7 min read

I think this is grief

How are we expected to keep going as though trans kids dying isn’t exactly what politicians and anti-trans campaigners wanted to achieve with these laws?
I think this is grief
Hello! Welcome to Genderbent, a newsletter about gender, transmasculinity, and mental illness by journalist Quinn Rhodes. I'm sending support to my trans siblings – please take care of yourselves and each other.

[CW: genocide, murder, anti-trans violence, suicide, OCD, and mental illness]

I'm not ok right now.

Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. I don't know if any trans person is ok right now; I don't know the last time any trans person was ok. It feels like the last days and weeks and months blur together in a stream of lies and legislation designed to make us feel unsafe. But this week feels different. Heavier. 

I don't think we're supposed to be ok right now. 

The rest of the world expects us to, of course. The world won’t stop for a non-binary teenager, who died after being attacked in an Oklahoma high school bathroom, any more than it will stop for the genocidal violence and destruction that we’re watching play out on our phones in real time day after day. 

But I’m not ok, and I’ve passed the point where I can pretend because that’s what is expected of me. I am angry and I am sad and I am numb. I feel everything and nothing. I am so fucking tired, but resting doesn’t diminish my exhaustion. I don’t know how to process this. How to deal with this.

I think what I'm feeling is grief. It feels too big to hold, too big to face. 

How are we supposed to carry on as normal? Why are we expected to keep going as though trans kids dying isn’t exactly what politicians and anti-trans campaigners wanted to achieve with these laws. In 2022, Oklahoma passed a law that students must use the bathrooms aligned with their sex assigned at birth. Last year, the state passed a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors. 

Nex Benedict* was sixteen. I want to scream – what other response is there? I want to scream, as a sign that I am fragile and will fall apart if anyone touches me. I want to scream, because then maybe a cis person will ask me if I’m ok, acknowledge that there are very real reasons why I might not be ok right now. 

Trans kids should not have to be strong or brave or resilient. They should get to be children. I don’t know if I can be resilient right now. I’m not sure I should have to be. 

Maybe I am naive to let Nex’s death affect me so much. I didn’t know Nex, after all. By the time I’m thirty or forty or fifty, will each new death no longer feel like a gut punch? I don’t want to be so hardened to this pain that it doesn’t affect me, but I don’t know how to process what I am feeling. It’s too much: too much rage and fear and heartbreak. 

If this is grief, I am not only grieving for Nex. I am grieving for Nex and Brianna and for every trans person who has died due to anti-trans hatred. I am grieving for every trans person who is going to die in the next couple of months, as transphobic laws are proposed and even passed, and politicians use trans people as punching bags to score points.

Intrusive thoughts slip back in. I don’t know how many times I’ve typed something into Google without thinking and ended up with the number for a suicide helpline as my first result. I’m better at stopping myself when my fingers tap out what I’m really thinking in emails or lecture notes or texts to my girlfriend. I don’t want to scare anyone with how overwhelmed I am by the thoughts in my head that aren’t mine but won’t stop repeating again and again. 

If every third thought in my head is about killing myself, every fifth thought is about Nex.  I save articles and Instagram posts about , promising that I’ll go back and read them later. I don’t. I can’t. I remind myself that at least some of those posts will be for cis people, rather than other trans people. Even in our grief, we are expected to educate, to explain why cis people should care. 

Even when a 16-year-old has died, the New York Times thought it was a good idea to interview the Oklahoma school superintendent, who says outright that trans and non-binary people do not exist

Nex should still be here. But I don’t know how to mourn when the hatred that killed Nex feels like it is only getting more powerful. Mourning is part of healing, but I don’t know if it is possible for any of us to heal from this when we know that more trans kids are going to die. We’ve been warning people for months, for years, that this was the result of the bills being passed and the rhetoric being spouted by politicians. 

You know what the trans agenda is? The trans agenda is trans kids getting to grow up.

Maybe there isn’t anything you can do with grief except sit with it. Maybe the best thing, the only thing I can do right now is give myself time and forgiveness. I don’t need to shame myself for these feelings, this grief. It is normal for this to hurt. It’s ok to need time to mourn. 

And maybe it’s ok to not be able to figure out how to mourn right now, when our safety feels anything but guaranteed.

*After reading Lex McMenamini's Teen Vogue piece about Nex, I am following their lead and have refrained from using pronouns for Nex in this newsletter. Freedom Oklahoma notes that they have heard varying reports of how Nex communicated gender and in the absence of 100% clarify on Nex's correct pronouns: "do not wish to engage in the harm of guessing or misgendering Nex."
Artwork by @drawn.in.the.fog.
Links to what I've been writing, reading, and generally getting excited about recently.
  • Inspired by the vintage feminist protest badges in the Tate's Women in Revolt! exhibit, I wrote about my frustration with the phrase 'if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament' and the cisnormative assumptions behind it over on Instagram.
  • I also talked to Lois Shearing for their Gay Times article about queer platonic relationships! Their piece explores how we bring our queerness to "the ways we build friendships, family, and community." I spoke to them about my relationship with my girlfriend's wife, and I really relate to the idea of queer platonic relationships as a disruption of the cisheteronormative system that excludes us. 
  • Beth Ashley's reporting on WhatsApp deleting sex workers' accounts is an absolute must-read. It's horrific but unsurprising that Meta's sex negativity is cutting off sex workers from vital support networks. And it's absurd that the laws around sex work mean that: "just helping another sex worker with their website, or with language, can be considered causing and inciting, akin to setting up a brothel, or trafficking."
  • Franki de la Cretaz's newsletter, sue bird f*cks: she doesn't have to be a respectable queer anymore, made me cry. (They are VERY good at getting me to care about sports!) It's beautifully written, incredibly important, and it felt really nice to cry in a good way while reading a story that centres the queer joy of an incredible athlete who is now able to reject the limits of respectability politics.
  • I finished two books over the last week! She Drives Me Crazy* by Kelly Quindlen is a fun, YA, queer fake-dating romance between a basketball player and a cheerleader. Honey & Spice* by Bolu Babalola is also an excellent fake-dating romance – one with a hero who was a genuinely good but flawed guy who grew over the course of the story in the same way the book's heroine did.
  • And to end on a lighter note, I just need to make sure everyone's seen Kristen Stewart's cover shoot for Rolling Stone – because I imagine if you're subscribed to my newsletter there's a good chance they are Highly Relevant To Your Interests:
*Book titles marked with an * are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy a copy then I get a small commission at no cost to you.