How to Mourn your own Death: Playwright’s Note

Elton John made me trans.

Well… sort of. Even before I had a name for it, Elton John has always felt like a mirror of my own queer identity. In my freshman year of college, after narrowly escaping my hometown, I was finally able to put a name to this queerness that I had been repressing. This same year, Elton John’s biopic, Rocketman, was released.

That summer, I watched the film in a dark theatre, surrounded by strangers. On screen, a young Elton John, then Reggie Dwight, struggles to figure out how someone like him could ‘make it’ in the music industry. The musician he accompanies leans towards him, “You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be." His voice is hushed, as if he’s telling him a secret. I had expected to feel seen while watching this movie, but not stared at, not stared through. I felt like he was talking directly to me. It is a line that has continued to echo in my brain ever since. “You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be."

Though this line was the first time I had recognized this idea as a positive, death and transness have always been related in my brain. Because of the high suicide rates. Because of the life expectancy of 35 (weighed down highly by violence against trans women of color). Because of the way that some people describe coming to terms with their loved ones transness as a “grieving process.” Skeleton Closet was a way to mourn this idea of “trans death.”

In the play, Scott and his mother, May, mourn the death of his father. At the same time, May is mourning the perfect life she had attempted to construct—for herself, for her husband, for her child. Scott is mourning the redemption his father will never have, and the acceptance Scott will never see from him, while also mourning the idea of masculinity he has grown to know. Grief is never just one thing.

The most important thing to remember however, is that this play is a eulogy for “trans death.” For me, the goal of the piece is not to dwell on this idea, but to move past it. Most importantly, to move towards and prioritize trans joy.

-    Ennis Matthew Neal