During everyone’s life, there is a number of people that have an impact on one’s life. For me, one of those people was a guy named MJ Eckhouse. I say was because last week I found out that MJ had passed away.
I had first met MJ when I started going to Kent State University in the fall of 2016. MJ was the editor of Kent State’s LGBTQ magazine, Fusion. Being a photographer, I thought I would go talk to MJ at the Fusion table at the Organization Fair. Although at the time I was 38 and MJ was 25, there was something about him I found intimidating at first. After getting approved to be a photographer for Fusion, I started to get to know MJ a little better and found out what I thought was intimidating about him.
MJ was a strong-minded person who believed in fighting for what was right, and it was that quality that made him a force to be reckoned with. I ended up finding out one more detail about him, however, it wasn’t something that mattered to me in the least.
I think it was in the first meeting for the LGBTQ magazine when all of introduced ourselves with our preferred pronouns and how we identify ourselves in the LGBTQ spectrum. When MJ introduced himself, he explained he was a transgender male.
MJ and I became fast friends after we learned we were in the same Physics class which came in handy because we were both doing poorly in the class and wanted to turn our grades around.
We decided a few days before exams we would study together and help each other if the other didn’t understand something. It was during those study sessions MJ and I got to know each other really well.
It was also during those study sessions MJ generously answered any question I had about being trans. As a gay man, I will never know firsthand what it is like to be transgender but thanks to MJ, I learned a lot about being trans which has helped me to become a vocal ally to the trans community.
MJ and I ended up getting B’s in that Physics class thanks to our study sessions and even though the class ended, our friendship continued. I only worked one more semester as a photographer for Fusion under MJ, but our paths would cross again to work together a year later when MJ became campaign manager for the Democratic candidate for Portage County Auditor. The candidate, Lis Regula, was a trans man as well and was the first openly trans candidate for a political office in Ohio.
During my time as an unofficial photographer for Lis’ campaign, I noticed there was more to the relationship between MJ and Lis than campaign manager and candidate. They seemed very in sync with each other and almost intimate. It didn’t take long for MJ to confirm what I had deduced, he and Lis were dating. Privy to this detail, I saw how happy they were together and after Lis lost the election (not by much), he and MJ went public with their relationship with the news they were engaged.
My path continued to cross with Lis as both of us were on the Democratic Central Committee for our county and we became friends as well. Before Central Committee meetings, Lis and I would talk. I would ask where MJ was that evening and Lis told me he was at home watching Lis’ son.
It was during the summer of 2019 that MJ and Lis married. I was unable to attend because I was working that day.
Then, close to the fall of that year, Lis and MJ shared they were moving to Columbus, Ohio after Lis was hired at a local university. The two had a going away party and I was able to attend where I noticed how happy the two of them were.
I kept in contact over Facebook with the both of them and was shocked to learn last Saturday that MJ died a couple of days before. This news came as a shock considering MJ just celebrated his 29th birthday that previous Sunday.
I had lost a friend, but my grief is nothing compared to the grief felt by his husband and the LGBTQ community of Northeast Ohio. MJ was a fierce advocate in the LGBTQ community and was widely respected for his passion for trying to make Portage County, Ohio a better place for the LGBTQ community. When Lis revealed the news of MJ’s death on Facebook last Saturday, there was an outpour of condolences and love expressed to Lis and his son. In his limited time with us, MJ was admired, loved, and respected by everyone who knew him.
At a time when being trans was vilified by President Trump and the sycophants in his administration, MJ did not let despair stop him from fighting the good fight. Even though MJ is no longer with us physically, he is with us in spirit cheering us on as we continue fighting for equality. He will be with us in spirit when we hopefully will see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected as our next president and vice-president and end Trump’s war against the transgender community.
I will never forget anything about my friendship with MJ and how he helped me become a fierce advocate and ally for the trans community. Rest in Power, MJ.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one contributing writer and may not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors