It’s no secret within the LGBTQ+ community that trans folks are high risk for death at a young age, between suicide and murder rates. I’ve lost quite a few friends over the past few years. Because I have event-organizing experience, I have sometimes been involved in coordinating the funerals. I want to share some of my thoughts on how to do this well. It has taken me a long time to write this post, despite knowing how useful it could be for others, because the context is so emotional for me. I’m sorry about that delay, although I think it was needed for me. Nóirín, Amelia, this post is for you, with my love. I specifically tried to help make your funerals easier to attend for transgender, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and queer folks. I know that’s what you would have wanted.
First, What May Be Obvious
Every damn thing about a funeral is hard for those mourning, but especially so when (as is the current political climate) transgender and nonbinary folks are so frequently (if not constantly) told by society to be quiet, to not be ourselves, to not stand out. We have reasonable fears that we might be the next target of a hate crime, because mainstream society does not love us as we are. I wanted to center the needs of those mourning when planning the funeral, and specifically the needs of those mourning who are most often marginalized by the wider world.
(In case it’s not obvious, in no way did I plan either funeral by myself. I acted as a kind of project manager for both, but there were parts completely outside of my purview. In addition, given it’s been many months since — years, now — I’m sure I’m misremembering some things. That said, this is hopefully useful to anyone in the really lamentable position of needing to plan a funeral.)
From the beginning of my discussions with potential funeral facilities staff, I tried to set their expectations with needs and wants I’d identified beforehand.
- There would be a lot of trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, and queer folks in attendance. We wanted staff working at the event who would be welcoming of everyone present.
- We were very interested in having gender-inclusive (aka, all-gender) bathrooms available for the event. Bare minimum, we wanted to be sure that no one on the facilities staff would be checking genders at the restroom doors. Everyone wanted to be able to use the bathroom in peace.
- We would have some activists in attendance at the funeral, and some people who’ve had bad experiences with police. The facility might have a security team making the rounds on their normal schedule, but we wanted them to do as much as possible not to look like cops (if they were seen at all).
- Many people in attendance would have various food needs and concerns, so labeled food ingredients and allergy awareness was incredibly helpful.
- Audio and visual options such as microphones and slide shows from a projector were going to be needed, to enhance visual and auditory accessibility.
- Physically accessible space (no-step access to the microphone to be able to speak, no-step access to the rooms we were in) was desirable.
- Multiple spaces for those mourning would be useful, so that we could have some quiet space and some active talking space available.
When particularly focusing on the first and second points, above, I was able to make some guesses as to which facilities would be good hosts. I received a range of responses. I don’t have so many records or specific memories of the triage I did wrt locations for Nóirín’s funeral; these replies were from planning Amelia’s funeral.
- Two facilities told me that having gender-inclusive restrooms didn’t fit with the “corporate image” of the hotel.
- One facility said that they would have trouble designating a gender-inclusive restroom option due to the fact that the event space was on their ground floor, and so the bathrooms were “technically” accessible to the public.
- One facility simply stopped replying to my email.
- One facility asked if I had sample signage for gender-inclusive restrooms that they could look at.
- One facility offered to print the gender-inclusive restroom signs for us, in order to be sure they could be attached to their doors without damaging the paint.
It was the last facility that I had the best discussions with, and I was very relieved when the family chose that venue for Amelia’s funeral service.
Recognizing Fully Who We’ve Lost
There were several things we did to try to make the events very representative of Nóirín’s and Amelia’s lives. I suspect this happens at any funeral, of course.
During the service, we tried to have the breadth of life experiences represented. Transgender people are (as I hope is obvious) not just our gender identity. Keeping loved ones alive in our memory means trying to encapsulate more fully who they were in life. Both Amelia and Nóirín loved music, and both worked for periods of their lives in the tech sector (which is how I knew them both). Amelia was a brilliant mathematics scholar. Nóirín’s Irish background and love of the Irish language was easy to see. Nóirín and Amelia were both activists, flying their queer flags, and their activism was broadly represented at the funerals.
