This is a sort of coda to my previous piece, Remembering MJ: A Eulogy For A Friend.
As said by Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, “Funerals are not for the dead. They are for the living.” This is also true memorial services as well. My friend, MJ Eckhouse died on October 21 and his husband, Lis, planned two memorial services: one for their friends in Columbus on October 28th and then another for their friends and family here in Northeast Ohio on November 7th.
I attended the November 7th memorial. While the event was an informal gathering, Lis said a few words about MJ and his short but remarkable life. The event brought together a diverse group of people from different walks of life whether gay, straight, and transgender.
Election Day had occurred days earlier and we still didn’t know who was going to be officially our next president, but after Lis’ small speech about MJ, I received an alert on my phone.
Joe Biden was projected to win Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes, and in turn, making him the next President of the United States. It was what I and so many others had hoped for. Knowing this, I decided to share the news with Lis.
It was a bittersweet moment that Lis and I realized was not only worthy of MJ but maybe, in some odd way, it was a moment because of MJ. Lis was laughing and crying at the same time. He shared the news with everyone in attendance.
During this celebration of MJ’s life, many of us shared memories and stories about him. Some told of how he was not afraid to speak his mind at all and was always looking to get in some ‘good trouble.’ For me, I remember when I was writing my first story for Fusion. I was writing about an event that I attended as a member of the press called All Access Cleveland. The focus of the event was to create awareness for abortion access. Over the course of the evening, there were pre-recorded stories about people who had abortions and performances by Sia, Teyana Taylor, and Leslie Jones.
In writing that story, I learned how to use the proper pronouns when it came to someone who was trans and non-binary. I also learned how abortion access was an LGBTQ issue. I will never forget what MJ said to me while I was putting together the article.
“I have ovaries and I don’t want anyone dictating what I can and cannot do with them.”
While I cannot swear this is the word for word of what he said, this is what he meant. This was my introduction to issues pertaining to being transgender and I wanted to make sure I did it right. MJ was pleased with the final result of my article.
Lis has set up a group on Facebook called Keeping MJ’s Work Going! Lis has shared condolence letters from interns that worked at the Ohio Environmental Council, where MJ was communications coordinator, and a letter from Sherrod Brown, our U.S. Senator.
There is also a GoFundMe page of the same name with two goals:
1) an endowed scholarship at Kent State University for an LGBTQ or ally student who is active in social justice work on or off-campus, and 2) an endowed grant at the Portage Foundation to support collaborative and intersectional projects working to improve lived equality and advance social justice in Northeast Ohio.
MJ’s biggest legacy will be the impact and impressions he made on people. He fought passionately to get a conversion therapy ban passed in Kent, a nondiscrimination ordinance, and so many more causes. One of the best ways to know about MJ is through an excerpt from a post by Equality Ohio:
“MJ was up for anything, always eager to learn and grow; so smart, yet not afraid to discover something new with fresh eyes. A journalist at heart, he let his curiosity lead him to ask questions about the status quo and call people to a more kind and compassionate way of living. He noticed things that others passed over. He wanted to know the whole story and then share it in ways that help us build a better world.
When I think of MJ, I will always think of this picture. The sitting man is Kent Council member John Kuhar, who will be one of the first to tell you that he had a lot of questions and was not initially on board with Kent’s nondiscrimination ordinance. He wasn’t convinced that discrimination happened in Ohio. MJ approached him and listened, council meeting after council meeting, even over some Wendy’s coffee, patiently explaining that without this ordinance, he could be legally kicked out of that very Wendy’s men’s room if someone knew he was trans. I remember the moment that Council member Kuhar’s face changed when he realized that the law he had the chance to vote on could directly impact the livelihood of the person sitting across the table from him. MJ always followed up, checking in with council member Kuhar the night of the vote to ensure he was still planning to vote for the ordinance, ready to answer any last-minute questions.”
So on this Transgender Day of Remembrance and all the ones to come, I will use this day to remember MJ Eckhouse: an outspoken activist for the LGBTQ community and most importantly, my friend.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one contributing writer and may not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors