Delivering A Funeral For A Transgender Person

Mar 28, 2024

As Celebrants we celebrate inclusion and diversity. It is one of the reasons we chose to train as a Celebrant and forms an intrinsic part of our values. 

Occasionally, when working as a Celebrant, you may be asked to deliver a funeral for a transgender person. This means, the gender the person identifies as is not the same gender they were assigned at birth. 

While writing and delivering a funeral for a transgender person is no different to the process for any other person, complications can arise when it comes to matters such as pronouns, eulogy wording and supporting the family of the deceased. 

While this is a rare occurrence, we still want to ensure that our celebrants are prepared, confident and inclusive, and continue to offer people the very best service possible. 

In this article, we will look more closely at the challenges faced by Celebrants and how they can be overcome so that the life story of the deceased can be celebrated. We also urge you to reach out to transgender / LGBTQI charities to ask further questions and independently educate on the matter, especially as this is an ever-evolving space. 

The Basics on Transgenderism

Many people have had no exposure to the transgender community and do not personally know anyone who identifies this way. Therefore, proactive self-education is important. Here are some of the basics for you to know. 

Transgenderism is the term used when someone identifies as a gender that does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. Babies are automatically assigned the same gender as their biological sex (for example, a baby born female would be a girl / woman). But in some cases, people don’t feel that this was the correct assignment, and so they re-assign this as a preferred gender. It’s important to note here that a preferred gender doesn’t have to be ‘man’ or ‘woman’ but can be one of many other options too, and your role as a celebrant is to understand how the deceased identified and not make any assumptions. 

In 2021, 0.5% of the population (262,000 people in England and Wales) reported having a gender identity that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. The actual number is likely to be higher due to the stigma surrounding transgenderism and some people’s reluctance to formally report their gender identity. 

Some people decide to have gender reassignment procedures to outwardly reflect their gender. This is often called ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ surgery. Some people do not opt for surgery, but might outwardly reflect their gender in other ways - and are still considered to be transgender. Some people begin transition early (as young as their teens) and others do this much later in life.

The Equality Act 2010 protects transgender people (regardless of where they are in their transition) from discrimination based on ‘gender reassignment’. Transgender People do not have to have taken any medical steps in their transition in order to be protected by this legislation. They can use the bathroom that fits their gender, expect their employers to recognise their gender, and access gender-specific public services. 

There are dozens more facts available on the Stonewall charity website. Click here to read more.

Their Life Is A Celebration

As Celebrants, we take a non-judgemental, inclusive approach to all of our clients. Everything we do is about love, and we celebrate the lives of the deceased during a funeral, alongside their family and loved ones. 

When it comes to a transgender person, we encourage celebrating their identity and ensuring that we embrace the fact that they transitioned and became the person they were always meant to be. 

Transgender people often have a network or community around them, and so it could be more likely that mourners at the funeral are also within the LGBTQI community. This is not always the case, but it is something to consider and be aware of. Inclusive language and recognition of the person as they are, will be important not just to the deceased but to those who knew and loved them and to the LGBTQI community as a whole. 

Equality Is Crucial

Trans people around the UK have rich, rewarding lives, careers, families and relationships, just like any other group of people and you will be able to reflect this in the eulogy. But transgender people often face a life of difficulties and discrimination, and as Celebrants we do not wish to unintentionally cause any further distress to what was already a journey of challenges, or erase any of their important life moments in death. It’s important to remain mindful that you are treating this person as you would any other, using the correct pronouns (those that reflect their identity at death), and celebrating their achievements. 

Family Sensitivities 

Some families struggle to come to terms with the transition of someone that they knew well as a different identity. For example, a woman might have known her father as a man for most of her life, and found it hard to see her father as a woman. There are many complicated family dynamics that can occur, including those where a married person has transitioned, and the other partner has had to face the reality of being married to someone as a new identity. The scenarios you face and people you meet as a Celebrant will be unique, and are likely to come with complicated feelings and interpersonal relationships. It’s important to remember that, while remaining empathic and sensitive to this, it is still your role to celebrate the life of the deceased, and not cause any harm or discrimination to that person in the process. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, we advise all Celebrants to acknowledge and celebrate the identity of the trans person that they themselves used. This leads us onto the issue of pronouns and deadnaming. 

Deadnaming - Why Does It Matter?

Eulogy delivery for a trans person should be the same as it would be for any other person. There is debate within the community as to how to mention their previous identity, if at all. What’s important here is to understand what the deceased person was comfortable with, if any wishes of theirs on this issue have been expressed, and if not, to not assume it is ok to mention their previous name or pronouns. 

You might be thinking - but they did once have a different identity and surely we need to celebrate and acknowledge that too in the eulogy? This is an understandable viewpoint, but in the majority of cases, trans people feel that their previous identity was not who they truly were, but instead it was an identity given to them. They went through an enormous psychological and physical process to become the person they truly are, which is not an easy path, and so it is crucial that we focus on their true self.

It’s also important to understand that referring to a trans person’s previous name without their expressed permission - even if it is the wish of the family - is called ‘deadnaming’ and can be seen as a form of discrimination. We recommend avoiding deadnaming or trying to come up with ‘compromises’ that please the family, as this does not honour the deceased in an equal and fair manner.

Similarly, pronouns should, throughout the eulogy, reflect the true pronouns of the trans person. Not the pronouns assigned at birth. 

What Does The Community Say?

In any matter such as this, we do not consider ourselves experts. Trans community groups are available to speak to, train with and get literature from, and it is your responsibility to reach out and self-educate so that you can give the best possible send off. The following resources will be helpful. You can also speak to us any time or reach out in our Facebook group for advice. 

Stonewall - The Truth About Trans

Sparkle - Resources

Transactual Research

Claire Project Resources