Rest in Peace, Eden Knight

Rest in Peace, Eden Knight

Editor’s Note: Eden Knight (2000–2023) was a Saudi Arabian trans woman studying computer science in the United States. After her visa expired, she began the process of seeking asylum. During this time, she was contacted by Michael Pocalyko and Ellen Cole, who promised to help her with her asylum application. In fact, they were employed by her father, an influential Saudi financier. Pocalyko and Cole used the threat of deportation to coerce Knight to return to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where she was forcibly detransitioned by her family. She committed suicide shortly thereafter.

At Liberal Currents, we remain committed to fundamental liberal principles of universal human rights, including the rights to gender self-expression and to freedom of movement. Eden Knight’s story emphasizes the enduring importance of these rights in a world facing a resurgent illiberal movement at home and abroad, and we are proud to publish this eulogy from her friend, Y. L. Al-Sheikh.

It is with a heavy, broken, despairing, and enraged heart that I write this short eulogy and message of grief for my friend Eden Knight. Eden meant an infinite amount of things to the hundreds, if not thousands of people who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing her. I myself had that pleasure and that privilege and was blessed by whatever divine power that might exist with the opportunity to share myself and my fears and hopes with her as she did with me.

Eden was a Saudi-American and a trans woman of beautiful mind and heart who gave her everything to the people around her. She pledged her life to making people feel warmer and happier in a world that has never been kind to people like her. Or me, for that matter. Like Eden, I am a trans woman. Also like Eden, I am an Arab American. In the most upsetting and sickening of tragedies, however, she is no longer living in the same world as me. The fact that she is not at this very moment alive is a fundamental injustice, a damning reflection on Arab society, on American society, and on the world at large. 

Eden did not commit a single crime. She was no sinner. She was a woman who was trying to find her way in this world. For being who she was—a woman—she was killed. I use that word—killed—with precision and purpose. Far too many are flippant about the language they use when it comes to trans and non-binary people who have their lives cut short. My Arab sister did not leave the living because she wanted to. She was driven out by a family, a religious culture and multiple systems of government and life.

To say that Eden simply committed suicide is to obscure what was done to the great friend and sister that I had. Eden was killed by a society that, through the interlocking mechanisms of transphobia, transmisogyny, and patriarchy, made the simple act of self-actualization a criminal offense. Eden was lured out of safety, lied to repeatedly, coerced into de-transition, and ultimately killed. It is a story that is all too familiar to anyone who is trans or non-binary. Again and again, we see members of our communities ripped away and forgotten because of the malice of broader civil society and its institutions.

How can we move on from this? How can we cope? I don’t think it’s even possible to do so. Every day since the news reached me, I’ve thought about her. Hundreds of her friends and our mutual friends have written eulogies, dozens have made tributes through the mediums of visual art and song, and thousands who never knew her personally but know all too well what she faced mourn her every day. Mourning her is not enough, though. It is imperative that we, as people imbued with the compulsion towards dignity and respect, demand justice for Eden Knight and for every trans person who has been killed and every trans person who faces the threat of murder at this very moment. Liberation is a constant struggle, but it is not a static one. We can not and do not live in a truly liberal republic if we as trans people do not have our rights and dignities alongside everyone else. Eden should have had that from the moment she stepped into the United States. That she was in a situation where she could be lured away from a safe haven and into forced detransition is an indictment of America just as much as it is of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

A reckoning with homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny within Arab and Muslim society must be had. If you consider yourself a proud Arab and a proud Muslim, it should be a great pain to see a woman of that same background forced out of this world by our own fellow Arabs and Muslims. What justice is there in depriving an innocent woman of her life? Would God look kindly upon you for doing so? I do not think so. Just as when Sarah Hegazi had her life cut short as a result of the oppressive actions of the Sisi government, we should be shocked and outraged and righteously angry at the loss of Eden Knight. There are righteous organizations like that of Tarab and Helem and alQaws, and they ought to be supported. There are millions of Arab and Muslim queer people who ought to be given unconditional love. I can not pretend to know in what shape, how, or when this transformation will take place, but I know that it is necessary for the survival and thriving of people like Eden and myself. Most importantly, I know that it would be just.

When I think about Eden, I think about myself and many other Arab and Muslim trans people as well as many more Arab or Muslim gay people. I know some who live here in America alongside myself, but I also know some who live in occupied Palestine and the Gulf states and Egypt, as well as non-Arab countries like Pakistan or Indonesia. These people all deserve equality and love, as Eden did. That they continue to be deprived of it and suffer even death as a penalty for being who they are is an affront to every bone in my body and every atom in my heart. I hope that this is the case for you as well. I hope you have these people in mind when you think of Eden and what was taken from her. They mourn her just as I do, and I mourn her every day.

I tried writing this eulogy and the thoughts that go along with it a hundred times now. It is not perfect. It is not even a fraction of what I would like to say about Eden and her beauty as a person. I can only say that I had hoped to go on the coffee date we had talked about on numerous occasions, and that I had hoped that one day, once I was also on my transition path, we could embrace each other as friends and as survivors. Eden had so many dreams, so many hopes, and so many things to do. Even on her most turbulent days, she never wavered in her support for others and her desire to make people feel at ease and at peace in the spaces they inhabited with her. Eden was robbed of the opportunity to provide and receive this kindness for years to come. She was robbed of decades of life and joy. I write this to plead with everyone who reads it to help, in every way you can, to make sure that nobody is ever robbed of these pleasures and these rights again.

Featured image is Transgender Pride Flag