EASTER MESS: THE GUARDING OF EDEN
Today is a holiday for most of America, but we are not in a celebratory mood. Lately, whenever we think about other people’s values around the sacred and the profane, we become preoccupied remembering Eden Knight.
I don’t usually do a lot of content warnings. For one thing, I just don’t personally feel they’re necessary in many cases; for another, I fret that warning about upsetting content may not be effectively less anxiety-inducing than the content itself.
In this case though, you should know that we’re talking about transphobia, child abuse, religious bigotry, and suicidal ideation, and that the story does not have a happy ending.
I wish we weren’t, but that is evidently not the world we live in. Indeed, that’s the point.
Before March 12, I had no idea who Eden Knight was. Her final tweet, a link to an 1,100-word suicide note, floated across our SBA Twitter feed that day, but I didn’t notice it at first; rather, I originally saw some of the 4,000-plus messages from other people–some friends of ours, some strangers–urging her not to harm herself, and to believe that happiness and a better future were possible.
But, sadly, there is a certain kind of pain that can eventually become the only thing you really believe in.
I didn’t know Eden, but I do know what she wrote about her life. By her admission, that pain came from one place in particular: In this case, you could almost say it was her birthright.
Certain overbearing people–we’ll call them “lawyers” for ease of reference–warn me that for liability reasons, I cannot write that Eden Knight’s parents killed her.
Even if I point out that I mean this in the figurative and indirect manner of driving her to suicide through religiously motivated anti-trans abuse, that could still qualify as a defaming statement.
So I won’t say that.
Luckily, I don’t have to: She said it herself.
Eden was the daughter of Saudi Arabian religious zealots (“zealot” suggests uncompromising fanaticism, and thus is a subjective value and non-actionable matter of opinion, dear lawyers), and according to testimony from her friends to the Independent, she moved to Virginia to attend George Mason University three years ago.
But she also hoped to pursue the possibility of asylum in the US. Eden came out as trans after the move, and in 2022, she started hormone therapy. Friends tell Rolling Stone that she was happy and wanted to champion trans rights in Saudi Arabia, but also that she felt sorrow that her parents (particularly her mom) would not accept her transition.
Per Eden’s final statement, sometime last year a pair of mysterious samaritans injected themselves into her life, offering to reconcile her with her parents and negotiate her immigration status.
Even if you don’t know this story already, alarm bells are no doubt ringing in your head with the shrillness of a teapot traveling at the speed of light. But Eden was 23 years old and being told everything she could possibly want to hear, so she trusted them.
Soon, these meddling weirdos (defined as persons deemed “strange” and “eccentric” and thus not objective value judgments, for the benefit of any legal vultures still hovering over these words) were pressuring Eden to go off her meds, throw away her clothes, and detransition.
Because of course, they were working for her parents all along, and their mandate was not to fix her problems but theirs. In reality of course, the only cure for what’s wrong with Eden’s piece-of-shit mother and father is self-awareness, but obviously they weren’t about to hear that.
(“Piece of shit” is also a statement of opinion. Unless of course you’re talking about actual, biological shit, which as far as I know in this case we are not.)
Eden’s parents called her “a freak” and “an abomination” and harangued her to “repent.” She struggled with internalized shame and self-loathing, and berated herself as “fucking stupid” for believing she could live successfully as her honest self.
In the end, she writes, “I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t transition.” So she didn’t.
Reading Eden’s note again and again, that word stood out to me: “abomination.”
I imagine when Eden’s father bashed her with this term he was thinking about the Koran, which in the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation warns, “obey Allah and His Messenger. and Allah only wishes to remove all abomination (مَقْت) from you, […] to make you pure and spotless.”
This is the inverse of ablution–“grace, cleanliness, and enlightenment,” words Eden’s dad apparently refused to associate with her.
Or maybe he was thinking of the old Hebrew scriptures and the word “פִּגּוּל“ which refers to unclean animals, foreign idols, deviant sexual practices, but most often, as the 1903 Dictionary of the Targumim explains, to “an unfit sacrifice”–an offering to god that is polluted and unworthy.
I don’t know Eden’s parents–gratefully–or what they were thinking when they flung words like this at her. Possibly they weren’t thinking much of anything, except that abuse would somehow magically turn their daughter into a different person and excuse them from acknowledging her.
“Common to all these usages is the notion of irregularity, that which offends the accepted order,” the Jewish Virtual Library notes. Which, yeah, we noticed that too.
Sometimes people will second guess our value statements as Satanists; if we tell the world that Satanists accept trans kids for who they are, doesn’t this risk infecting trans rights with the stigma of Satanism?
Usually I respond to these concerns by pointing out that zealots and bigots already believe trans rights and identities and sex are the tools of Satan, and that they’ll continue thinking so even if we were all reverse Raptured off the planet tomorrow and never said a word about this or anything ever again.
And that is true. But it also possibly misses the point: Namely, that if these are the things we believe and feel most profoundly, how can we not express them? How could we possibly keep it all inside forever?
(Eden, we should note, was not a Satanist–we have no idea what her religious beliefs were, although we’d speculate she was never put in a place to really decide such things herself.)
Kids like Eden should not have to feel like freaks; they should not have to repent; they should not have to be pure or spotless, or be called unclean, defiled, degenerate, irregular, or offensive. They should not be made into a sacrifice.
But as long as they are–if that’s the world we’re stuck with–we’ll say: Okay. We love your abominations; we acknowledge them; we’re lucky to have them when they enter our lives; and if your saviors won’t bother with them, we’ll tell them to save themselves.
This does not help Eden, of course; it won’t help most people. But how can we not feel it? How can we not say it? How can anyone?
That’s our first offering. Our second one is anger, but for that one we haven’t prepared any words.
Because chances are, if you read this far, you feel it too.