For trans women killed by Oakland fire, struggle for respect continues in death

The tragedy has shaken a community facing disproportionate discrimination, a reality amplified by police and the media referring to transgender victims as he

Instead of grieving for her friends, Scout Wolfcave has spent the last two days phoning news reporters and begging them not to disrespect the transgender women who died by calling them men in their reports and refusing to use their proper names.

Feral Pines, Cash Askew and Em B were victims of the devastating fire on Friday night at an Oakland warehouse, known as the Ghost Ship, where at least 36 people died, many of them young artists, musicians and activists.

The tragedy has sent shockwaves through the Bay Area underground music scene, but has been particularly painful for the tight-knit communities of trans people, who already face disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination and often flock to Oakland in search of safer spaces to live and make art.

Wolfcave, an Oregon-based trans woman and close friend of Pines, said that when the police and the media incorrectly use he pronouns for the women and refer to them by the names on their legal documents, it is deeply hurtful to the trans community.

We fight hard enough every single day to be seen as our authentic selves and to be treated with respect, said Wolfcave, 34, in an interview at a San Francisco bar on Monday night. In death, you cant defend yourself anymore, so it falls on your friends to do it for you.

Wolfcave, who recently founded an initiative called the Trans Assistance Project, said she was eager to shift the focus toward the lives and accomplishments of the women, who were well-known in local arts scenes and were role models to many trans women.

Wolfcave said she considered Pines, 29, a sister, and that the two were roommates in Bloomington, Indiana. Pines recently relocated to Oakland where she found a queer family and community of trans artists and friends.

In Indiana, Wolfcave said, she and Pines struggled to access basic health care or find steady employment. Trans people move to the west coast where we can actually live as fully actualized human beings.

After moving to California, Pines planned to get her legal identification formally changed to her correct name a process that can be challenging and expensive, even in a liberal state.

A friend of Feral Pines, who died in the Oakland fire, said she was happier than she had ever been in her whole life. Photograph: Handout
Wolfcaves Trans Assistance Project which she formed after Donald Trump was elected was going to help Pines get the necessary funds to complete the process. (The Trans Assistance Project has set up a
donation site to pay for funeral costs for Pines, Askew and Em B.)

ID changes can be a critical step for trans people, she said: Its really empowering and important that they have documents that match who they are.

Having proper identification can also be critical in life and death situations, ensuring police can correctly identify trans people.

She was happier than she had ever been in her whole life, Wolfcave said, recounting the last time she hung out with Pines in her new Oakland home. I had never seen her more full of light and possibility.

The last time they saw each other, Pines talked to Wolfcave about her dreams of traveling and making new music and said she was eager to start an all trans-girl rave collective.

Despite the intense mistreatment trans women face, particularly in a state like Indiana, Pines was never afraid to be herself and fight back against transphobia, her friends said, recounting her catchphrase blow up the sun.

She loved to take anyone to task for their bad politics, Pines longtime friend Max Tamola said. She was larger than life in the most beautiful way.

Wolfcave added: Feral was that nerd that knocked the bully out.

Cash Askew, a victim of the Oakland fire, was one half of the band Them Are Us Too. Photograph: Kristin Cofer

Another victim, Askew, was widely respected for her goth duo band Them Are Us Too and had recently begun making music with Pines.

Oakland curator Tiare Ribeaux said she met Askew when the musician was only 19 years old, and was in awe of her talent. I was blown away by her genius.

Describing Askew as a powerful voice for the queer and transgender community, Ribeaux said the 22-year-old helped pave the way for other trans and gender-nonconforming people to express themselves in art and their lives. She was really honest and courageous.

Em B, a poet and barista who died in the Oakland fire. Photograph: Courtesy of Jack Bohlka

Em B, 33, was a poet and barista who moved in 2015 from southern California to Oakland where she found a more accepting community, her father Jack Bohlka, said.

She was feeling at home, he said through tears, recounting how she recently told him, Dad, at last I feel at peace.

Bohlka said he was devastated to think that trans people, who had already endured so much violence and harassment, would have to face tragedy in an arts space meant to be a place where they could gather and feel welcome.

Its so fucking horrible that the trans community has to go to places like that that are not physically safe, even if they feel safe with one another.

His daughter was interested in moving to New York City and becoming a teacher, he added. She was always a champion for people who were on the margins.

Some queer friends in mourning noted that grieving and trauma are nothing new for trans women, a population that experiences high rates of assault, violence and suicide.

Wolfcave said: Trans women are always having to hold each other in grief.

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