I’ve always felt that there was a connection between queerness and the process of dying. If you’re in queer community, especially trans and especially Black and Indigenous trans communities, you know that death is something you have to learn to be comfortable with. Like queerness, death and dying does not operate within a binary. There is no one way to die, like there is no one way to love or even exist in your body.
I recently spoke with the folks at PDX Queer Death Collective, a group of radical, abolitionist queers who seek to build a movement to end the exclusion and exploitation of queer, LGBTQIA2S+, BIPOC/PGM, and other marginalized communities by and within the funeral industrial complex through grassroots care.
Queering Death – Why The Death Care Industry Needs Queer Grassroots Collectives
Inequity in the Funeral Industry
The funeral industry is overwhelmingly staffed by cisgender, straight white men – specifically in the director roles. While there has been a recent push to bring more women into death care fields, queer and trans people still struggle to be accepted within the traditional spaces of many funeral homes.
There is a real and desperate need for death care to be returned to the community.
“Funeral homes as they exist now are extremely upset by change and are generally avoidant of anything outside the standard of cis, hetero, white, Christian, able bodies with money, so the only interaction we have had as a collective has been negative and threatening.” says the Collective. “From some corporations directly on an individual level, and others as a community. To the contrary, our work and connections outside of the funeral industrial complex and within the queer community (like Queer Grief Club here in Portland!) have been the opposite. Those experiences and interactions have been wonderful and empowering. There is a real and desperate need for death care to be returned to the community.”
The Need for Community Care
Queer and trans people continue to face disproportionate violence and death around the world. As some of the worst anti-trans laws are passed in the US, death is not something we have the luxury of ignoring. In addition to seeing people in our community die, there is also a long history of trans people being dead-named, misgendered, and visually detransitioned at their funeral service.
Members of the PDX Queer Death Collective told me that,
“It makes it vitally important that we organize, not just as a response, but to create places of radical care which we absolutely need and deserve. In doing this we change the narratives of death for ourselves first. Not only by holding unique space for our community in grief, but by educating and providing resources in life that also translate into better deaths as well. While it’s important to have the space and support to mourn our passed loved ones properly, it’s just as important to fight like hell for the community that lives.”
In addition to queer death collectives, organizations like the Trans Doe Task Force are putting in their own work to take care of this community. The Trans Doe Task Force finds and researches cases of LGBTQ+ missing and murdered persons, especially focusing on unidentified individuals who may have been transgender. Their database, LAMMP (LGBTQ+ Accountability for Missing and Murdered Persons), serves the community by working to identify our loved ones who may have been unidentified in their death so they can be reunited and given dignity in the death.
Queerness inherently operates outside of the common, and that is where our solutions and healing will spring from.
“Everyone is hungry for and in dire need of community and care, especially when death visits, as it does even more regularly in these conditions.” states the PDX Queer Death Collective, “So when we get to provide that support, that care, that love…to others and to ourselves…it feels like healing. It feels like life. Even in the midst of death. Which makes it all worth it a million times over,” members of the PDX Queer Death Collective told me.
The Connections Between Queerness and Death
When I was training to be a death doula, I was also learning what it meant to exist as a trans person. I learned about the phases of dying, how to care for someone as they passed, and even how to clean and tend to a body that no longer had life inside of it. I thought about my own body– one that would begin to change as I started taking hormones, a body that has changed even more as I enter my fourth week of top surgery recovery, and I am able to apply everything I know about death care to my own transition. I never hated my body, and I was still able to tend to it and show it love even as it transitioned into something completely different and incomprehensible to me for many years.
Queerness, for me, is an inherent part of my existence just as death is.
“Queerness inherently operates outside of the common, and that is where our solutions and healing will spring from, because it is not common in our society. It will be in the people that rematriate themselves and others in healing the wounds of patriarchy, or those that reconnect with their Indigenous Ancestors and engage with the wisdom of their cultures.
It will be in those healing generations of trauma and ending the cycles of oppression because they refuse to replicate what’s been forced upon them, as queer people, as those who are different, and as those who are willing to change. Death reminds us of this imperative in the most sobering and real form. In the transient nature of life and the value in living fully and reaching for the better.”
Members of the PDX Queer Death Collective continue, “for queer people, as we are reminded of this far more regularly, we think we will come together and create new and amazing connections and foster the healing and future that will mean the survival of humanity in a way most cannot even imagine.”
Queerness, for me, is an inherent part of my existence just as death is. I spent so much of my life trying to hide from it, and as I have opened myself up to accepting that we are all going to die, I’ve been able to create space to live my life as joyfully queer as I possibly can.