Medical Transphobia, Queer Online Communities and Celebrating Life Through Protest

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Medical Transphobia, Queer Online Communities and Celebrating Life Through Protest

It seems wrong to remember a powerful, joyful person, with sadness. Hayden Muller was the first non-binary person I met. Sometimes I think I see them around town. It’s been three years. Like many trans people, Hayden should be alive today, but isn’t.

As a bisexual, I’m defacto closeted, but I’m part of a community of extremely-online Montreal queers: Canadians from all over the country, refugees, immigrants, and allies. We often didn’t meet each other in person for a long time, if at all. We met in meme groups like “Sounds like someone is being unnecessarily divisive on the left”, where we joked and commented, or on a number of community groups that tie Montreal anglophones together: Freakfam Jobby Jobs, Planting Zone, Chez Queer.

If you met in person, it might be at a potluck, a punk show, a lesbian mixer, your downstairs neighbor’s stick & poke party, a Marxist reading group, or handing out hot meals. But these were the people who stood beside me as we watched a Wobbly — a member of the International Workers of the World — confront a black SUV speeding towards protesters, on his own, during the march to commemorate Heather Heyer, who was murdered in Charlottesville, Va. with a speeding car. Our friend Hayden, also a Wobbly, was the one who everyone knew.

They helped us see what we could do for one another, and that we could ask for help. It’s standard stuff. You hear about friends working unpaid overtime in illegal conditions; you can’t make rent; you’re too sick to go buy groceries; you feel alone and dysphoric; your family disowns you; when your mental illness is getting the better of you and you don’t know what to do, when you’re dissociating, or being abused. The way our society is set up, these things are happening all the time, and it’s crushing to face these problems alone. And for queer kids, especially of color, especially gender minorities, being there for each other means everything.

Hayden showed us by example that we could join or form a union. We could text words of encouragement, accompany someone to their medical appointment, pick up groceries for them, pitch in for that rent check, do a friend’s dishes the day when they can’t get out of bed, just listen to them work through their feelings, give each other some grace, some mercy, be there, help out, stand up for one another, be each other’s family, celebrate our survival, say it’s going to be okay even if you’re not sure it is, joke around, bake a birthday cake, or hold someone accountable, with compassion. That’s mutual aid.

Media depictions of young queers often miss this, as if being extremely online means that we’re not part of the legacy of queer community stretching back through the AIDS crisis.

Their partner describes what happened to them; “Hayden had complained of symptoms for years but because of their chronic anxiety, their symptoms were chalked up to hypochondria, delaying diagnosis until their breast cancer had reached stage 3. Throughout their treatment, they were routinely misgendered and dead-named, and their treatment decisions were not respected due to their doctor’s ideas of what Hayden’s body should look like after surgery.”

Hayden’s lumpectomy did not succeed in removing all of the cancer. Hayden Muller died on September 7th, 2019. They had known for much longer than they let on, that their cancer was terminal.

Their friend Izzy described their death, “Throughout the last days about a hundred people came by, huddled around Hayden’s bed to tell stories and say goodbye. People showed up with instruments, singing songs of solidarity. I like to think that in those last few days Hayden was dreaming of a better world.” Their memorial service was a march against transphobia in medicine.

Hayden Muller was everyone’s friend, so I’ll let their friends describe them. Carl, a non-binary trans activist and communist said, “Hayden was unforgettable.”

Kelly, a fierce and tender, high octane former goth, who introduced me to Hayden, said “They were one of the most beloved people I’ve ever known, and what I saw of their life and of their death unequivocally proved that.They believed in people. They looked out for people. I think they really wanted the best for everybody — well, except for flagrant capitalists, maybe! They were an example of a person who was able to stay tender-hearted in a world that does everything in its power to erode those qualities in people.”

“I wanted to hold space for them in the way they always held space and strength for everyone else in a very special way. Because that is the type of shit that builds strong communities,” Tricia, a friend, said. “That’s the type of stuff that bonds people together, shows solidarity and allows the fear to melt away when you are fighting”.

Their friend Sassy McCoy said “I’ll keep trying to unionize my garbage workplaces and informing the others about their rights, just like you wanted me too.”

“Hayden’s presence in life in whichever task they took on, I was in awe of, be it bringing people together, crafting, reflecting, keeping the door open for transformative justice,” Alo, a local trans femme stand-up comic and producer, said. “Not simply because I could be myself fully, and had someone I could trust and talk to-I feel we all need that-I appreciated sharing in activities Hayden enjoyed & I ended up enjoying. Hayden would invite me to activities & share their joy and love.”

A younger queer friend of Hayden’s, Amy said “We talked frequently on messenger, on almost a daily basis, and they knew that I wasn’t in the best place, so even when I wasn’t as responsive, they would send me memes or gifs wishing me well, or that they were thinking of me.”

This is what Hayden said about mutual aid: “As activists, we all need to do our part to make others feel safe and comfortable, before the revolution comes. It’s not that the person voicing how their access needs not being met is unwilling to lend a hand, it’s that they are unable. When we approach it from the “they are just too lazy to lend a hand” mindset, we are being needlessly judgmental, and not engaging in problem-solving. Oftentimes people have too many stressors, or maybe they’re not feeling the intra-community support, or maybe it’s actually a matter of skills deficits-no shame! We were all beginners once. Questions we need to be asking ourselves are: ‘What’s getting in their way?’ and ‘How can I help?’

When we find and remove these barriers, they feel supported and strengthened to do more. This is the concept of mutual aid, and it’s so, so vital to keeping our communities alive and thriving. If we want to mentor new activists to the scene we absolutely need to help them! We need to find their stressors and reduce them, find unmet needs and meet them, find skills deficits and teach them.”

They were out on picket lines even after chemo, in the dead of winter. Their healthcare should have been conducted with respect for their dignity as a human being, as a non-binary person, and their symptoms should have been fully investigated in time.

There is so much we can do. Never let anyone tell you that being young, queer, and extremely online is any impediment to that, or that we young gays aren’t here for one another, trying to improve the world we live in.

Please enjoy these memes that friends posted to remember our friend Hayden.

Hayden Homosexuality.jpg

Hayden friends.jpg

Hayden Raccoon.jpg

Hayden Drawing.jpg

Elie Gill (@mercilessplot) is a freelance writer who lives in Montreal. Her writing has been published by the Montreal Gazette, Chatelaine.com, CultMTL, Canadian Notes and Queries, and the Malahat Review.