Eden Knight: The attempted erasure of trans people


Eden Knight, uploaded to Twitter on January 18, 2023. Photo Credit: Eden Knight.

Content Warning: This article strongly mentions suicide and transphobia. If you need help, please contact 988 (suicide hotline), (877) 565-8860 (Trans Lifeline) or (212) 695-8650 (The Trevor Project).


On March 12, 2023, Eden Knight, a Saudi transgender woman, tweeted a final message detailing how she was forced to detransition and move back to Saudi Arabia by private investigators who called themselves “fixers” and were hired by her parents. On March 13, her family confirmed her suicide. Knight’s death highlights the necessity for gender-affirming care, accurate coverage of trans issues in major media and the attempted erasure of trans people in and outside the United States.

Michael Pocalyko and Ellen Cole have been identified as at least two of these fixers. They approached Knight deceitfully, claiming they could help fix her relationship with her father. “I thought this was impossible, I’m transgender and they are strict conservative Muslims, but I decided I would give it a shot because it can’t hurt right,” Knight said in her final message. 

Pocalyko and Cole also claimed that they could assist Knight in obtaining immigration status in the United States, according to Knight’s former roommate. They brought Knight to Washington D.C., where they got her in contact with another fixer, Bader Alomair, a Saudi lawyer. 

In time, Alomair made it so Knight was reliant on him. “At a certain point, I realized I was entirely dependent on Bader for food and shelter, and that if I ran away, he could easily find my location, and since I was illegal, I would have just been deported to Saudi,” she said in her message. 

“I subconsciously gave up, I was too tired. I did everything he asked, I cut my hair, I stopped taking estrogen, I changed my wardrobe, I met my dad,” Knight said. For Knight to detransition, total dependency was the fixers and her parents’ goal.

The fixers were not random people and were hired intentionally by Knight’s parents. Pocalyko has many occupations and connections in finance, government and foreign relations. He is the co-founder and managing director of corporate financial firm Monticello Capital, has served on several corporate boards and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Most importantly, Pocalyko is the CEO of Special Investigations Limited Company (SI), where Cole works as a managing director, investigator and compliance agent. Based in Washington D.C., SI specializes in investigations, intelligence and cyber sectors worldwide.

Like the fixers, Knight’s father also has connections. Though his exact identity isn’t confirmed, he is wealthy and has ties to the Saudi government.

The actions of those involved with Knight’s forced detransition, including the fixers, affected her to the point of death. “[Forced detransitioning] is violating who you are as a person. It’s going to the core of who you are. It’s a complete violation of yourself, your dignity and bodily autonomy,” said Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Faculty Advisor Lindsey Collins. 

Knight’s case brings up additional worries and implications about the many positions of power the fixers hold and how dangerous they can be. “I am afraid that the fixers are not going to get investigated,” said Jo de Pirul, library specialist. “What is holding those people accountable?”

One way to urge accountability is through publicizing Knight’s story through media and the news. However, her story has received little coverage in mainstream publications like The New York Times or broadcast stations like ABC News.

 “I get a lot of newsletters [that report] news in the trans world. I knew [about Knight’s story] as a headline … [from] my Twitter or Pink News or LGBTQ Nation…but I hadn’t really heard more about [it in] mainstream media,” said de Pirul. 

“LGBTQ folks … [get] overlooked in mainstream media issues,” said Ricco Siasoco, another GSA faculty advisor. “[In] journalism … there’s corporate interest [to appeal to a mass audience].” Because of this, it is often up to LGBTQ advocates to bring attention to queer and trans issues rather than more sizable publications that reach millions of more people who are not as invested in queer and trans rights. 

LGBTQ-aligned publications and trans activists on Twitter, such as @ErinInTheMorn and @punishedmother, spread awareness about Knight’s situation. But her story needs to expand outside those spaces to keep her situation from repeating and create a safer world for trans people. However, this doesn’t seem to be the priority of mainstream publications like The New York Times with their recent coverage of trans healthcare for minors.

“[Some of their articles are] way zoomed out, [covering an] abstract issue about, ‘Is it safe to give minors gender-affirming care? What if, what if, what if?’” said Collins. “Even though you have the American Pediatric Association, the American Psychological Association [and] all these very professional organizations who are saying, ‘Yes it’s safe. Yes, it’s okay. Yes, it’s the best thing to do.’”

There is a strong link between gender-affirming healthcare and decreasing suicide rates. A JAMA Network Home study by Postdoctoral Scholar Diana M. Tordoff, Psychiatrist Jonathon W. Wanta and Doctor Arin Collin, published in February 2022, showed that after receiving care like puberty blockers and gender-affirming hormones, transgender or nonbinary youth were 60% less likely to be diagnosed with depression and were 73% less likely commit suicide. 

Despite evidence that gender-affirming healthcare improves mental health for trans folks, U.S. politicians insist on limiting and banning LGBTQ rights under the guise of protecting children. Recently, there has been a surge of anti-trans legislation in the United States. Compared to 19 bills introduced in 2018, 525 anti-trans bills have been introduced this year as of April 27, 2023. Of these bills, state legislators passed 47, and across the United States, 379 of them are still being decided, according to translegislation.com.

“Access to healthcare and things like drag queens reading stories in libraries to children has been politicized,” said Siasoco. “The political debate…affects young people…we’re voting on legislation to take away rights or to prevent doctors from doing care.”

Compared to countries like Saudi Arabia, where the fixers trafficked Knight back to and where she was forcefully detransitioned, the United States seems much more progressive surrounding LGBTQ issues. But with the American cybersecurity involvement in Knight’s situation and the rise of anti-trans legislation, it is evident that anti-LGBTQ attacks in and outside America are all interconnected.

“It’s really easy to be like, ‘Oh, other places in the world are so much more conservative.’ But American Evangelical Christian organizations have often been the ones who have directly influenced homophobia or increased homophobia that was already there, and it’s totally colonialism,” said Collins. 

“It’s easy to [create a] divide. But [hate] is all coming from the same direction, meaning people trying to control how people live, the decisions that they make, their lifestyle and the way they express themselves,” said de Pirul. “And that is where I feel like that should concern us all. [Anti-LGBTQ hate] should concern everyone, period.”