This Transgender Day Of Remembrance, I’d like to tell you about Rachel, who died on the 6th of April 2010. She was 53 years old.
Rachel was a volunteer and service user at my workplace. She was kind, generous, sensitive and – once you got to know her – wickedly funny.
Rachel immediately made me feel welcome in my new office, and we bonded from the outset. A shared interest in creative writing, admiration for the work of Kate Bornstein, and a fondness for cutting asides (which were often missed by most of our colleagues) drew us together. We had a similar taste in clothes, but she was the more flamboyant in this regard, and I often envied her sense of style and the flair with which she wore her bold, bright colours.
Despite her stylish exterior, though, Rachel was always very down on herself. She was, in most social situations, incredibly introverted and shy, and carried herself rather as if she was constantly expecting to be kicked. Rachel suffered badly with stress and depression brought on by gender dysphoria, and by the judgements on her gender identity she knew were made by others around her.
Three days before her death, Rach emailed me in great distress. She had just undergone vocal cord surgery in Thailand and was feeling ill, depressed and isolated. We emailed back and forth for a while and then she stopped responding, which I put down to the fact that she was getting some much needed rest. A few days later I learned that she had suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Rach had multiple stress related health problems. While I was distraught to hear of her death, it was easy to see that the danger had always been there.
At her funeral, some guests misgendered my friend and used her old name. I know that it would have caused her such grief to hear that, and that those in her family who had come, at last, to acknowledge love her as her true self would have brought her such peace.
The stress caused by the operations she’d undergone, and the deep emotional distress I saw in her emails must, at last, have been too much. The Rachel I knew was a strong and vibrant woman who was true to herself and gracious everyone she met despite a constant onslaught of transphobia.
Rachel was like a warrior undergoing battle after battle. Although I hoped, each time, that she’d come home with more tales of narrow escapes and courageous confrontations, there was always that nagging fear that, one day, she wouldn’t.
The following is an extract from
Rachel’s final email to me. I believe that she’d be willing to share this part with you, as she had shared similar thoughts at the poetry open mic nights we went to together.
“When people stare at me and make their instant judgements I see what they see in their eyes, the attempt and the failure. The women feel smug because they have identified a flaw as they
perceive it and thus feel secure because this flaw distances them from what they see.”
I wish I could say that Rach was wrong, but as her friend I often saw the derisory looks and mouthed jokes aimed at her back. I saw the disgust, the fear, the hate.
Rachel was mocked, excluded, avoided – just for being who she was – by people who would call themselves open minded and unprejudiced.
When she died, our friendship had just begun to truly blossom. As much as I miss Rach, I miss the long and close camaraderie that we might have had, if things had been different.
In her last email to me, Rachel called me her sister. I was, and am, proud to call her mine.