Saudi Trans Woman’s Devastating Suicide Note Leaves Her Community Outraged

Film

“If you’re reading this, I’ve already killed myself.” So begins the suicide note of Eden Knight, a 23-year-old transgender woman who studied and lived for a time in the U.S. before she returned to a family in Saudi Arabia that she said did not accept her gender identity.

The letter — in which Knight alleged that her parents hired an American security firm to reestablish contact with her — appeared on the social media service TwitLonger. Knight linked to it in her last tweet on March 12. A Twitter account operated by her relatives, the Al-Shathri family, confirmed her death the following day in a tweet that misgendered and deadnamed her. The account went private after that post was deluged with replies, many of them noting, “Her name was Eden.” Knight’s partner also confirmed her death on a private Twitter account.   

Across social media, Knight’s friends and the broader trans community are demanding justice, arguing that her death was the result of a cruel international scheme to place her in unsafe circumstances and force her back into the closet. On Twitter, many have added the outlined sun or “brightness” emoji to their usernames, to signify how she lit up the lives of those close to her. Tributes attested to her irrepressible humor, supportiveness, and ambition to become a force in the trans rights movement. “She wanted to be a role model and a leader for Saudi trans women,” Victoria Morris, one of Knight’s many friends, tells Rolling Stone. “To show that she could make it, be happy, and love life. It meant the world to her to be a beacon of hope.”    

Last summer, Knight claimed in her suicide note, she had been contacted by two Americans at an investigations and intelligence firm based in Washington, D.C., with an offer to “fix” the rift between her and her parents, who are “strict conservative Muslims,” she wrote. Although skeptical, she stated in the letter, Knight had a series of phone calls with the pair, and was eventually convinced to travel to D.C., where she said that she lived in an apartment under the supervision of a Saudi lawyer. This man, she alleged, made her fully dependent on him (she’d stayed in the U.S. illegally upon leaving college and risked deportation if she fled) while pressuring her to detransition. Once Knight had “repented” by quitting hormone replacement therapy, changing her wardrobe and cutting her hair, she claimed in her note, he booked her a flight back to Saudi Arabia. Multiple requests for comment from the two members of the U.S. firm named by Knight in her letter went unreturned. Neither did the firm itself respond to inquiries about Knight. An email to an individual believed to be the Saudi lawyer was not returned.

Last summer, when the security firm first allegedly contacted Knight, she was living with a friend named Bailee, who asked to be identified only by their first name, in Georgia. This arrangement came after a period of instability. Several of Knight’s friends tell Rolling Stone that in February 2022, she lost her student housing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where she studied computer science, apparently due to an issue with her scholarship. (Around the same time, friends say, she began to identify as female, though the housing problem seems to have been unrelated.) “At the time she was freaking out because essentially overnight she had no place to stay and no money and an immigration status newly in question,” says Chad, one of her online confidants, who also asked to be identified only by first name. In a series of recent tweets, Knight described how she lived in a motel for months, and finally traveled to Georgia instead of using a ticket to Saudi Arabia her family had booked for her.

Bailee says they connected with Knight through mutual Twitter friends a year before. “She needed a place to stay, and so we let her live with us in our house in Georgia,” they tell Rolling Stone. Bailee was already living with their young son and spouse, but Knight quickly became part of the family. “We shared movies and music, I cooked for her plenty too,” Bailee says. “My son loved her more than anything. She would play with him and teach him things, such as this cute game where you’d run up and hug someone — she said it’s a Saudi thing. She cared for him as if they were related. My spouse and I gave her a bracelet with the word ‘Aunt’ etched into it.” 

It was while a part of this household that Knight began to medically transition, “since she felt safe,” Bailee says, and was able to receive hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. Knight “was so happy to finally get the HRT bottle in the mail,” Bailee remembers.

Yet Knight was “so depressed and anxious about the situation” with her family, Bailee says, and “always worried her father was going to use his power to get her back.” Knight’s father, Dr. Fahad Al-Shathri, is deputy governor for supervision at the Saudi Central Bank, has served on the board of other major banks and funds, and spent five years with the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., during Knight’s adolescence, a time when she attended American schools. Neither he nor the family returned requests for comment, and Al-Shathri deleted his LinkedIn page some time after Rolling Stone contacted him there.

Those close to Knight say she described her relationship with her mother and father as extremely difficult. Morris and Zoe Brugger, two friends who met Knight through internet circles, say she told them both parents were intolerant of her trans identity. Morris recalls how she and Knight would voice chat for hours on Discord: “We were close and related a lot on the religious trauma we both went through. In June of 2022 we met and went to Pride together. I saw a trans woman who was happy and full of life. Eden wanted to be free of her parents and to live her life her own way.” 

