Transgender community reacts to police shooting death of 24-year-old Kayden Clarke

The transgender subject of a viral YouTube video about Asperger’s was shot and killed by Mesa, Arizona, police Thursday night during what seems to have been a suicidal episode. 

Although a trained mental crisis officer was on the scene, two patrol officers opened fire on 24-year-old Kayden Clarke when he approached them with a knife.

Less than a month before he died, Clarke posted a video claiming that he’d been trying to transition but had been prevented from doing so by gender therapists who misunderstood his Asperger’s syndrome and insisted he “fix” it before beginning testosterone treatment. 

“I’m at my losing point,” Clarke claimed. 

The online community has responded in outrage over Clarke’s death, which they say reflects continued violence against transgender individuals, as well as abuse and misunderstanding of those on the autism spectrum.

Clarke alerted friends to his condition Thursday by asking them to take away Samson, the service dog trained to help him deal with depression and issues of self-harm. Clarke and Samson went viral last year after Clarke posted a video, now made private, to his YouTube channel in which Samson is shown attempting to calm Clarke after an episode of depression and self-harm related to Clarke’s Aspergers.

Friends notified police, who claimed that Clarke “approached” two responding officers with a large chef’s knife and “extended it out” to them during their house call. Police had visited Clarke on a suicide watch call at least once before. Mesa Detective Esteban Flores stated that both of the responding officers responded to the situation by shooting at Clarke, who later died of his injuries at a local hospital. 

In a press conference, Flores told reporters that an officer trained in crisis intervention had been present and had accompanied patrol officers into the house. In an earlier report, the Arizona Republic noted that “police had previously encountered the person in a similar call.” Despite this, Flores also claimed in the press conference that authorities “had no information about the person’s condition when they came to the house.” 

The officers had stun guns in addition to their weapons, but were not wearing body cams. Flores claimed the situation rapidly escalated once police arrived on scene, and that the shooting occurred while one officer was attempting to retrieve less lethal weapons.

Before his death, Clarke claimed to have received frustrating health care due to being diagnosed with Asperger’s. In his now-private viral video, he can be shown self-harming due to depression, which he claimed was related to his Asperger’s diagnosis. 

Clarke had recently created a new YouTube channel documenting his attempts to transition. In a video dated Jan. 9, he claimed he was beginning a lawsuit against his health care clinic because doctors were refusing to allow him to begin T-cell treatment until he “fixed” his Asperger’s syndrome, which is a neurological condition.

“Arizona has the worst mental health system across the United States,” Clarke said. “There’s practically no support.” Clarke claimed to have visited six clinics looking for affordable gender therapy treatment, only to have found a therapist who insisted he couldn’t begin transitioning until he dealt with issues caused by Asperger’s.

“You can’t cure a neurological disorder,” Clarke said. “It’s ignorance. It’s frustrating. She kept saying the word ‘disease,’ every time I kept correcting her.” 

Clarke also implied that other gender therapists had refused to approve transition medication for him until he dealt with his depression—which Clarke insisted was due to being unable to transition in the first place. He also stated his depressive episodes included suicide attempts, including “suicide by cop.”

“In my chart, it says I’ve tried suicide, I’ve tried suicide by cop, I’ve tried shooting myself. All this depression since first fucking grade has stemmed from not being able to transition.”

After his death, Clarke was frequently misgendered in the media, including by his mother and friends who referred to him by his biological name—something the trans community refers to as “deadnaming.” While the misgendering friends and relatives condemned the shooting death as unnecessary, online transgender activists expressed outrage at what they view as an added insult to his memory.

Additionally, Facebook Friends is currently misgendering him as well:

Facebook

Facebook

With so much misinformation headlining mainstream media, it fell as it usually does to grassroots noise-making by transgender activists on social media to draw attention to Clarke’s frustration with his health care in the weeks leading up to his death.

Many have been calling attention to the overlap between transgender identity and autism spectrum, pointing out that Clarke’s story was by no means atypical:

There are known links between gender dysphoria and the autism spectrum; one study found that kids and teens who fit the DSMV IV criteria for Gender Identity Disorder (a term now deprecated in favor of the clinical term gender dysphoria) were much more likely to be on the autism spectrum than the general population. Nearly 8 percent of genderqueer kids landed on the spectrum, versus only 1 percent of the general population. Numerous studies have suggested a possible neurological connection between the two issues, though most current psychology agrees that there are likely many factors underlying each condition.

In his final video, Clarke insisted that the last gender therapist he saw should have done her research into Asperger’s instead of expecting him to educate her about the condition. 

“Every single doctor, whether it’s mental health, whether it’s any kind of therapist, DBT, CBT—nobody seems to know what the fuck Asperger’s is, and it’s frustrating… If you don’t know it, you research it.”

“What’s almost as sad as his death is how so many won’t learn from it,” wrote an unnamed YouTube user, 20unc06, in response.

Look at the comments already – “Don’t lunge at cops with a knife!” rather than “The cops didn’t respond correctly to a probable suicide-by-cop incident and killed someone who was being systematically denied medically necessary treatment.” 

He was suicidal because of medical gatekeeping, he was killed, and the whole cause of his anxiety is being covered up,” wrote Tumblr user draggle. “This shouldn’t go away.”

If you need to speak to counselors with experience dealing with transgender issues, contact Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 (U.S.) or (877) 330-6366 (Canada).

Screengrab via Kayden Clarke/YouTube

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.