if they had a death plan and if so, if would they share it with me?
One peer, who elected to stay anonymous (they/them), told me that they would be buried in the “Arab religious and cultural practice” due to their personal respect for the traditions and their family. They went on to say that thinking about death was stressful, a reminder that they may not accomplish all they want to in life. This is a commonly held belief, we live in a perpetual states of FOMO once we kick the proverbial bucket. When asked about their relationship to death and being trans, they explained, “Certainly, the relationship that many trans people have with their body influences their metaphysical and existential perspectives, how they see themselves” and how one hates or loves themselves. They believe that they do not differ greatly from the general population is this regard.
Another peer, Nadine (she/her, xe/xir), told me about how she was electing to be cremated after her death. When asked about why cremation appealed to xir, xe responded with, “I like the idea of me taking care of this body and making it what I want to be and once I’m done with it, it promptly being destroyed. It’s like this body isn’t permanent so I’ll do with it what I want.”
Cremation is growing in popularity amongst the general public in recent years, especially combined with a memorial service. Nadine also described her memorials service as filled with as many pictures of xir as possible then having xir ashes spread in North Carolina where she went as a child. Transgender people live in an awkward in-between of being expected to change their bodies while being legislated out of it. This can be seen with the recent wave of anti-trans bills sweeping the nation preventing children from going on hormones or playing on sports teams that fit their gender, but trans people are expected to shape their bodies to cisgender ideals of beauty and functionality. Taking back that control is a final statement of rebellion against the systems that tell us we have to be what we are not.
Sophia (she/her) had a similar plan with cremation and a small family/friends memorial service afterwards. It is important to her was that there will be no church involved in her memorial or cremation. We share that in common in our death plans, as I also do not want a church involved in my burial. As a child I tried to fit in with the Greek Orthodox Church, but after coming out as queer and trans, it did not welcome me. Sophia does not believe that transgender people experience death differently. She states, “I think we’re all afraid of death to some degree. Some of us just live more than others and aren’t as afraid for it to be over.”
Some people were approaching death in a legal manner like Alexander Nature (they/he). Alexander began their death plan in middle school but now, through the website Cake, was updating it and getting it notarized so it becomes a legal document. He described his friends as not surprised at his proactive approach to his death because of who he is as a person. Death planning is a way to take control of your body posthumously and prevent further trauma and frustration. They believe that, “people approach death in a way that makes no sense to me, and I think people should talk about it more directly more frequently.”
Another person using Cake is Callie Wright (they/them). They described having their plan as “making things as easy and comfortable for my loved ones as possible.” Death plans can be viewed as a final gift to loved ones, providing answers to the hard questions with a simple form and a deeper impact. Callie believes that trans people have a different relationship to death, “all but the absolute most privileged among us has had to consider the possibility that we could be attacked, hurt, or killed because of who we are. Further, we have to consider the possibility we could be refused medical care for every day things because of being trans.” They go on to state that this threat is easily multiplied for other trans people with other marginalized identities.
Talking to my peers was eye-opening. While I strive to be death positive and an eternal student, I had not known the plans of others for their deaths. No one could agree if being transgender gave us a different perspective on death which speaks to the fact that transness is not a monolith, we do not experience the world the same. I also saw people celebrating their lives through photos, planning, and family gatherings. Being transgender is a beautiful thing, what makes it suck is how we are treated. Personally, I want my funeral to close with Mitski’s Last Words of a Shooting Star as a final goodbye. I always felt that music could best express my gender and I hope this is a final reminder of who I am, or was.
All of this turbulence wasn’t forecasted Apologies from the intercom And I am relieved that I’d left my room tidy They’ll think of me kindly When they come for my things
—Mitski, Last Words of a Shooting Star
Kitty Perentesis (they/them) is a non-binary writer entering mortuary school in the fall. When they’re not talking about death, you can find them playing roller derby or cuddling with their cats. Find them being cute on Instagram @derbybrat.