“My understanding is that she really wanted her family to accept her,” says another of Knight’s friends, Ashley Biddiscombe, who connected with her online. “She told me about dreams she would have where she’d go clothes shopping with her mom as a girl, where her mom loved her and accepted her as a woman. She said that when she was forced to go back to Saudi that it wasn’t all bad, because she would get to see her siblings again. She really missed her sisters.”

Chad says that Knight was “was terrified of violence being done to her,” though he clarifies that this went beyond her family’s attitudes: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not recognize transgender identity and thereby effectively criminalizes it alongside homosexuality. According to Human Rights Watch, Saudi judges have sentenced people to imprisonment and flogging for “cross-dressing” and other types of gender nonconformity.  

In private messages that later became public, as well as in Discord chat records shared with Rolling Stone, Knight claimed to friends that once she had returned to Saudi Arabia, her family hid her passport and money to keep her from fleeing the country. According to Knight’s suicide note, tensions rose as her parents berated her, continued to invade her privacy and, on several occasions, discovered she was still using hormones. “After the first time they found my HRT, it was traumatizing, but I didn’t want to stop,” she wrote. “I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t transition. Then the second time came. After that, I took a month break off of HRT, and got back on it. They have found my HRT again, and I am done fighting.”

Research has shown that a lack of gender-affirming care, along with the extreme levels of stress that come with being a stigmatized minority, are factors that contribute to higher rates of suicide thoughts and attempts among transgender people compared to cisgender people. The National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 40 percent of transgender adults report attempting suicide in their lifetime — and Knight’s tweets allude to previous attempts to take her own life. Family rejection is also a predictor of suicide attempts among transgender and gender noncomforming adults, while acceptance can significantly reduce that risk.     

“I can’t emphasize enough that the dysphoria was unbearable for her,” Brugger says. “HRT was a potential life-saver. Every time it was confiscated, she found a way to sneak more.” Brugger and Knight chatted on Discord the night before she died. “We were talking about Neon Genesis Evangelion and sharing memes. I showed her a Nine Inch Nails remix,” Brugger says. Knight later told Brugger that her parents had uncovered her HRT supply once again, writing, “oh my fucking god I’m panicking,” and “I’m actually gonna Kms.” (“KMS” is short for “kill myself.”)  

In one of their previous exchanges, as the two reflected on death, Knight wrote, “I feel like it’s all over and coming to an end. But the things I’ve experienced and joy I’ve had are really unique and I’m pretty grateful.” When Brugger wrote, “I should be dating and fucking around having fun not contemplating the end and reflecting on my past. I want to grow old.” Knight answered: “You will.”  

Knight’s death has sparked fury in her community, not just at the Al-Shathri family but the Americans allegedly paid to help separate Knight from Bailee’s safe and supportive chosen family in Georgia. In her own TwitLonger post, Bailee expressed the feeling that Knight was deceived by the operatives of the U.S. security firm who spoke with her, writing, “I feel disgusted by the magnitude of their betrayal.”

Knight “was essentially lured out of” Bailee’s home by these fixers, Biddiscombe alleges, in part with the prospect of career opportunities in computer science that she was “really excited” to pursue. The more prominent of the two named by Knight in her letter has run for public office and donated thousands to Republican candidates. He last tweeted in February; the post now has over a thousand replies, with dozens labeling him a “murderer.” Wikipedia editors protected his page following efforts to add similar accusations there.

In grieving for Knight, her friends also mourn the loss of someone poised to make a difference for the rights and recognition of trans people. “Eden was funny, sharp, well-read, and concerned with making the world a better place,” they wrote in a communally edited Google Document that laid out the events leading to her untimely passing. “She stood up for marginalized people and regularly critiqued the conservative, suffocating culture she had left back home.”

“Nearly every time we talked, she talked about all the amazing stuff she was going to do,” Biddiscombe reflects. “And I knew she could do it. She was so driven and had so many ideas and cared for other people in a way no other people really do. I looked up to her a lot.” Biddiscombe adds that while living in Georgia, Knight “helped fund plenty of other trans people to pay for their own mediation out of pocket,” even redistributing donations she received. 

“She desperately wanted to ensure no other trans kid ever had to go through what she did,” says Chad. “And she spoke about it with such clarity and confidence, you couldn’t help but believe she could do it single-handedly.” Brugger agrees: “She wanted to fight for our community. Despite all her fear, she wanted to fight for a world where other trans people could be happy.”

And Bailee, who provided Knight with a haven within her family, echoes that description: “She wanted more than anything to be an advocate for trans Saudi youth. She wanted to reach out and become credible enough to find a way to reach out to anyone there who felt alone and maybe someday help them escape as she would have.”

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Dial 988 in the US to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).

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