All of that said, it was important to their peers that we specifically acknowledge that Amelia and Nóirín were trans. Neither N nor A used the set of pronouns their parents were accustomed to when they were small. Family members of both Nóirín and Amelia struggled to express their grief and honor the pronouns N and A used at the end of their lives.
Ultimately, what I told each family and those assembled at each funeral was that we would all mourn who we lost, and try to forgive each other for mistaken pronouns said in grief. (For that matter, when you’re talking about someone who was gender fluid, the pronouns someone uses might not be a mistake so much as a reflection of their relationship with our dead friend.)
I’m of the opinion that there’s no wrong way to mourn, unless someone is intentionally misgendering the dead. Thankfully, that didn’t happen at either funeral, so far as I’m aware.
Prioritizing Self-Care and Community-Care
In terms of trying to practice what I preach, I will say that I did some prioritizing of self-care while planning the funerals and while attending them. I did a better job of trying to make sure that there were comforting items of care for other mourners. Here are some of the things we did to make things easier:
- Both funerals had two spaces to move between, so if someone got overwhelmed and needed to remove themselves from the larger part of the crowd, they could do so without completely disconnecting from the event.
- If I recall correctly, both events utilized microphones, so the sound of the funeral event could clearer for those hard of hearing, and it could be piped into the secondary space (at lower volume, so as not to be overwhelming) during the speeches and music.
- At Amelia’s funeral, we had a corner with stuffed animals for those who needed someone to cuddle and hold.
- We also purchased some coloring book pages from Theo Nicole Lorenz, who’s a trans artist, and we made coloring pens and markers available in the quieter room at Amelia’s funeral. (If you have sudden need of coloring book pages, I highly recommend talking with Theo! Coloring was invaluable to several of the folks.)
- Food and (some) alcohol was available at both funerals. Sometimes when profoundly upset, people forget to eat, but being near others who are eating can help.
A Word on the Bathrooms
The bathrooms at Amelia’s funeral merit a particular note. Amelia’s death was more recent, so prevailing societal attitudes were at least more aware of the existence of trans and nonbinary people. The hotel we rented for Amelia’s funeral printed the bathroom signs we provided, laminated them (hopefully for future use!), and put them on the doors for the bathrooms closest our event. These were two bathrooms with multiple stalls apiece.
If I Were To Do It Again
If I had it to do all over again, I’d try to advocate more strongly for physical accessibility. Everyone mourns, and those who are missing their loved ones should not have to also make sure the location of the funeral is one they can physically access. Elevators and ramps are important, and I think we had a ramp failure at one of the funerals.
I’d also plan more consciously about what to do if we had folks show up who were likely bad actors. Trans folks often have stalkers, are often subjected to violence in interpersonal relationships, and also often have bad experiences of cops. This didn’t end up being a factor for either funeral, thankfully, but it is something that should be considered in the future.
Societal Context of Trans Deaths
I really wish we didn’t need to mourn our loved ones within the LGBTQ+ community, but unfortunately, people keep dying. Senseless deaths are particularly hard when we’re young. Trans people, particularly Black trans women, are targets of hate crimes and murders. Trans kids attempt suicide at shocking rates. A horrifying FORTY-ONE PERCENT of trans people report attempting suicide at some point, particularly those whose families reject them. Amongst multiracial trans people, that number goes up to FIFTY-FOUR PERCENT.
Given that I can’t stop those deaths, I hope this post is at least helpful for the next folks who need to plan a funeral and want to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary folks who are mourning.
Nóirín and Amelia
There’s no way to encapsulate either of them, much less both. That said, you can still watch a few minutes of Nóirín in an interview at Open Source Bridge conference on YouTube. Amelia is also on YouTube video as an activist for access to mental health care for trans people.
I wrote most of this post years ago, and I just .. couldn’t post it then. Things are different but similar, now, and I just want to get this out there in hopes it might help someone in the future.