Eden Knight, a Saudi trans woman living in the US, was allegedly coerced into cutting her hair and stopping hormone therapy by ‘fixers’ employed by her parents
Trigger warning: this article contains themes of detransition and suicide.
On March 12, Eden Knight, a Saudi trans woman living in America, took her own life. As per the testimonies of her friends, as well as her own statement, Knight’s death was preceded by a shocking chain of events, illustrating all too clearly the interconnected forms of violence faced by trans migrants around the world.
Having moved to the US to attend university, Knight came out as trans during the Covid pandemic. Her friends remember a woman who was “funny, sharp, well-read, and concerned with making the world a better place [...] a light in the trans community.” In a document published collectively, these friends wrote, “Everyone who speaks about her mentions her humour and her kindness. She possessed an inner strength that we admire and know deserves recognition.” When the news of Knight’s death was confirmed on March 13, social media was flooded with tributes and messages of collective mourning.
Knight described what happened in the months leading up to her death in a final message published on Twitter, an account that has been corroborated by multiple sources. According to this message, Knight was estranged from her parents back in Saudi Arabia and had been contacted by two “fixers” last summer, who offered to help repair their relationship. Allegedly hired by her parents, the pair work for a firm that offers intelligence and investigation services for both government and private contractors. Knight considered a family reconciliation unlikely because they were conservative and strongly opposed to her being trans. But she decided it was worth a shot, not least – according to her friend and former roommate – because the fixers claimed they could help her to secure permanent immigration status (at the time, she was an undocumented migrant).
As Knight wrote in her message, she began communicating with them over the phone, and they initially seemed supportive, mostly asking questions about whether she was safe and had a place to stay. But when she witnessed a traumatic incident and her mental health worsened, things took a different turn. The fixers persuaded her to leave Georgia, where she was living, and take up residence at a hotel in Washington DC. At this point, she was optimistic.
Eden. I'm so sorry this life of trans joy was taken from you. Thank you for sharing it with us.— Strewth 🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈 (@StrewthQueen) March 13, 2023
We will remember you, beautiful angel. Rest well, you are among legends. pic.twitter.com/kjFDE7llUM
As time went on, a Saudi lawyer who had become her sole point of contact since arriving in DC allegedly began pressuring her into detransitioning. She said that he would denigrate her appearance, tell her that it was “better to hide” being trans, and suggest she should live instead as a feminine man. When she tried to reach out to the fixers who had initially contacted her, they ignored her pleas for help. She realised she had become completely dependent on the lawyer for food and shelter, and that, lacking secure citizenship, if she attempted to run away he could simply track her down and have her deported. She cut her hair, stopped taking oestrogen, and allowed the lawyer to book her a flight to Saudi Arabia.
When she arrived, her family berated her constantly and searched through her belongings each day to ensure she was no longer transitioning. She was informed that this had been the plan all along: her forcible return was the reason the ‘fixers’ were hired and exactly what they set out to do. This is the context in which she took her own life.
Whenever a tragedy like this occurs, some people rush to suggest that it shouldn’t be ‘politicised’ – but how could it not be? The circumstances of Knight’s death are inescapably political. A trans woman was persecuted with the help of an elite US security firm, with the alleged involvement of a man who has connections to the Heritage Foundation, a far-right anti-LGBTQ+ organisation with a history of promoting conversion therapy. Despite clearly having grounds to be granted asylum, she was coerced into returning to a situation where she wasn’t safe – if there were greater protections for trans refugees or a government body she could have turned to for help, this likely would have turned out differently.
Nor is this an isolated event or solely an indictment of Saudi conservatism. At the same time as this happened, several states across the US are attempting to mandate the experience that Knight was subjected to as a matter of law. As trans legislative expert Erin Reed writes, “Her final message reveals what so many transgender people and those who care about us have said for so long: for many of us, forced detransition can be a fate worse than death.” Amid calls to ‘eradicate transgenderism’, this is an outcome for which countless public figures across the US are now actively campaigning.
Knight wrote that she wanted to see the world get better for the trans community, that she wanted to see her community get old, that she hoped for trans rights everywhere. Against the backdrop of America’s rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, the fight for that world continues.
If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues raised in this article, you can access free resources and support from the Samaritans here. For additional support, you can also visit the Mermaids website here or the Gendered Intelligence website here.