This is a memorial for Sherrell Faulkner, a 46-year old woman from Charlotte, North Carolina, who deserves to be remembered as fully human, and not merely as a headline. It goes almost without saying that Ms. Faulkner’s death is one in a tragic continuum of black trans women who are victimized, brutalized, and murdered just for their very existence. It needs to be said, however, that Sherrell Faulkner’s life is worth specific recognition and celebration. In every way that her death is systematic, it is also deeply individual, and should be treated as such.
Michaela and I wanted to step back and prioritize the words of others in this memorial—particularly those others who are black trans women, or personally who knew Ms. Faulkner. It was a harder task than we thought, especially for people who were raised in a certain tradition of honoring the dead. Amongst the few (and majority LGBTQ) publications that don’t misgender or dead-name Ms. Faulkner, there are even fewer that individualize her suffering, or offer any personal information about her. When we only see Sherrell Faulkner as one name in a much-too-long list of transgender victims, we dehumanize her in a means that is ideologically similar to her aggressor(s). For this reason, we won’t to re-iterate the specifics of her death, since too many pieces focus only on them (we have linked some of these throughout.) Instead, we want to take a moment to talk about the Southern context of her death, and most importantly, the specifics of her life, which deserves its own context and recognition. Her death is both part of a national epidemic and a Charlotte-specific tragedy; it is simultaneously a community-wide trial and an individual tribulation for her loved ones.
I say this tragedy is Charlotte-specific because, from what we know, her last hours as a free woman were spent in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood, an area of supposedly liberal residents. It’s home of my favorite record store, and considers itself the Carolinas’ gayest area, though it failed to be any kind of haven from transphobia for Ms. Faulkner. This may be because Plaza Midwood is also one of Charlotte’s whitest neighborhoods, a result of decades-long economic inequality and segregation. This tragedy is also Charlotte-specific because many people have tied this murder to North Carolina’s regressive house bills, which is understandable, but also ignorant, since HB2 was passed in response to Charlotte city council’s progressive legislation. HB2 and HB142 matter because of how they affect women like Sherrell Faulkner, who deserves to be known for more than her death’s relevance to legislation. Autostraddle’s memorial for her urges us to read the list of trans women murdered in 2017 and remember them, but mere names and deaths aren’t how I learned to bury someone.
If I know anything about the Carolinas, it’s that we do our best to give our people the dignity in death they’ve been denied in life. Sherrell Faulkner was a 46-year old woman who, from all accounts, deeply loved and cared for those around her. She was known as an angel by her cousin and as the life of the party by a close friend. When we talk about wanting context for her life, we at 2BG think personal context such as her loving and brave spirit should lead the conversation. We’re not interested merely in context for her death, since we cannot memorialize, honor, or remember a woman who we are only interested in as a headline or sign of “something greater." Sherrell Faulkner is not a sign of “something greater,” since there is no person or movement that is greater than the individuals they seek to liberate. She was a human being who deserves the full memorial our region is capable of. We are a land of immaculate repasts and impeccable second lines, of hours-long homegoings and processionals that wind down entire country roads, so I find it hard to believe that the best we can do for one of our own is list how she died and keep it pushing.
After all, even when we do talk about context for Ms. Faulkner’s death, we should use that context to reflect on the work we all need to do in order to stop failing her trans sisters. As Southern liberals, we have more work to do than creating faux-Democratic havens that are only safe for their white and upper-class residents. As cisgender people, we have more work to do than tacking Ms. Faulkner’s name onto a list of her murdered sisters in the name of allyship. As black Southern women, we often have our own work to do, and then get assigned the work of our brothers, fathers, partners, employers, and God knows who else, until it feels like we’re fighting for every damn cause and person on the planet. Personally, I’ve found that one of the only things that lightens this load is the companionship of like-minded and hearted sisters, mothers, aunts, and girlfriends. It’s high time we add black trans women into these ranks.
If you are willing and able, please consider donating to the GoFundMe organized to help with Ms. Faulkner’s family with her funeral costs.