Trans-centered death care has been on the minds of many for decades, but has become a hot topic with the recent influx of new death workers and more widely available education on death care equality. This is important because even now, the trans community faces abuses in both life and death. Death workers can pave the way for improved quality of end-of-life for trans individuals by offering specialized care.
In what follows, I describe some of the important trans-centered advocacy that is being accomplished by death care workers. This is followed by a list of end-of-life resources that trans people should become familiar with.
Trans Death Care Advocacy and Resources
Deadnaming Donna Mae Stemmer
Donna Mae Stemmer’s story is a prime example of what can happen when trans people’s rights and identities are not respected. While she was alive, Donna Mae was known as a trans advocate and fashion icon. But in death, she was buried under a headstone bearing her deadname and was heavily misgendered. Donna Mae had served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years, and upon her discharge, would joke that her pension paid for her cheerleader outfits. She was well known for her wild and wonderful outfits, which she documented through Polaroid photos.
Before her death, Donna Mae attempted to secure a plot at Arlington National Cemetery under her true, chosen name. She was denied due to her being a trans woman. When she died of a heart attack at 82 years old, she was buried under her legal name, her deadname, a name that she had not gone by for decades. To this day, her headstone, as well as many online memorials to her, incorrectly identify her. Donna Mae Stemmer died in 2015.
Trans death care is a flourishing topic amongst death companions, death midwives, and death doulas. Death workers who fall under the trans umbrella, in particular, are at the forefront of education initiatives within and outside the domain of death care. This includes being an advocate for their dying clients to ensure their gender and name are respected at their funeral and in memorials. This type of preplanning can be precarious though, and requires the death worker to act as their client’s advocate.
A death worker can advocate for their client by contacting funeral homes and estate planners on their client’s behalf to see if safety in identity is ensured. Many funeral homes are locally owned, which means that they can help maneuver delicate local legal terrains, such as helping dying clients have their non-legal name be their identifiers in obituaries and on headstones.
Considering that it can be financially, energetically, and emotionally difficult for many trans people to pursue legal name change, finding an ally in an elder care lawyer or funeral director can make all the difference in how a person is remembered. Finding a trans-friendly funeral home and crematorium is also important when serving a trans client, as they will help ensure your client’s final wishes and identity are respected.
Trans-centered end-of-life care isn’t always about the paperwork though. One of the most common ways death workers can aid their trans clients is by being the person who sees them for exactly who they are. A death worker may attend meetings with their client, correct cases of misgendering, or simply be the quiet support in the room during these upsetting times. This also means being the person to uphold boundaries between unsafe family and the client, to maintain a calm environment for the dying person. When transphobic Aunt Beverly comes to visit, a death worker can be the stabilizing force to ensure that both their client and Aunt Beverly can be at peace whether there is an interaction between the two or not. Letting the client dictate their boundaries, can make all the difference in quality of end-of-life.
A death worker may also be called in to assist a trans person who is acting as the primary caregiver for a dying loved one. Having someone available to run errands, make phone calls, and stand between the caretaker and potentially triggering moments of misgendering can help the caretaker immensely. Respite care is a common offering amongst death workers, but this type of emotional respite from the outside world can aid the caretaker in protecting their energy, improving the care of their loved one.
Unique and Difficult Grief
LGBTQIA2S+ centered grief is unique, as personal identity may also be impacted by their loss. Many grievers express that the loved one they had lost didn’t get to know or didn’t accept their true gender, pronouns, or sexuality. Dedicated grief spaces for this community can be particularly impactful to better understand and accept these feelings. Those who can access dedicated grief spaces tend to also find strengthened relationships with those going through similar feelings of grief.
Death workers can be of service to family members by offering continued emotional support, providing the bereaved with educational resources, and by suggesting ways to honor and memorialize the recently deceased.
End-of-Life Resources for Trans Individuals
As a trans person, end-of-life planning can be an aid in comfort for yourself and your loved ones. Clearly communicating your wants and needs allows you to receive proper care at the end-of-life, and beyond, while giving your loved ones freedom to be present with you.
