How would you like to be know at your funeral? Mostly, i guess, my own answer is much the same as others would give: with respect, and as i have lived.
Which is to say that my own life and my obvious life intentions should be respected and not play second fiddle to anyone else’s issues.
Except: there are some instances – like murder – where stripping away the veneer may be a sad and awful necessity.
A trans murder?
Start point for this thought train is a certain amount of froth around a young woman found dead in Islington. I say young woman. In fact, the immediate newspaper reports give two names for her – Christopher and Chrissie – as well as adding a detail, possibly salacious, that they “lived alone and dressed as a woman”.
Another source has Chrissie living alone “as a woman”.
Its tricky. Am i disrespecting the individual’s own wishes in repeating the two given names: or is that, in fact, how they did conduct their life. Did they “dress as”, “live as” or “identify as” a woman? Those are actually three very different ways of being and absent direct corroboration from someone who knew the real person at the centre of this sad story, i’d suggest any specualation is potentially wrong.
As, therefore, would be accusations of disrespect without knowing how the individual would have wished to be described.
And of course, there are two issues here: there is how they would have wanted to be described in real life. And whether those rules break down when a murder investigation is pending.
I’ve dealt with a couple of stories recently where the trans community has been incandescent on behalf of someone else. In both, a great deal of disrespect was presumed: yet on tracking the story back to source, in both instances, the news release was exactly as the individual had wished it.
The importance of being alive
In general, being dead leaves you at a disadvantage in terms of protecting your identity. Most legal protections are off – though i wonder whether the criminal strictures in respect of exposing a gender recognition certificate persist even after the death of the person to whom that certificate applies. You are no longer protected by laws on data protection or libel. And besides, the obvious: you aren’t around to bring any legal action even if you would have wanted to.
I have come across stories – quite dreadful ones – where surviving relatives, often those most estranged from an individual in life, have used that individual’s death as a means to win some sort of sick, posthumous victory. Taking, in one instance, an individual who had long since transitioned and been living in their identified gender for years – and burying them, having their funeral rites read, in their pre-transition name, gender.
Utterly, utterly wrong: and if ever anyone did anything so disrespectful to me, this blog may be taken as full permission to dig up my bones and desecrate the grave!
Still, still, there is the issue of violent death. If an individual was a sex worker, or a fan of bdsm, f’rinstance: i wouldn’t say such activities are necessarily fatal. Yet they can bring people into contact with dangerous others.
The reporting of the Cheltenham spy, who could not possibly, according to “security experts” have zipped himself into a body bag as part of some inexplicable self-bondage, is a case in point. It seemed sensible to report those details in full, sensible to raise the issue of bdsm, not so sensible, by police and coroner, then to consult not experts in the field of bdsm, but stuffy security experts who maintained, to a man, it couldn’t be done.
It was left to a hobbyist from the South-West to discover what most on a range of bdsm boards had already concluded: that self-bondage of that sort was perfectly possible, relatively easy.
Is it demeaning to reveal that an individual was a sex worker, if there is a chance that that may have contributed to their death.
And what about individuals in transition, post-transition? I read recently – it strikes me as unlikely – that trans death is probably under-estimated, because unreported. No: i doubt that.
And while it is true that trans men and women die for all sorts of causes, i guess it is always sensible, when there is the possibility of a trans murder having been committed, to ask whether transness may have played a part. At which point, what? Say nothing until one is 100% absolutely sure how the individual would have identified – bearing in mind that the chances of solving a crime tail of swiftly in the first 48 hours after its committal: or get some hint of the individual’s background out into the world, however imperfectly.
I asked a number of trans women over the weekend how they’d like their murder to be reported. In the end, most agreed: when it came to the obit, they’d like maximum respect and maximum deference to how they lived their lives. But in the instant aftermath…if it helped catch their killer, they’d probably stretch a point or two.