August 31, 2020 we lost another trans neighbor, a 23-year-old Black woman from Harlem. Her body was found in the Bronx. Her name was Elie.
Police found the woman unconscious and unresponsive in the sand near Orchard Beach Road and Park Drive at approximately 6:09 a.m. EMS responders arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced her dead.
There is very little information available about the circumstances of her death other than this. We are waiting on the autopsy.
I am writing this blog post, not because we suspect Elie is the 27th victim of transphobic violence, but simply because all of the media coverage to date is making a mess of her name, pronouns, and identity. And people deserve to know about her life and death in the context of who she was, not some jumbled mixture of old and new, living and dead realities.
A 23 year old young woman is dead and deserves better than the coverage her death is receiving.
Elie Che had recently relocated to NYC from Atlanta to pursue her transition surrounded by other trans women of color. She had previously lived in London for three years where she has been described as a massive trans icon. She hoped to find work in fashion. Her social media feed is filled with carefully curated photos exploring gender and fashion as well as thoughtful ruminations on social issues.
Elie knew this might be her fate, but hoped for better. She wrote:
“I think people are finally understanding this and the issues among black trans women who have an average life span of 35 years old, I want to make it past that. Obviously it’s much harder getting jobs in regular industries as I’m not the most passable trans person and a lot of the world is transphobic. Another factor is covid which has flipped all of our lives upside down”
Early reports on her death misgendered and deadnamed Elie. Even when correcting her gender, they used her deadname. They being the media and law enforcement. So once again, the survivors have to interrupt their grieving to correct the record. I confirmed her identity with her trans mother and via Elie’s social media content.
Elie’s own writings prophecy this experience even while claiming her own name in a post updated in late August. I typically wouldn’t print her deadname, but this is her writing making it clear what her name is and explaining in some detail why she needed to announce the change.
Elie asked us to see her true self.
I’m very good at serving fantasies with fashion looks, but a lot of the time it’s just me hiding behind the fact of my reality. I don’t want that reality anymore I want to move towards a different reality with your help.
If I was able to find and confirm her name – her different reality – in the course of one day, why is it so very hard for actual journalists to do this? She had this rich, full, and nuanced life packed into 23 years and it was suddenly extinguished for what reason? Not just one reason, surely, but for the same complicated intersections that underscore the day to day reality of our trans siblings. It horrifies me that journalists can’t figure out to check Instagram and TikTok to find the truth and confirm facts.
I spoke with her trans mother who asked me to include this message in this post.
Elie, as you ascend into the ancestral realm, know you are loved. Hundreds of thousands near and far feel your presence now more than ever, you are truly a star. Your beauty, charisma, and compassion for others was that unlike any other — We will forever speak your name. Love, Iman.
While we wait to learn how a 23 year old woman died on a beach alone in the middle of the night, hold Elie in your thoughts. She did not live her life alone, she had friends and chosen family who loved her fiercely and continue to fight for her visibility in death. A candlelight vigil is planned for Sunday, September 6, 2020 at dusk.
Rest in power, Elie. You are gone too soon and missed very deeply. Thank you for sharing your story with us in words and images. May your experiences guide others toward a better understanding of the realities of Black trans women. May we honor your life and death by continuing to lift up the voices of all trans neighbors.
If you need support, you can reach out to
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
LGBT Hotline: 888-843-4564
The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386