Below is a basic list to begin your preplanning:
Durable Power of Attorney:
A legally binding document authorizing a designated person to handle your finances, and make healthcare and end-of-life decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated (in the case of dementia, for example). This document no longer applies when you die. Checkout this Forbes article for solid advice on this subject.
- A local lawyer can fill out this form with you
- Before hunting on the internet for a free form, see if your state offers a document referred to as “statutory powers of attorney”
- eforms.com: offers downloadable, basic end-of-life forms in their ‘Personal’ section
- doyourownwill.com – offers free downloadable PDFs or Word Docs for Last Will and Testaments, Living Wills, Power of Attorney, and more,
- Note: Downloadable forms may need to be notarized depending on state requirements. Many banks offer this service.
Living Trust vs Living Will:
Both of these documents enable you to transfer your estate to designated individuals, but the Living Trust removes the need for the probate process. It is advisable to consult a lawyer to ensure you’re making the best decisions for your estate.
- A local lawyer can fill out this form with you if you would like to benefit from professional guidance
- trustandwill.com and willful.co: both are comprehensive sites enabling you to legally file a trust and will and legal power of attorney. Their packages range from $40-$850.
- doyourownwill.com – offers free downloadable PDFs or Word Docs for Last Will and Testaments, Living Wills, Power of Attorney, and more
- totallegal.com: a simple way to build a will with basic information provided, costs $19.95
Health Care Power of Attorney/Proxy:
A trusted person in your life to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so for yourself. This individual should be selected with consideration of their emotional state in the event of your incapacitation as you’ll want your proxy to be capable of making sound decisions when needed most.
- eforms.com: offers downloadable, basic end-of-life forms in their ‘Personal’ section,
- powerofattorney.com: offers forms by state and type, also includes answers to frequently asked questions,
- Note: Downloadable forms may need to be notarized depending on state requirements, many banks offer this service.
Advance Care Directive:
A form putting your healthcare needs and decisions in writing in the case of not being able to communicate your own choices, such as if you would like to be resuscitated or kept alive by ventilator. Best if used in tandem with a Health Care Power of Attorney.
- What are Advance Directives: An explanation of this important form.
- Complete Your Advance Directive: How to complete an advance directive in three easy steps.
- Advance Directives FAQ: Our Advance Directives FAQ answers some of the most common questions people have about the topic.
A form filled out with a medical care professional, detailing the end-of-life care that is deemed acceptable or unacceptable by the individual.
- to be filled out with a medical care provider in the event of a terminal diagnosis
- What is a POLST and how is it different from an advance directive?
Yes! You can write your own obituary, complete with your accurate name, pronouns, experience, hobbies, and accomplishments. This obituary can be used on social media and submitted to newspapers upon your death by a trusted loved one. We suggest trying Keeper Memorials to start building your own living memorial page, including your own obituary.
This list may feel inaccessible and overwhelming, which are very normal and valid feelings when planning for incapacitation and death. FiveWishes.org offers a low-cost preplanning package and JoinCake.com is a free preplanning option that includes a forum where you can ask questions and get peer support.
The most important aspect of the above list is to make your wishes known. Filling out these forms and locking them away in a desk drawer will make them inaccessible when they are needed most. Make multiple copies of these forms to share with trusted loved ones, and start having conversations about your forms and their use. Speak with those you would want to designate for financial and health care proxies prior to designation; mutual consent is necessary and no one wants to be surprised by being named a healthcare proxy in times of distress.
This is also a time when having a death doula/companion/guide is useful, as they can hold onto these papers and be on the notification list in case of an emergency. Having a death worker be your advocate in these times relieves stress from your loved ones and ensures your wishes are being communicated appropriately.
Trans death care is a rapidly expanding area of education. New resources are becoming available due to the rise in diversity amongst death workers. In the past year, many trans people have entered the field and created specialized education to ensure their community can access better care: care more specific to trans needs. The most impactful piece of death care is to meet people where they are, which is why it’s crucial that trans people and trans death workers’ voices are heard.