Alexis Arquette, the actress and cabaret performer best known for her transgender activism and famous family, died Sunday, September 11 at the age of 47. A cause of death was not immediately released, though TMZ reports that Arquette was battling a lengthy illness.
(Update: People now reports that Arquette died from complications related to AIDS.)
Arquette, who chronicled a transition process that began in her late 30s in the 2007 documentary "Alexis Arquette: She's My Brother," has been publicly using female pronouns since that time — and according to her Oscar-winning sister Patricia, Alexis would "get in the girls’ line" as far back as elementary school. Alexis also made it clear that her liberal siblings Patricia, Rosanna, Richmond, and David were extremely supportive of her choices — which is why many were extremely confused when Richmond's Facebook post announcing Alexis's death referred to the actress using male pronouns.
In the original post, which has since been replaced with a press release written by Patricia, Richmond referred to Alexis as his brother AND his sister.
"Our brother Robert, who became our brother Alexis, who became our sister Alexis, who became our brother Alexis, passed this morning September 11, at 12:32 am," Richmond wrote in the original post. "He was surrounded by all of his brothers and sisters, one of his nieces and several other loved ones. We were playing music for him and he passed during David Bowie's 'Starman.' As per his wishes, we cheered at the moment that he transitioned to another dimension."
"I am feeling immense gratitude to have been afforded the luxury of sharing life with him/her, for learning from Alexis, for being given the gift of being able to love her/him and to be loved by him/her," Richmond continued. "He was a force. He died as he lived, on his own terms. I am immensely grateful that it was fast and painless. It was an incredible moving experience and I am humbled and grateful to have been able to have been with him as he began his journey onward. Thank you, Alexis, I love you and will always love you."
So in other words, Richmond was likely using the pronouns Alexis WANTED him to use when announcing her passing. Which, as GLAAD makes clear in their tips for transgender allies, is crucial.
"If you're unsure which pronoun a person prefers, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person," GLAAD explains. "Someone who knows the person well will probably use the correct pronoun. If you must ask which pronoun the person prefers, start with your own. For example, 'Hi, I'm Dani and I prefer the pronouns she and her. What about you?' Then use that person's preferred pronoun and encourage others to do so. If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move on. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone."In Patricia's edited statement — the one that the siblings are now using on their social media pages instead of Richmond's — female pronouns are used consistently throughout. So, in an effort to not make this a "bigger deal" for the grieving family, let's just say we honor Alexis for her hard work as an ally and for the necessary conversations s/he started in the LGBTQ community and otherwise, and appreciate the Arquette family for presumably honoring their beloved brother/sister in the way s/he would have wanted: with some David fucking Bowie.