On March 12th, Eden Knight, a 23-year-old transgender woman, shared a message on social media outlining her plan to end her life due to her parents' repeated actions of taking away her hormone therapy medication.
In her post, she also discussed the absence of backing from her family, her unsettled legal situation, and external influence that compelled her to reverse her transition and depart from the United States. She returned to her family's residence in Saudi Arabia, a nation recognized for its aggressive antagonism toward the LGBTQ community.
“I hope that the world gets better for us,” Eden wrote. “I hope our people get old. I hope we get to see our kids grow up to fight for us. I hope for trans rights worldwide.”
Not long after the note was published, posts from her family’s accounts on Twitter and Telegram stated that she had died.
Eden's story highlights the grave outcomes linked to coercing a transgender individual into detransitioning. It also sheds light on the systemic shortcomings that hindered her ability to consistently obtain essential healthcare and a secure living environment. Corroborated by her friends' recollections and private correspondence she shared, her message also detailed the engagement of private investigators affiliated with the U.S. government. These investigators aimed to compel her to return to her family against her will.
“We want our trans kids to grow up into trans adults. We want our trans young people to be able to live fully,” transgender activist and researcher Erin Reed told VICE News. “If her life could mean anything, I hope it brings attention to what the consequences are of forcing somebody to detransition and what the consequences are of withholding somebody from being able to express themselves.”
Eden resided in the United States while pursuing her college education and revealed her transgender identity amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By the spring of 2022, after completing her studies, she embarked on a journey to secure her continued stay in the U.S.
This led her to Columbus, Georgia, where she found lodging with a married couple named Bailee and Hayden. The couple had opened their home to provide shelter and assistance to homeless transgender individuals.
Shortly after moving in, Eden started her medical transition. “She simultaneously started coming out of her shell and became such a bright beacon, but at the same time was overtaken by the shadow of, like, ‘I'm in a lot of trouble. I'm scared,’” Bailee said.
Victoria, a mutual friend of Bailee’s and Eden’s, went to her first Pride event with Eden in June 2022—the same week Eden had started hormone replacement therapy.
In August, according to the note, Eden was contacted by a man offering to help her fix her fractured relationship with her parents.
“I remember that really struck me as odd and that was my first red flag with the guy,” Hayden said. “He was such a fucking creep.” Hayden and Bailee said the man didn’t bring them into his conversations with Eden, despite the fact that she was living with them.
That man, according to both Eden’s note and direct messages which she sent at the time, was Michael Pocalyko, CEO of Special Investigations—a Washington-area government contractor specializing in “investigations, intelligence, and cyber”—as well as a novelist and former Republican official whose website describes him as “a combat aviator, Navy commander, political candidate, venture capitalist, and global corporate chair.” In a private message, Eden described him as “famous.”
Pocalyko, she wrote in her note, “claimed he was a ‘fixer’ and wanted to ‘fix’ the issue that was between me and my parents. 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 lmao?”
Hayden and Bailee said Eden spoke with Pocalyko weekly. In her note, Eden wrote that these calls “seemed innocuous and honestly pretty helpful,” and she ultimately moved out of their Georgia house in October after Pocalyko, according to her note and multiple friends, encouraged her to go to Washington, D.C.
Eden wrote in her note that Pocalyko and his associate Ellen Cole, along with a Saudi lawyer named Bader, met her at the train station and took her to a hotel. Then, Bader became her sole point of contact. “He pampered me,” Eden wrote.
As mentioned in the note, Bader facilitated the acquisition of an apartment for Eden, covered her meals, and facilitated her connection with therapists. All the while, Bader employed subtle tactics to encourage Eden to consider detransitioning. (A text conversation on November 1st between Eden and Hayden featured Eden discussing her apartment and sharing a photo of her view.)
“He tried to get me to be ‘normal.’ Gave me examples of feminine men and said that they are transgender but they are hiding it, that it’s better to hide it. Told me stories personally about people he knew that successfully hid it,” she wrote. Over time, Eden wrote, she became entirely dependent on him; running away wasn’t an option. She also worried, due to her legal status, that if she ran away, she’d ultimately be deported.
Bailee, Hayden, and Victoria all say that their contact with Eden drastically decreased after she moved to Washington, and communication became more fragmented.
Discord messages between Eden and her close friend Zoe in which Eden makes reference to her “lawyer”—Bader, who she described as representing himself as Harvard-educated—and his attempts to convince her to detransition. “He knows I left my family to transition and told me to lie to them and say it was grade issues,” Eden wrote at the time. “He like constantly says I look like a man and a teenager that’s confused which is fine cuz I have piercings and dyed hair but I’m just having fun with those things they don't make me a woman, nobody misgenders me so purposely like he does.” Eden would later find out that Bader had been hired by her parents, she wrote.
In Eden’s note, she detailed how she eventually stopped hormone replacement therapy, changed her clothes, and succumbed to the pressures of detransition. After a meeting with her parents, she wrote, Bader bought her a flight back to Saudi Arabia.
In her message, Eden elaborated on her eventual decision to discontinue hormone replacement therapy, alter her clothing, and yield to the influence of detransitioning. Following a discussion with her parents, she recounted that Bader arranged and financed a flight for her to return to Saudi Arabia.
According to Eden’s note and her friends, Eden tried to continue hormone replacement therapy in secret while in Saudi Arabia, but her parents found her hormones more than once.
This is when, according to Eden’s note, it all came out: Her parents admitted that Bader, Pocalyko, and Cole were hired to get Eden back to Saudi Arabia; they also berated her and called her a “freak.”
The day after Eden posted her note, her family’s Twitter and Telegram channels posted that she had died.
Politicians peddling anti-trans policies often say they’re doing it to “protect children,” but trans people rarely regret transitioning. In fact, a new study found that only 0.3 percent of 1,989 participants voiced regret. When trans people do experience regret, it’s most often caused by societal stigma and lack of family support.
“This is as much a murder as a suicide,” Zoe said. “Gender dysphoria and social isolation and shame can be so bad—and having her hormones constantly confiscated. The things that she was going through were so insane that it wasn't just a mental health issue. I don't think most people could survive that, trans or otherwise.”
Studies show that trans people are more likely to experience mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and thoughts of suicide, than cisgender people, but gender-affirming care, including puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, can improve mental health outcomes for trans youth. Parents who affirm their trans kids also make all the difference: Studies show that kids whose parents support their social transition don’t have higher rates of depression than their cis peers.
But despite widespread medical consensus, there are trans children in the U.S. who are being forced to detransition, and GOP lawmakers are making things even worse by introducing more than 450 anti-trans bills in the 2023 legislative session alone. The bills erode the ability for trans people to access gender-affirming care and participate in public life.
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