Yesterday, a family friend of Matthew Spampinosa left a comment on this blog post about his death.
I was appalled enough to draft a message in response to her, but my gut tells me she isn’t going to hear me. So I opted to share my thoughts with you. After all, just today Georgia introduced their own “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Note this quote below uses Matthew’s deadname and a strange allotment of pronouns.
Please understand the GFM was not meant to deadname Matthew. It was setup because it was too much to handle everyone reaching out and the Mom was busy traveling 13 hours one way with no sleep, going to make arrangements for her child and help find who did it. The GFM also states it is meant not be be disrespectful and it is not the organizers/my debate. Not everyone knew him as Matthew. Some knew him as [deadname redacted]. This child and I had a special bond and he knows I loved him no matter what he identified as. So did alot of others! I have always been supportive no matter what. I have been slammed by showing support in finding who did this when the focus isn’t words it’s finding who did this. Who wants to be bombarded with questions in such a tragic time by people who are not relevant when trying to find who did this. Matthew’s memorial will celebrate his life. I find it sad people judge when they don’t know details. This beautiful soul was taken way to soon. People who know me know my heart and know I have plenty of people of the LGBTQ community in my life I call my best friends and family!
I’m Sue Kerr, editor at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and I wrote the blog post about the death of Matthew Spampinato. I am genuinely sorry for the loss of this young man and hope that his loved ones find comfort, that there is justice by finding the driver. But I also have concern and an obligation to the larger trans community. I’ve written nearly 300 memorial posts since 2013 so I’ve run into this type of response before. This is particularly appalling.
There is a particular tendency for well-intended grieving family members to use the deadname and wrong pronouns, but not intend harm – not intend to erase the person their loved one was in favor of who they were perceived to be. It does cause harm to other trans folks, but again – I think it is clear when someone is misguided versus malevolent.
You didn’t use your name. You wrote all of this and didn’t put your name to it.
Your comment will not be approved. I’m going to offer you some unsolicited feedback that I urge you to deeply consider to be a good ally to the trans community and Matthew’s memory. I myself am a cisgender white lesbian so you’d be better off consulting the trans folks in your life and in your community that you describe as your best friends. But here goes.
First, Matthew was Matthew. He transitioned and chose a name that reflected his identity. It is probably true that some people were not aware of this and may still know him by his dead name. There are ways to handle that nuance that don’t disrespect his decision about his name. It is something that should have been done, work that should have been done when Matthew disclosed his true identity. That doesn’t excuse catching everyone up now in such an awful manner.
Referring to Matthew by his dead name is disrespectful, regardless of your reasons. It doesn’t matter if you claim that’s not your intent. It not only disrespect Matthew, but all of the trans people who come to your GoFundMe to grieve his death and comfort his family and friends. It erases his identity for what you describe as the sake of convenience. Imagine if someone did that to you? And to be frank, I see that people continue to refer to Matthew using his deadname and misgendering him with feminine pronouns so the claim that the GoFundMe was intended to update them falls flat. Fix it. That’s not hard.
Second, you wrote “when the focus isn’t words it’s finding who did this” and that is untrue. Words absolutely matter. Matthew’s death wasn’t a pedestrian accident (or the driver would have stopped.) Those are important words. Matthew was building the life he wanted for himself – starting testosterone, finding a job with an affirming company, making new supports – those words matter. The focus is very much on words. Words like names and pronouns matter very much. People are responding to your words because, as you said, they don’t know you or your intentions or your relationship to Matthew. They only have your words. So you devalue your efforts to support the family when you dismiss the importance of your own words.
Third, family acceptance and community supports are life saving for trans youth. Given what is happening in Texas and Florida, surely you can see how important it is to always remind trans youth and young adults that they are valued and respected. And your words suggested Matthew was not accepted. He himself appears to have fled Southern states to find what he needed to be Matthew. You can reject that interpretation, but getting defensive about your intentions does not save the next trans youth. And they need us to step up for them – the slaughter of trans folx is horrific. Whatever response you are getting is stemming from increased advocacy in a world that thinks words about trans people don’t matter. For more information, take a close look at the Georgia Equality map from the Movement Advancement Project.
Please take a step back from your immediate defensive reaction and read what people are saying, understand the harm you’ve caused, and take responsibility for it. They are taking the time to help you do better. That’s not something to dismiss.
Then, you wrote ” people who are not relevant” and I barely have words to respond to this. The people grieving your child, other trans youth, are not relevant? They are the ones wondering if they are next. They are the ones dealing every single day with people who intentionally use the wrong words. And they are the ones who will provide information to find the killer. This is a pretty cruel thing to say, especially if this is just because your feelings are hurt.
Trans people are relevant. Period.
As someone who wrote 57+ memorial posts for trans neighbors last year, I can assure you that the people reading the GFM page are very much relevant. You are asking them for money and yet you describe them as not relevant? The person who killed Matthew didn’t think he was relevant enough to stop the car. Is that really your excuse for dismissing the perspectives of the folx who are contacting you?
It doesn’t matter if you have LGBTQ friends who validate your point of view – you are factually wrong and you are hurting people. Your defense smacks of saying “I have a gay friend” as if they can absolve you of the error of your ways.
I strongly urge you to seek our resources to truly honor Matthew’s life and legacy. Acknowledge that you were wrong in how you wrote this GFM; you continue to be wrong the longer you leave the narrative up. Educate yourself about the trans community and especially the experiences of young people. Prepare yourself to undo the harm your GFM has caused and do it.
You have to start by taking responsibility for your words, that they have meaning, and that people you dismiss as not relevant are in fact at greater risk of a similar fate as a young man you claim to love because of the words you chose.
Your grief does not give you license to lash out at the trans community.
Now I am going to return to grieving the recent loss of my mother without hurting other people.
Here are some suggestions where you can educate yourself if you are capable to doing so. Or you can take umbrage that I stand with my trans neighbors, especially young people, and pushed back against your insidious form of erasure and harm.
To my trans neighbors, both known and unknown, I hear and see you. You are relevant. Your words matter. You matter to me.