The international trans community has been reeling over the last month after a pair of trans deaths—each of which happened under different circumstances—went viral online. Last month, British trans girl Brianna Ghey was brutally murdered in broad daylight in a public park. More recently, Saudi trans woman Eden Knight took her own life after allegedly having been manipulated into moving back to her homeland and forcibly detransitioned.
Every few years, a young trans person dies under horrific circumstances and it briefly captures the attention of the media and the wider world. I still remember the awful murder of young Gwen Araujo in 2002, and the 2014 suicide of Leelah Alcorn, whose note before her death was powerful enough to prompt a response from then-President Barack Obama. These deaths always seem to get a lion’s share of media attention even as a steady drumbeat of everyday murders of Black trans women has continued unabated for decades.
So often, these deaths will go viral on social media, and the press, seeking to capitalize on trending search topics, run pieces about those deaths. But once everyone has moved on to the next outrage, the person’s death is promptly forgotten. What’s really needed is action. We need systems to be developed and implemented that will make life more liveable for a trans population that is seemingly always stuck in the quagmire created by bigots.
Twenty-three-year-old Eden Knight, by all accounts, was a lively soul, who spread goodwill to all the friends around her. She had left Saudi Arabia a few years ago to study in the United States. While there, she began to transition. But in recent months, her story, according to an account reported by Rolling Stone, had turned sour.
According to Knight’s suicide note, her supposedly wealthy and powerful family back home had allegedly hired a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence firm to track Knight down and convince her to come back home. After several calls with the firm, Knight was convinced to travel to D.C., where she was allegedly isolated and manipulated into detransitioning. Eventually, she moved back to her family in Saudi Arabia.
According to Knight’s suicide note, her handler in D.C.,would show her pictures of effeminate men and tell her that they were secretly trans women in the closet, insisting it was better to live like those men than it was to continue to transition.
Back home in Saudi Arabia, Knight wrote, family allegedly confiscated her hormone replacement therapy. She managed to secretly find a new source of hormones before her family discovered it again, and cut her off.
Knight’s story hits close to home for many trans people, especially those with friends and family who have tried to pressure them into slowing down, stopping or reversing their transitions. Her experience immediately reminded me of Alcorn’s death, which happened after her family had denied her from transitioning and, instead, putting her through a “Christian” conversion therapy program.
Given the current political and media environment, with dozens of states either having already banned or are attempting to ban youth transitioning and other intrusions on trans life, I expect we’ll be hearing about many more Eden Knights.
Her story, too, is one of what can happen to trans people with uncertain or temporary immigration status within the U.S. Trans people who face persecution in their countries of origin look to the U.S. and Canada to be safe havens
Infamously, trans Latinx activists interrupted a White House Pride event in the Obama era to protest the government’s handling of undocumented trans people in the U.S. Those activists were derided in the press, with even some allies suggesting they were hurting the cause of trans immigrants. But here we are, years later, lamenting the tragic and likely preventable death of a Saudi immigrant trans woman.
The ongoing struggles of trans people will be difficult, and our quest for rights can’t be sustained through social media and press frenzy alone. We need actual systems in place that serve to protect us from the challenges we face from the more bigoted portions of the population. This is the most frustrating part about the approach many Democrats take to trans rights. Many pay lip service, saying they care about trans lives—but not one of them have mentioned Knight’s death, even though what she went through appears to have fallen squarely within their governmental responsibilities.
Knight should have had resources and protections available besides just her circle of friends. She should have been able to seek help from American authorities when she realized she had been completely isolated. This is especially true under a Democratic president, Joe Biden, who has repeatedly told American trans people that he “has our backs.”
Sadly Biden, like many Democrats, are too afraid of being called “soft on immigration,” in the next election, to even seek to implement policies or systems that maybe could have saved Knight from her life’s cruel ending.
Ultimately, however, Knight’s death is a result of the consistent and sustained dehumanization of trans lives globally. Trans people deserve to be able to live their lives unimpeded by their own governments, shady independent contractors or, indeed, even our own families. We have a long way to go to get there, but we need more than just a burst of social media attention every time one of our deaths gets reported in the press.