In recent years, the death care space has seen an increased number of industry professionals advocating for an approach to death care that acknowledges and meets the needs of Trans individuals.
Historically, death care and funeral services have left much to be desired concerning members of the LGBTQI2S+ community. As such, advocates including Anton King-Rose have dedicated their careers to creating more equitable practices in death care.
In this blog, we had the privilege of speaking with Anton about what inspired him to do this work and how death care professionals can provide more inclusive services to those who identify as Transgender.
Before (and when) COVID-19 hit in 2019/2020, I was in the Foundation year of the British Columbia Funeral Association’s Funeral Director and Embalmer programs through the Canadian College of Funeral Services. Previous to application I was curious about how many trans funeral directors are out there. I scoured the internet to no avail. The only content I could find misgendered or deadnamed.
I decided to make sure that there was actually death positive content regarding trans people that was also affirming and resourceful for the LGBTQI2S+ community. Since Instagram is a popular communication method for the Death Positive and Death Care Communities, I created the Instagram initiative @Transdeathcare. Through this I have gained a following and made plenty of wonderful relationships with people in the death care community. I advocate for trans rights post death when many get memorialised as themselves pre-transition by family.
Many gender diverse people do not have solid relationships with their families which complicates things when it comes to arrangements and disposition. I personally know 2 gender diverse individuals who died by suicide in their late teens. One had no relationship with their family the other had started to “de-transition.” Both of these people had only their identities from birth memorialised. Their friends never got to honour the person that they knew and this led to more complicated grief. As a trans man myself, I see this and it brings me fear towards my own mortality. I do not have the best relationship with my family members and I have some that do not accept my transition and still deadname and misgender me. Through the years since I completed my foundation year and present I have been more vocal about my mortality to my family. I have taken steps in pre-arranging my death in different circumstances and will be fully ensuring my wishes are honoured no matter what. I have my certification as a Death Doula/Companion through IAP College and will be offering sliding scale services online to those who want help pre-planning and facing their mortality. I will also be doing in person care to those who are in the Kelowna/Lake Country, British Columbia Area. I will accept anyone but LGBTQI2S+ Care is prioritized and my main focus. Those who are gender diverse deserve the same access and support as cisgender people get when pre-planning their death care wishes.
The schooling to become a funeral director and embalmer at least for the CCFS does not teach that there will be transgender and gender non conforming people’s families and friends using their services. Having knowledgeable and LGBTQI2S+ supportive death care workers is important. Everyone deserves dignity at and after death and to be celebrated as themself.
When a trans, two-spirit or gender diverse human dies they may not have affirming next of kin. When the person in charge of your funeral doesn’t support gender diversity, they may not honour you properly and this can lead to those who were close to you not being able to grieve in a way that makes their grief healthy. Legally changed names and gender markers will help gender diverse people be honoured as they are on paper and will ensure their deadname stays in the grave with them. Trans people face a lot of unique stressors in life including their identity not being affirmed, discrimination and harassment. Cisgender people do not have as high a rate as trans people do in these areas. Trans people are at a greater risk for poor mental health and suicidality. Twice as likely to think and attempt than LGB people. This brings more sudden deaths and younger deaths which are difficult for friends and family to process. Death care workers should be advocates for the deceased and ensure that everyone in their community has a chance for healthy grief.
The best way to support gender diversity is to educate yourself and keep an open mind. I personally support the idea of end-of-life courses adding a section to their curriculum on care for gender diverse and intersex people.If you’re not an educated ally or a member of the LGBTQI2S+ community, it can seem very daunting to approach the situation at hand. If the family or next of kin aren’t supportive, advocating for the dying or deceased may be necessary to provide a dignifiable death and memorialization. This will bring a healthier grieving process to those who are honouring the deceased’s true self. A way for doulas to support, is to help with the legal name and gender marker changes as needed. Educating yourself on the name change process is very easy and you can apply to change the gender marker at the same time. This is the best way to ensure their chosen name and gender identity are how they are memorialized. Since a lot of trans deaths are sudden and difficult circumstances, complicated grief is to be expected. Death certificates have the deceased’s birth name and sex assigned at birth or new legal name and legally changed gender marker, but doesn't identify gender identity; so there are no accurate death statistics available on the trans community. Advertising as a safe space whether on your website, social media or at your establishment provides reassurance to clients that they are going to have their proper needs affirmed. Another way to show you are an ally is to display your personal pronouns on your business cards, name tags, email signatures and staff personal bios ( if you have them). They go after your name and before your position or title..
i.e. Anton King-Rose he/him
Putting a section for pronouns and preferred names on your forms will help you ensure you are referring to the deceased properly and affirmingly. When arranging for a gravestone or vault, you can advocate for their chosen name to be added instead of their legal name if they haven't changed it. Depending on the deceased’s wishes, they may want to memorialize their pre-transition self. I however, personally think my family has had enough time to grieve my transition. Their reaction when I came out was pretty much like I had died. Most have come to accept me and my identity but some refuse to call me Anton and use a full or shortened version of my birth name itself when referring to me. Every situation will be different.
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Gender-inclusive death care is a necessary step for every service provider. My hope is that the educational curriculum will include a section on gender inclusivity for every certifiable or licensable course. Just like religion, we should not judge no matter our personal beliefs. My hope when starting Trans Death Care in 2019 was that it would help get the idea of gender-inclusive death care out there. Since then I have found there is more conversation happening. Especially online. This reassures me that companies are taking a step in the right direction. It's up to death care workers and end-of-life services to advocate for these changes and implement them into their own practices. These questions being asked are important ones, and fuels my hopes for the future.
Trans: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. Short version of Transgender.
LGBTQI2S+: Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex 2-Spirit +
Gender Diverse: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.
Intersex: people born with both “Male” and “Female” biological traits. Traits don’t always show up at birth; it can also be at puberty, discovery of infertility and even at autopsy.
De-Transition: deciding to re-identify with person’s name and sex at birth after living with a different sense of identity publicly.
Deadname: legal birth name of a trans person.
Birth Name: name given at birth.
Cisgender: denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.
Ally: formally cooperating with/ supporting another person or community for a purpose
Safe Space: business or service that is LGBTQI2S+ friendly
Personal Pronouns: How you refer to yourself and identify. ie . He/Him She/Her They/Them Xie/Xir Multiple pronouns can be used by one person.
About Anton King-Rose
I am openly “Female to Male” Transgender, I have chosen to dedicate my learning experiences to assist in bringing more visibility and understanding towards Gender Diversity and Death Care. I believe all should be memorialized and honoured for who they are, and that there is often extra barriers and grief involved at End Of Life for the survivors and deceased. This is new territory for many in the profession. One of the greatest fears trans people have about their mortality is remembrance.
With this I have started Trans Death Care to bring constructive conversations for Death Care professionals and the public as well as be LGBT2Q+ Centered end of life care.